When an artist wins four Grammys and is now riding solo, it can only mean a lot of pressure to handle but Joy Williams shows no weakness with her new album and is ready to move on to this next big chapter of her life!
Joy Williams released her debut solo album Venus on June 30th 2015 and it’s a statement of intent from one of America’s premier singer-songwriters. It showcases Joy’s vulnerability and artistic expression in a light previously unseen. Joy was of course one half of the Grammy Award winning duo The Civil Wars who disbanded somewhat acrimoniously in the summer of 2014.
At the beginning of the phone interview Joy informed us that it was a good day in Los Angeles so far as she’d had her morning coffee and asked how the weather was in Toronto. It rather pleased us to inform her that it wasn’t -30 for a while yet!
Joy Wiliams showcases some true and raw emotions throughout her new album especially with “Sweet Love Of Mine” which was written for her young son Miles and was co-written and produced by Incubus guitarist and general musical wizard Mike Einziger. That’s not where the family theme ends though, she’s actually managed by her husband Nate! Interestingly, she learned her songwriting craft in hit factory town Nashville and has applied her musical experience to her life as a solo artist in Los Angeles in much the same way that longtime friend and collaborator Taylor Swift did.
The lead single from the album “Woman (Oh Mama)” focuses on “what it’s like to experience the beauty, the spark and strength of what it is to be inside your skin. I wanted to own the complexity and the three dimensional aspect of what it is to be a woman.”
During our interview with Joy we discuss the next chapter in her life, her evolution as a woman in the music industry and the single most important lesson she’s learnt since her career began.
See the full interview below:
1. When did you realize that music was the road you wanted to pursue?
Well I always grew up in a musical household but I think the moment that I felt the lightbulb went on for me was at a Christmas recital where I had my first solo all by myself. I wore a green velvet dress and had hair with a big white bow. It was the first time I got over my fear because I was quite shy. That applause felt like the biggest high I’d felt up to that point.
2. If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
I go back and forth between a therapist and some other creative & artistic bohemian being. Not sure exactly what it would be… maybe a travelling circus performer?! [Laughs]
3. Every artist has a different story, but one thing that remains the same is that they’ve all met an obstacle at one point that put them on the verge of giving up and pursuing a different career. Do you recall a time feeling that way as a young singer songwriter?
Definitely, I’ve had several chapters over the course of my career where I’ve felt like I’ve come up across a mountain. Whether it was having a manager that early on at the beginning of my career mismanaged my money and brought me all the way down into debt as an 18 year old artist, to asking myself what’s now.
I’ve had lots of moments where music seemed like it wouldn’t pay the bills but I think in those moments I realised that I really love making music, that I can do other things but music kept beckoning me back. I just kept trying to show up and give it my all at any opportunity I had. I think a lot of people can relate to that, we all hit those moments where we go “wait, what now?”. Obviously when The Civil Wars came crashing down, I think I’m still trying to picture what it looks like now – releasing music on my own and that comes with it’s own mountains to climb. But I think when you’ve climbed a few before there’s no telling what the outcome or future will be, but at least you know that you’ve overcome some of these mountain climbing hurdles in the past.
4. You won four Grammy Awards & sold over one million albums with The Civil Wars. Does it motivate you to surpass your last project or do you feel somewhat at peace as an artist finally, knowing that you’ve created music that’s achieved the highest award in the music industry.
[Laughs] I think I would say that I feel proud of all of that but still really motivated to forge my own path and creativity. I’ve had so many different paths and chapters in making music since I’ve started and it’s always been an adventure. A lot of being in The Civil Wars was bucket list kind of experiences but I still feel very young and like I have so much to learn, do and grow as an artist. That really motivated me to continue doing that and to just take all the good and best parts along the way with me.
5. For many artists out there who have been in similar circumstances, how do you find your voice and sound again when embarking on a solo career after having such a high level of success with a previous project in a band or as duet?
Oh man, I think it’s scary as hell starting over after having been part of an entity that was so branded in it’s sound. Moving forward I didn’t want to react and pretend like I wasn’t in the duo. I wanted to experiment with sounds and different styles of songwriting – to work that muscle until I found something that brought me up on to my tip toes, that really excited me! It took me a couple of years and almost eighty songs to get there. Even now I feel that scratches the surface of what I can actually do as a solo artist. It’s daunting yes because even recently I’ve experienced just understanding that a lot of people still want the sound of The Civil Wars.
6. You are very involved as an artist in the studio, can you tell us your top 3 production items to have in the studio with you at all times?
I would say for me, I love Neumann microphones – the vintage ones especially. They can add so much character to what and how you’re singing. I’d also say a really good preamp – those are unique and have to fit the voice. I know it’s not an item but I really feel like a good engineer in a studio allows for creativity to flow or makes everything sounds good on the track. They’re the unsung heroes of every record that’s ever been heard!
7. Where is the weirdest place or what is the weirdest moment you thought of a genius lyric or melody?
Well I don’t know if I’ve written a genius lyric or melody to date, that’s still on my bucket list of things to do. I will say though that melodies and lyrics can pop up in the strangest places. Once I was in a really nice board room in a meeting and I had to just quietly remember it to myself! Another time it could be out the back of our house in Nashville. It can be anywhere, that’s the fun of it though – if you’re looking and your eyes are open.
8. You’ve worked in many different cities including LA and Nashville, which would you say contributed to the most growth as an artist and writer?
I feel as a writer Nashville very much still prizes the art of telling a story in songs and finding that word or lyric that is just write. Generally from the people I have worked with writing is not like a shooting from the hip experience, it’s a thoughtful, diligent and sometimes creative marathon. I feel better for having to spend that many years in Nashville learning the craft. I think LA has helped me as an artist to open up, it taught me that you’ve got to know the rules in order to break them. I think that’s what LA does as an artist and as a creative.
9. If you could describe your new album Venus in one sentence, what would it be?
[Laughs] It can be hard to condense music like that sometimes but for me what comes to mind is a spacious journey of vulnerability, acceptance, forgiveness and learning how to move on while holding on to what matters most!
10. Tell us more about your collab with Taylor Swift for the Hunger Games Soundtrack.
Oh man that’s so many years ago now! Taylor came to one of the very first shows The Civil Wars did in Nashville and when we hung out backstage we struck up a friendship. That kept going then we caught up with each other, she called me out of the blue while The Civil Wars were on tour and said “I’m working on a song for the Hunger Games Soundtrack with T Bone Burnett, I’d love it if you could join us”. John Paul and I had actually just worked with T Bone on our own song for the Hunger Games Soundtrack. So there was that familiarity there with T Bone and Taylor, they’re wonderful. We sat down at T Bone’s house close to Beverly Hills with some guitars and words and melodies started flowing. Everybody contributed, that was the greatest thing. Sometimes when you get in a room with that many people it can feel a bit stunted but it felt like we were in the living room as a family band. We recorded all of the vocals that same afternoon, which are the vocals you hear on that same recording. That was such a great day, I remember I had just found out that I was pregnant and I was sick as a dog so I also remember trying not to throw up most of the time! All worth it in the end definitely!
11. What’s the best piece of advice you have received from a music industry insider?
I would say one of the things that has mattered most to me was something very early on that I heard which really resonated with me. It was a label head that I worked with when I was 17 or 18 and he said “Just remember that every person counts” and that has meant so much to me over the years. Whether it’s the artist opening for you, the concert promoter or the ticket buyer – the crew or the person sweeping up at the end of the show that everybody walks right past that you should be thankful and engage everybody you encounter.
12. What is Paradise to you?
Paradise to me is being surrounded by people I love, everybody’s healthy. Being outside near some kind of beautiful body of water. Wine, food and savouring the day. That’s Paradise to me.
Label: Columbia Records / Sony Music Entertainment
Buy the album on iTunes.
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