by Alex Teitz
Dar Williams is an enigma. Her music crosses the line between pop and folk with vivid images and woven metaphor. Her newest CD, The Green World, enters unexplored territory with songs about cults, protest and Yoko Ono. Her previous works includeEnd of the Summer, The Honesty Room and Mortal City. As Williams comes into her own, her music risks more. For more information visit http://www.razorandtie.com
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
DW: It’s a lot like the swirling mists. Things just kind of develop in their own time. A concept comes up and I find stuff arranging itself around a concept. Usually with some melody attached and it goes from there. A line will pop into my head…it’s actually a really hard thing to describe. So I really don’t know if this works to describe…Like I don’t usually know how songs get written but I usually have a fragment and it’s like archaeology, I find a fragment and I build around it until I have the thing that looks like a whole.
FEMMUSIC: How was it working with Stewart Lerman?
DW: It was great. It was great. He’s very collaborative. He’s very open. He comes with a lot of his own ideas which is ideal. He’s open to new ideas, came with his own, knows good musicians, has good professional and personal relationships with them. Loves his job.
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge making The Green World?
DW: I would say any CD is going to be a big challenge. It’s kind of like Michealanglo’s saying he’s got a big block of stone and there’s a statue in there that’s meant to be. The secret is to hold steady enough to let what’s meant to be happen, and not to get in its way too much. I think all of us came with intuition about it, and there was a lot of consensus by us when we would get closer to the final mixes and the final arrangements.
FEMMUSIC: What was the best experience making The Green World?
DW: There were a bunch of them. I think it was really good experience. I think the song, “It Happens Every Day” was really exciting to record because everybody, it was the quieter since we’d been doing heavier stuff, and then we came in to do this quiet song everybody walked in and there was very little discussion yet everybody synced in at the same place. They all kind of came in at the same place, had a similar dynamic, rode the dynamic, and let it happen, and that was very magic, and then there were a few things. One night we put a lot of overdubs on a song called, “And A God Descended” and I, we were on our way out to dinner, and I said, “Just before we go let me run in and put a vocal down.” Cause I was really excited about it and we basically took that song in one vocal. That was it. That was an exciting thing to feel so impassioned by the work that they had done to basically go in and did a performance. That’s what you hope for.
FEMMUSIC: Taking from earlier, this CD is filled with much heavier material than what you’ve done in the past.
DW: Hmmm. I don’t know if I agree with that. There’s been some heavy stuff. It probably doesn’t have as much light material as the other ones which might mean the same thing, I don’t know.
FEMMUSIC: Can you tell me a little bit more about the song, “I Had No Right”?
DW: Do you know anything about the Berrigan Brothers? The Berrigans were, are, one’s still a priest, and the other was a priest. Out of conscious, out of prayer and conscious decided to create their own napalm, and put it on draft files in protest of the war. They burned these draft files and they went to jail for it. There was a trial for it. They called themselves the Catonsville Nine, Catonsville, Maryland, and they went on trial for it for three days and they were sent to jail for three years. They did it out of conscious, and they did it at a time when…Danny Berrigan did go over to Viet Nam, and when he was there they started a bombing campaign that they hadn’t done in six months. It was literally like the country was trying to kill him for his protesting. It was a really heavy time and he took a stand.
It’s not as much a song about politics as a song about spiritual choice and spiritual reasoning. To me it was a song about spiritual reckoning as opposed to the politics although the politics of it were very important too in terms of how people took a stand. I actually saw Daniel Berrigan and I was telling him about how there was a book that written by the Presbyterian Church that basically said, “Presbyterian Clergy look at the Viet Nam war…” The first page says, “It’s a very difficult issue. It’s very hard to say what the best action is.” It was a terrible war. It was hard for large establishments to take a stand on it. This was the end of the Sixties. This was a time when a person could weigh in and say, “This isn’t making sense.” It was really poignant and sad to see the Presbyterian Church couldn’t find it in itself to go against the establishment. They went against the establishment in the name of religious belief. It was all too rare in this country to do that. That’s why I wanted to write a song about them.
FEMMUSIC: Both “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono” and “Another Mystery” talk of people elevated to a higher social status. I was wondering how you feel at this stage of career.
DW: I feel mellow right now actually. I think both of those songs are about saying “I feel comfortable about my place in history right now.” Like I don’t need to be objectified and measured. I don’t care so much. There’s bigger things at work that I’m really dealing with right now. Like I just moved into a new house, and it’s a first for me. I got a lot of my pettiness out of the with End of the Summer because everything was in flux so I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be working harder, working better, working smarter. When you make an album it’s like building a car, and the car has a certain amount of fuel in it, and it will just take you as far as it goes. And if you work hard, and if you worked hard to make that vehicle of your career it will probably take you to a place you’ve never been before. But if it doesn’t, it’s cool. Like everything is really beautiful right here. So far it’s doing better than any of the other albums have done. So far it has a lot more stuff around it in terms of people guiding it along and I feel that. I hear that it’s on more radio stations than I would have expected. It’s all go smashing. If you hit a nerve, if you don’t, you don’t. You don’t need to push it down people’s throats if it’s not there. I think being mellow about the whole, just kind of taking it cool is definitely good for my sanity, but better for the whole process.