Meeting an artist, especially one you admire, is a tense situation. You meet Steve Martin and instead of the “wild and crazy guy” persona, there’s a respectful but very reserved person not interested in engaging or tapdancing for your amusement. You get an autograph from Kanye, and wish you hadn’t bothered. Meet Tom Arnold and he’ll probably marry you.
When saying your post-gig hello to the friendly Dar Williams, there is a bit of tension, but it’s all of your own making. To be a fan is to know you’re hearing a thoughtful, intuitive woman, not “of the world” in the stuffy interpretation of the phrase, but more tuned in and savvy than you. Her intelligence is one of the the things that draws fans to her, so as you stand in that line, know you’re not the only one rehearsing a clever opening salvo, a thought-provoking question about her thought-provoking lyrics: Williams, although accessible and actually self-deprecating, makes you up your game.
Because of that natural desire to explore and engage, Williams is now a teacher as well, as she mentions in our interview below. She leads an inspirational songwriting retreat at New York’s Garrison Institute , and guest lectures at middle- and high-schools around her home in the Hudson Valley, using the patience that comes from managing us nervous overly enthusiastic fans to deal with the toughest crowd of all – teenagers.
Dar Williams is currently in Europe doing shows with the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, before some US dates later in the year.
She took time out for our Quick Six Interview:
What inspires you recently?
Towns and cities and how they’re put together. I’m writing a book about it. Urban planners are my new rock stars– have you read The Walkable City, by Jeff Speck? An amazing book. He points out is that American cities are scrambling to be more like European cities, for example.
Who decides on your album cover art?
I’m a horrible designer but I always get last say on design; in other words, I’m the bane of my colleagues’ existence. I know what I want…when I see it.
What is an artist’s relationship to their label? What is yours?
I’m my own label now, but I was with a label for 20 years. They were like family, in the fight and make-up, love-hate kind of way. We tried to pretend it wasn’t all about money, and we did a good job, I think. In the end, I only remember the good things.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in the music industry at all?
1. Travel agent.
3. College professor, which I “am” right now, and I love it.
Morning or night person for work? and for a day off?
I’m everything. I’m one of those people who can sleep anytime, anywhere. Good news is I’m resilient, bad news, my kids say my hobby is “sleeping”.
How do you know when a song is finished? Do you ever go back and dig out unfinished or old songs?
Good question– generally you know when a song is done, and then the audience lets you know if you’re not, hopefully before you’ve recorded it. I generally finish every song I start and see what happens; some of my best-received songs are ones I almost gave up on.
What song do you wish you had written?
“Famous Blue Raincoat” by Leonard Cohen, just like everyone else. Also, the song “Endless Love”, which everyone else wishes they’d written, too, but I’m the only one who will admit it.
If you could duet, vocally or instrumentally, with anyone alive or dead, who would that be?
What would be your perfect weekend?
Museums and cafés, cafés and museums. And beautiful parks with ducks ponds and fountains. Now you know why I come to the UK so often.
What’s next for you?
I’m going into my fourth year of leading a songwriting retreat called Writing A Song That Matters. It’s a very fun, somewhat emotional, week of songwriting for all of us!
Dar Williams Tour Dates
Sunday 29th May, with Gordon Lightfoot Colston Hall, Bristol, UK
Wednesday 01 June, The Borderline, London, UK
Thursday 02 June, Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea, UK
Saturday 02 June, with Broken Arrow Bryn Mawr Gazebo, Bryn Mawr, PA
Wednesday 13 July – Sunday 17 July, Woody Guthrie Folk Festival 2016, Okemah, OK
Saturday 30 July, Bryn Mawr Gazebo, Bryn Mawr, PA
Tuesday 02 August, Missoula Winery, Missoula, MT
Saturday 03 September – Monday 05 September, Kinderland Arts & Activism Festival 2016 Kinderland Camp, Sandisfield, MA,
Thursday 29 September, Somerville Theatre, Somerville, MA, US
Friday 30 September, Academy of Music Theatre, Northampton, MA
Friday 07 October, World Café Live, Philadelphia, PA
Saturday 08 October, World Café Live, Philadelphia, PA
Thursday 20 October, Eddie’s Attic, Decatur, GA
Friday 11 November, Edgewood United Church, East Lansing, MI
Wednesday 16 November, Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, MN
Friday 18 November, Barrymore Theatre, Madison, WI
Friday 02 December, Birchmere, Alexandria, VA
Saturday 03 December, Birchmere, Alexandria, VA
If I tipped you off to a great new album from an under-the-radar artist from the world of Folk, you might throw the word hippie at me. If I dropped the knowledge that Richard Thompson and Jim Lauderdale were involved in this album, you could change that word to hipster. If I then added that you’d also be getting a taste of Jill Sobule and The Hooters, you may very well accuse me using my time machine to travel from the early 90s.
At that point I’d stop being obtuse and tell you to check your cynicism and take the time to broaden your horizons. Folkie, hip, timeless Dar Williams is one of the best artists you’re not listening to yet, and that needs to change.
She is on top form with “Emerald”, her polished and heartfelt ninth studio record (out May 12th). After moving on from Razor & Tie records after a twenty year stint, Williams did what … (click to continue)
The Quick Six: Pop Culture Beast lets artists choose from our standard ten questions – we let them tell us what they’d like you to know. (Sometimes they answer more than six, who are we to say no?)
A former ABC National, Dallas and Atlanta radio personality, Martina O'Boyle is now making movies and covering culture in London, Dublin, and as far in Europe as the cheapie flights will take her, for Pop Culture Beast.