The Luckiest Musician Out There: A Conversation with Dar Williams

By Brent Thompson

Photo Courtesy of the Artist

It some ways it doesn’t seem possible that Dar Williams has been releasing albums for over 30 years. But, by that same measure, it’s hard to think of a time when the singer/songwriter wasn’t around to remind us that our shared feelings are greater than our differences. In 2021, Williams released I’ll Meet You Here (Renew Records), her first outing in six years. On Saturday, May 4, Williams returns to Birmingham for a performance at WorkPlay. Recently, she spoke with us by phone from her home in New York’s Hudson Valley region.

Southern Stages: Dar, thanks for your time. We are really enjoying I’ll Meet You Here. If you will, tell us about the album.

Dar Williams: One [song] is a re-recording and there is a cover of “Sullivan Lane” by a group called The Grand Slambovians. They are a band that I really admire and they happen to live down the street from me [laughs]. It’s all about celebrating friendship – when you’re off the beaten track and you find your people. I wish I had written a song like that and they did, so that’s “Sullivan Lane.”

Southern Stages: Was the album recorded before or during Covid?

Williams: It was before, which is amazing because a lot of it seems completely relevant to the Covid crisis, so go figure.

Southern Stages: When you are on tour, do you typically perform solo or do you bring other musicians?

Williams: It’s me solo a lot and sometimes I go out with a keyboard player and sometimes keyboards and electric guitar. This time I’m solo.

Southern Stages: How do you comprise your set lists these days?

Williams: It depends on where I am in terms of if I’ve played there lately. I’ve put out three albums since I was at WorkPlay in 2009 with Josh Radin.

Southern Stages: Some artists say that this is a great time to be in your position given easy access to listeners via Spotify, iTunes, Youtube, satellite radio and other modern outlets. Other artists say – for that same reason – that this is a difficult time to be found among the crowd.  How do you view the current climate of the music industry?

Williams: I feel like the luckiest musician out there because there was that scaffolding of record companies and the hierarchy that came with it. You were climbing your way through something that had a lot of structure. You had to do certain things in order for the structure to support your career. I don’t miss the celebrity softball game of supporting some local radio station in Boston and I don’t miss feeling compared to other people. Capitalism is like a nose and the nose only smells one thing and that’s money. It pretends to have ears and eyes and will tell you – if you’re making a lot of money – that you’re beautiful and brilliant. If you’re not making money, it’ll tell you that you’re ugly and untalented. You have to roll your eyes a lot, but there was a structure. I lead a songwriting retreat and I get to see that moment of engagement and discovery in songwriting. I get to see people listening and crying and nodding their heads. Making a living in music – that’s a different thing. In 2007, 40 percent of my income went out the door because of the streaming economy. We are all one twisted ankle away – or a case of laryngitis – from a cancelled tour. Putting everything on the live performance has been okay for me and I had a highly-structured career preceding the collapse. I’m so lucky because I had all that structure and now I have all this freedom and I can still be on a record label if I want to or I can do it independently.

Southern Stages: Do you have any upcoming songwriting retreats?

Williams: We do. We have three and two of them are sold out – the one in October is not sold out. They are in Connecticut and they’re about 50 people each and [Singer/songwriter/Old 97’s member] Rhett Miller is coming to the one in October. It’s a really important part of my life at this point. It’s centered on people finding the space and the respect to figure out what’s important to them so they can take it from there. There’s also a lot of humor and lightness and it’s fun.

On Saturday, May 4, Code-R Productions Presents Dar Williams at WorkPlay. Advance tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $25 and can be purchased at