Filling up, and still spilling over

Their collective resume would boast almost 50 years in the music business — but expecting mainstream-music renegades Cris Williamson and Tret Fure to pen such a traditional document would be absurd.

Fure recorded her first album in the early ’70s, when she was only 19 (Mousetrap, with Spencer Davis) — during the same time period Williamson was co-founding the then-revolutionary women’s record label, Olivia Records. The two collaborated on a children’s record in 1981, and they’ve been partners, both on- and off-stage, ever since. Together they’ve seen the music industry undergo a radical make-over that’s allowed the flourishing landscape of “womyn’s music” to encroach on center stage. But Fure points out that the genre, though powerful, still is wobbling in relative infancy toward its goal of autonomy.

“It’s been a subtle change until the last few years,” she notes. “Women have always been a novelty act. The change happened in country [music] first, and by the late ’80s women were receiving more radio exposure, but [the industry] never considered even two women on the same bill until the Lillith Fair.”

She marvels at the tardy tactics of record-company heads who, bereft of original vision, seem able to recognize a burgeoning trend only in hindsight.

“They see that [billing women’s acts together] can work,” she says sarcastically of the overwhelmingly male brigade of industry bigwigs, “[but] that’s just now happening.”

Besides being a singer/songwriter, Fure is credited as one of the first women sound engineers in the country.

Williamson is also considered a pioneer in the music business, though she prefers the status of voluntary exile.

“I’ve never been a part of the industry,” she says proudly. “My object has been to make a better game — one directed by the needs and desires of women. If you’re pigeonholed, you put a back door in the pigeonhole. I live in no pigeonhole.”

The duo’s latest CD, Between the Covers (Wolf Moon Records, 1996), is a tame but gorgeous assortment of feel-good ballads, not quite what you’d expect from such exalted groundbreakers; still, Fure views the album as an inevitable evolution of their solid partnership.

“Cris and I have different styles,” she explains. “I have more of a rock ‘n’ roll background. But my rock has mellowed, and her [folk] style has gotten more rock. The melding has been beautiful.”

For Fure and Williamson, sharing a career as well as a relationship for more than 15 years has been far from the nightmare experienced by many other couple-collaborators.

“It works for us,” Fure points out. “We’re synchronous. It’s hard for [some] artists to work together. Their egos get in the way. I’ve had to work under Cris’ shining light; I’ve been seen as not so shining. But we’ve become more equal over the years. We can read each other’s minds. We can talk over a show, laugh about mistakes, and talk about high points. There’s no threatening of the ego.”

The duo has retained largely the same audience over the years, one that has mirrored, and thus supported, their dreams and lifestyle.

“We retain a core audience [with] parallel lives,” says Williamson. “[But] we are noticing younger women coming to the shows. It’s great. Because of the change in the music industry, younger women are making a splash in the world.”

And she’s swift to point out that their seemingly unvaried legion of fans is actually a complex lot, harboring unique requirements: “For some people, our music is anti-cancer music. It’s therapeutic, healing. … The [music’s effect] depends on the needs of the people listening.”

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