“Music? Can I take a pass on that one?” said Dar Williams, laughing as she gave her take on the state of the recording industry and the music makers of today; “It’s hard to make a living in music, it’s hard to make a statement today and it’s hard to take the risks like I could years ago.”
A native of New York State, Williams was encouraged by her parents at a young age to write songs and at the age of nine began playing guitar; penning her first material by age 11. Dar, which is short for Dorothy, took an interest in theater and drama as she grew older; pushing her songwriting to the proverbial “back burner” where it simmered on low until she began taking vocal lessons from Jeannie Deva.
Living in the Boston, MA area at the time, Deva pushed Williams to perform and share her material; first starting small in coffee houses and then urging her to continue upward. A cliquish folk scene and a crippling case of stage fright temporarily detoured Williams but in 1990 she recorded, “I Have No History,” her first effort which was produced by Deva and engineered by Rob Lehmann.
Williams recorded her first full length album entitled, The Honesty Room. After building her fan base through those very coffee houses, the internet and public radio, the success of the recording led Dar to sign a deal with Razor & Tie, a large record distribution and licensing company with whom she would remain for many years. The label also introduced her to the legendary singer-songwriter Joan Baez.
“Joan Baez was great, I owe much to her,” said Williams in appreciative tones. “Joan and I were both on the Razor & Tie label; her manager also managed 38 Special, so I really fell into some lucky circumstances. Joan was looking to make her Duets record with a person from our label that was unknown and super green and that person was me! Her agent let her hear my music, she gave it the green light and I went on the road opening for her; she took that chance on me for a year and a half.”
Williams is currently on the road in support of her latest release Emerald, a disc that brought her together with many “old friends” and one that she says is, “a little adventurous.”
“When I write I need space and time to wander,” she explained. “I like to see things at different angles, so I go to museums, creative places; I like to get caught off guard. I was fortunate, I grew as an artist with a label behind me; that doesn’t exist today. The eco-system of music is not there any longer; music isn’t brought into the schools and the musical communities are pretty much gone. This new album sort of pulled everything together. Life and me have been all over the map and then something seems to happen to pull it all together, you know; that light shines through beautiful moment? So I thought that Emerald was a perfect title, like when you hold that gem up to the light and the rays shine through and cast such beauty. For me, so much was revealed and so much light shed on many things; it fit perfectly. This album is about bringing my life and old friends back together; I missed my friends so I brought them back. Years ago, gosh, things were just different and now even with technology being as it is; it still doesn’t replace human contact and interaction.”
Emerald was recorded in Nashville, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Beacon, NY and Weehawken, NJ; enlisting the help of past connections and logging many miles of travel.
“I wanted to work with some of my past friends and collaborators, so I made some phone calls and reconnected through friends of friends and found the right combination of people,” said Williams. “Richard Thompson actually asked me to be part of it which just blew me away; he’s so talented. Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman. I’ve worked with and known those guys for years and everyone knows how successful The Hooters were as a band and still are. Jim Lauderdale and Suzzy and Lucy Wainwright Roche also contributed; I was truly blessed to have them all. The fun part was that I went to them. Do you know how hard it is to get that many plane tickets and travel arrangements coordinated? I was in L.A. with family so I snuck away and did part there, was in Nashville and did the same and then just did the rest around their schedules and it worked out great! It was much easier for me to go to them than to get them to all come to me.”
Williams has been described by The New Yorker as “one of America’s very best singer-songwriters” and has garnered multiple award nominations over her 20 plus years of touring and recording and with the release of Emerald things have come full circle as she has returned to releasing music on her own after parting ways with Razor & Tie.
Williams recently came through New Jersey with a performance at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) on December 17. To see where she’s playing next visit www.darwilliams.com.