Dar Williams on Planned Parenthood, Raising Children and Connecting With Your Community
Once described as one of America's best singer/songwriters, Dar Williams has spent the better part of three decades living up to the accolades. A writer of intensely personal songs, Williams has just kept getting better and better and the evidence is on her last effort, 2012's In the Time of Gods.
Speaking from her sister-in-law's house in Washington D.C. in anticipation of Friday night's performance at the Kessler Theater, Dar Williams was spoke with DC9 about connecting with her community and her mother's involvement in Planned Parenthood.
Have you played at the Kessler Theater before?
No, I haven't, but I am excited to get the opportunity to. I've heard it's a great sounding venue. That makes it exciting. You definitely have your favorite places to play. I've not had a bad gig for several tours. The last time I was in Dallas, I played at this House of Blues that was right next to Hooters. That was new to me. The House of Blues did a beautiful job with the sound. There are theaters that are standouts for how they book and how they present shows.
You play many folk festivals, outdoor events and you also play the small coffee houses.
It's a really different atmosphere for both places. You have to educate yourself about them. The open air can get you very distracted. You can see people going about their day. You see people swatting flies. And at the coffee house, you will find half of the people heard of you from going to a festival. Festivals are an awesome opportunity to expose yourself to a new audience. Festivals have a flexible atmosphere and that is fun, too. Indoor venues are places that I honed my craft.
You are often compared to Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. Those are big shoes to fill. Are those just lazy comparisons?
I just taught a course about music movements. People are always looking at what happened in the sixties as special, what made it different and why we are always referring back to that time. I think it was special. It wasn't just baby boomers coming of age. It was people telling their parents that they were going to go hitchhiking instead of working for the man. You can argue that a lot of kids got kicked out of their houses for that. You had a bunch of kids who all of that music and clothing and philosophy had a personal connection with. Growing up and listening to that music, I could tell how it felt to the performers and the songwriters. They were on a mission. They weren't just making something clever. It wasn't just for the money. It was important. They were treated as leaders of their generation. That's how my parents treated it. The idea of writing a song for nothing, just for entertainment, was not for me. It was about what you had to say. The song has to make the people say why they are listening to this. People have described me as earnest. Perhaps that's similar to that era when people were offering words of kindness and support. It was a time when you were a witness to the audience as well as entertain them.
You mother was very active in Planned Parenthood. That organization has had a tortured existence here in Texas. Do you have conflicted feelings playing in our state?
Texas is a big state. It's funny because my experience with Planned Parenthood growing up, is a very noncontroversial one. It was about counseling and very much about closing the loopholes women were falling through. It was about making sure education was happening out front. At my house, abstinence training was pretty much the order of the day. It was all about the perils of sexuality itself. It wasn't coming from a religious background. There were a lot of consequences to your choices. You had to think things through. I am very proud of my mom. She was really there for a lot of people. I am a big supporter of Planned Parenthood, obviously. I think a lot of people in Texas are as well.
Your son turns ten very soon. How has raising children affected your music?
I think the best thing someone said to me was that once you have a child, you must really know your community. I think that was the biggest change in my life. Before I had a family, I was feeling a bit unrooted, even though I was living in nice, little towns. I didn't feel a lot of connections. With children, when I'm home I'm really home. When I am away, there is a whole network to count on. I know hundreds of people very well that I really love, people who love my children. And I love their children. I think my son and daughter have inspired me deeply. I also feel like now I know what it feels like to be a normal person. I feel so lucky to live where we do in New York. It is a special place.
Your last album, In the Time of Gods, came out in 2012. Are you working on another release?
Yes, it was going to be next year, but next year is the twentieth anniversary of The Honesty Room, my first album. We are doing some extra shows around that and that is taking up some of my recording time. Hopefully, a new record will be out by 2015.
Will there be some differences stylistically?
Well, strangely, I can never speak to whether or not it will be stylistically different. Some people are going to think I sound exactly like myself. I think thematically, the more albums I do, the closer I get to the ground. The next album has a lot to do with different kind of relationships. That brings it right down to the people right around me. In the old days, maybe I would go to a friend's house and watch the X-Files. I knew people at the café and the gym better than I knew neighbors. Now, I am really connected to all these people. I think this next album will show me woven into something finally. I think that is coming back a lot.