Willow Scrivner has seen a lot of the country from the back of an old 1970’s station wagon. That’s what happens when your father is a preacher and the call of God keeps you moving.
“It was in a particular denomination when you are either done with what you were sent to do at that particular church they move you on or if what you feel your work there at that church isn’t getting done then you move on,” said the West Seattle-based singer-songwriter in an interview with Seattle Sounds.
The soundtrack to all that moving was an AM radio, “either country or somebody talking about God,” Scrivner said.
That influence is evident throughout “Radio Sky,” the new album from Willow and the Embers. It’s a soulful, sometimes haunting collection of songs culled from a lifetime of putting down roots in a small town from Yakima to Oklahoma, only to have them yanked out as her father moved from place to place.
“I think that when a pastor and their family are marrying and burying people you become really intrinsically involved in that family and then when you leave you’re ripping yourself from that family.”
Scrivner channels that pain, and the ghosts of Pasty Cline and Kitty Wells filtered through the back seat of her youth in deeply personal tracks like Radio Sky and and Beautiful World. Although fueled by God, Scrivner says the songs are spiritual but not religious.
“I was frustrated by it. I actually went to bible college after high school where I became increasingly more frustrated and I had a little bit of a paradigm shift and decided that doctrination of God was not my particular path.”
It might not have been her path, but a deep longing to reconnect with the places of her past led Scrivner to hit the road this year with her band, retracing the steps of her youth and performing in the small towns of her father’s ministry as “The Daughter of a Preacher Man.”
Each stop was an emotional roller coaster, evoking deeply felt memories of “family, loss and religion, searching, seeking and preaching.” It all boiled to a head in a small town in Oklahoma.
“It felt like the closer I got to Oklahoma, the more raw I was and everything was closer to the surface,” she said. “When we got to the church and as soon as I walked in it smelled exactly the same as when I was 7-years-old and I just lost it.”
Scrivner chronicled that moment and many others with a filmmaker who traveled with the band throughout the tour. She’s currently raising money on Kickstarter to help pay to finish a full length documentary.
“I want my memory to become your memory,” Scrivner said. “The smell of church basement coffee, the weight of a hymnal; the echo of church bells, and the pounding of a pulpit; the low haunting wail of tornado sirens mixed with the warm, baked-dust smell of tube radios.”
Willow & The Embers perform Saturday December 1 at the Skylark in West Seattle.