An Interview with JOY WILLIAMS About Her Brand New Solo Studio Album, “VENUS” and Much More!
Posted On 15 Jul 2015
Tag: Al Bowlly, All Access, All Access Music Group, Annie Lennox, Artist Interview, Before I Sleep, Billie Holiday, Chris Cornell, Civil Wars, Columbia Records, Grammy, Grammy Awards, Hate To See Your Heart Break, Hayley Williams, John Paul White, Joy Williams, Kate Bush, Massive Attack, Matt Berninger, Neil Young, Paramore, Peter Gabriel, Portishead, Until the Levee, USA Today, Venus, Woman (Oh Mama)
As the winner of four Grammy Awards, Joy Williams has released four solo albums and four EPs since the release of her self-titled debut in 2001. from 2009 to 2012, she was part of the duo, the Civil Wars with John Paul White
Last month, Williams released her latest solo album, “Venus” via Columbia Records.
“There’s something about the last few years that I’ve been through that have totally broken me in a lot of ways,” she told the audience at a recent concert. “But you can choose to break down or you can choose to break open and I’m really, really proud of the fact that the breaking open has been happening for me. We all have that choice and we all make that in our own ways, less gracefully and definitely not perfectly.”
“So much of this record is about the letting go of any idea of having to be perfect or strong all the time. It’s acknowledging weaknesses and fears and insecurities,” she explains. “Once it’s messy, that’s when the really good conversations start happening with yourself first and foremost. I found that to be true for me.”
Learn more about Joy Williams in the following All Access interview:
How has it been being solo this past year? Does a part still miss being in the group atmosphere of Civil Wars?
I feel like I’m reclaiming myself. Finding my own voice again. I will always be proud of the music I made in The Civil Wars, but this feels like the right time to be where I am. I’m scared and exhilarated all at the same time.
How is the music on your forthcoming album different or similar to other music that you’ve released before? How is different than Civil Wars music?
I took the best parts of what I learned in The Civil Wars and brought my love of Massive Attack, Annie Lennox, Portishead, Kate Bush and hip-hop and made something that was completely different. Something completely my own.
I feel that a couple of the songs on “VENUS” are a bridge to some of the things we did with The Civil Wars. “Before I Sleep” and “Until the Levee” both felt like the gentlest way to bring in people that may have been aware of The Civil Wars before, with the antiqued imagery-laden lyrics and the sonics that we created around it. It wasn’t some sort of calculated thing, just a natural progression. “Before I Sleep” was the very first song I wrote for the record, and it just felt like the right place to start from. A continuation on my musical path.
Do you feel like you have more freedom to create the kind of music that you have always wanted to release?
Yes. I’ll always be thankful for the chapter in music I’ve had before. Each one along the way has taught me. I want to bring the best with me as I grow. I feel more freedom to create in a way that feels truly who I am now, standing on my own two feet.
What was the inspiration for your current lead single “Woman (Oh Mama)”?
This whole song is an invitation to come closer to the beauty and the vigor and the spark of what it is to be inside your own skin. It’s a song with energy and fire. I wanted to own the complexity and the three dimensional aspect of what it is to be a woman. “I am a universe wrapped in skin”… That’s probably one of my favorite lines from the new album. We are so much more than meets the eye.
Your duet, “Hate To See Your Heart Break” with Paramore’s Hayley Williams is incredibly beautiful. How did you two get two get together? Can fans expect more duets from you in the future? Who would you love to work with?
I love Hayley like a sister. We’ve known each other a long time, almost half of our lives. We met in Nashville and immediately hit it off, even as younger kids. It’s incredible to have a friend that you can pick right up where you left off, and she’s one of those for me. Besides Hayley, I’ve also collaborated with Chris Cornell and also Matt Berninger on special projects. I love singing with friends, and finding that blend with whomever I’m singing with. That said, I’m focused on my solo career. If I could work with anybody, I’d probably go back in time…to musicians like Billie Holiday or Al Bowlly. I’m an old soul at heart.
You’ve been quoted as saying that your new album was influenced by Portishead, Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. You told USA Today: “I wanted to take the best parts of what I learned from being in The Civil Wars and bring it to a new space where I could infuse more of my influences.” Can you elaborate on this?
How to craft a song, weave a metaphor, or just use plain speak. I took the creative labor I was a part of and took those skills to another level for myself. I got even more driven to do something that scares me a little, generally a sign for me when I know I’m onto something good. I got even more vulnerable, more emotional and set on creating something that felt searing and honest, and moving. Then I brought my singular influences and moved the furniture around until it felt right. And I found a sound I’m really proud of on this record. It feels very much like me.
How do you balance being a wife and mother while out on the road? Do you think it has changed your views at all about your career?
I don’t believe in balance anymore. I believe in tension. There’s a real tension – a good one – to juggling passions. I love being Miles’ Mom, I love living life adventurously with Nate, and I love making music. I try to just be present wherever I am : on the floor playing planes with my son, or out to dinner with my husband on a date, or on stage. I think it’s the tension that keeps me curious, on my toes and grateful for it all. It’s a challenge, being out on the road like this, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love traveling with my family. Has it changed my views about my career? Definitely. I’ve become even more driven and focused creatively, not wanting to waste time because it feels so fleeting these days. And yet, I don’t get as frustrated over the little things as I used to. I’d like to think juggling all this has made me more soulful as a person, and as an artist. More patient and able to laugh. I used to think I was so busy before having a baby. Looking back, I think “What did I do with all that spare time?” Now I’m lucky if I remember to put blush on both sides of my face before walking out the door.
So far, when it comes to your career, what would you say are your biggest accomplishments? Winning those Grammys?
I’ve been grateful to have some amazing experiences along the way. Bucket list kinds of experiences. But I’m not one to sit back and rest on my laurels. Neil Young says “Your best work is ahead of you. It has to be.”
Where do you see yourself in 5 -10 years?
On an adventure, like I am now. Breathing deep, being grateful, loving, being messy and hopefully still being brave. With a few more laugh lines on my face and more good stories to tell.
Is there a general message in “Venus” that you hope fans take away from it?
I wrote this album as one way of healing so I could move forward. At its core, it’s about forgiveness, moving through the darkest parts in life, knowing when to let go, and knowing when to hold on…and be stronger and kinder for it. I went through a lot in the last few years. The duo ending, having a baby, going through hardships in my marriage, and my Dad passing away from cancer. I wanted to make an album that was deeply personal, something that other people could listen to and find their own stories in, too…that they might be able to feel what I felt writing these songs : a little more alive and a little less alone.