Friday, January 14, 2011


To Whom It May Concern:

An EXCLUSIVE Interview with The Civil Wars

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

Every once in a great while, a band comes along and takes your breath away. It might be their melodies that attract you or it could be the way their harmonies gently float above the music. In some cases, it might be the warmth of the production or the emotional depth of the songwriting. Whatever the reason may be, it connects with you in a way that you wouldn’t have expected. The Civil Wars, a duo consisting of Joy Williams and John Paul White, are one of those bands.

Meeting at a songwriting camp, Joy and John Paul were initially focused on pursuing their individual solo careers. Once they began collaborating, both of them realized that there was something special in the way they worked together. With their solo careers on hold, the duo became The Civil Wars and began creating a body of work that is thoroughly modern yet embraces the rustic and weather-beaten sounds of traditional Folk and Country.

In an age when perfectly-coiffed manufactured bands and auto-tuned teen sensations wrestle for a spot at the top of the charts, The Civil Wars are a joy to behold. Unpretentious and intimate, their debut studio album, Barton Hollow, is a stripped down, stirring effort that offers up its own unique spin on Americana. Here, the songs and the harmonies are the main attraction. Magnificent in its simplicity, Barton Hollow contains a plethora of spine-tingling moments that will have you revisiting the album on a regular basis.

Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Joy and John Paul to discuss Barton Hollow and all things Civil Wars…

SPAZ: Your debut album, Barton Hollow, is just about ready to hit the streets. How are you feeling about the album and about your career so far?
JOY WILLIAMS: We are thrilled about the full length releasing soon. John Paul and I put a lot of heart, sweat and soul into this record. We wanted to keep the guts of what we do intact - to keep it honest, raw, emotional, - and to truly create a listening experience out of that. I could not be more proud of this project, from front to back. As far as our career goes, we’ve been working hard, building - steadily, organically, without the red tape of record labels. We believe every show, every person, every song matters. And to watch the momentum build organically and exponentially - via online, word of mouth, or sold out shows - has been nothing short of thrilling. We are in this for the long haul...

SPAZ: You both met at a songwriting camp. What inspired each of you to attend and, apart from meeting each other, did you walk away with a better understanding of your craft?
JW: In Music City, professional writer gatherings are organized by labels or producers, and it is often an invite-only event. The term “camp” is just a colloquialism. The objective is for writers to concoct radio singles for a particular act, and that was where I was when I met John Paul. I’d never been to a gathering like that, and my publisher (at the time) encouraged me to go...because the invite list had some heavy-hitter names on it. I thought it would be a good idea to get in rooms and collaborate. I had no idea that I was about to meet my future duo partner there...
JOHN PAUL WHITE: …a partner who was looking for every possible way NOT to go. Thankfully, I did.

SPAZ: Once you began writing together, how long did it take to realize that there was something special in your collaboration?
JW: The connection was almost instantaneous, but I kept that realization close to the vest initially. It took a few more co-writes before we started talking about the strange, somewhat cosmic connection that happened when we wrote songs together.

SPAZ: Do each of you bring similar influences into The Civil Wars or do you feel that the songs feed off of your musical differences?
JW: Are you familiar with the term Yin and Yang? (smiles) We are very different in many ways, including our musical backgrounds. But I think it adds to the way we create.
JPW: I think that’s what has been the most surprising part of all of this. Two people from so widely disparate backgrounds creating this type of music doesn’t really make a lot of sense. So we don’t try to make any out of it.

SPAZ: With both of you pursuing a solo career, were you initially hesitant about beginning a new venture as one-half of a duo?
JW: The thought of collaborating, or starting a band with somebody else had truly never, ever crossed my mind. That is, until I met John Paul. With him, quite simply... it just made sense. I’m now slowly rethinking that as we keep going, though - JP is such a diva. Talks funny, too...I can hardly understand him, poor guy.
JPW: But she puts up with it and rides my coattails anyway.

SPAZ: How did you come about choosing Grammy winner Charlie Peacock to produce you?
JPW: Charlie's someone I met through Joy and Nate (Yetton, Joy’s husband and manager) . They had some history, but I met him for the first time at our debut performance in Nashville. Another of those relationships in your life that just make sense from the beginning, and continue to this day. We knew in our early conversations about general production brushstrokes that Charlie understood what we were after. So we went with our gut, and were rewarded.

SPAZ: The record is a beautiful but sparse picture of you and your music --- What did Charlie bring to the production for you that you didn’t already have in mind?
JPW: Too many things to mention. All from the same nebula we started with, but from the unique perspective of someone that has been on both sides of the desk. Also, he soon developed the mantra of: less of Joy, more of me. He’s a genius.

SPAZ: With technology at your fingertips, you still chose to keep things simple and warm on Barton Hollow. Were you ever tempted to ‘modernize’ your timeless sound?
JPW: Anything we were tempted to do, we did. If it worked for us, it stayed that way. We had absolutely no criteria in that regard. That’s something we’re extremely adamant about – whatever feels right, is right. And time after time, it seemed we just naturally leaned toward the “less is more” approach. But not necessarily by design.

SPAZ: Do you feel like the album contains the same magic that you experienced when you first began collaborating?
JPW: It contains a slightly less awkward, more knowing, developed version of that magic. We will always try to hold on to that initial spark if we possibly can – just like any healthy relationship.

SPAZ: You’ve received plenty of great press already but one of the best was a ‘tweet’ from Taylor Swift pronouncing “Poison & Wine” as her favorite duet. How unexpected was this and did you notice a new influx of fans due to her ‘endorsement’?
JPW: We’ve been consistently surprised, flattered, and humbled by the gracious press/feedback we’ve gotten so far. It’s amazing to us that we can be so focused on pleasing ourselves, and have that be something that is pleasing to others. We’re truly fortunate.

SPAZ: What’s next for The Civil Wars?
JW: Sky is the limit. We are going to keep writing, keep playing out, going to keep doing what we love. We will be touring nationally and internationally as much as possible, and we already have around 100 shows scheduled in the next 6 months alone.

SPAZ: What do you currently have spinning on your CD, DVD and record players?
JW : CD - Laura Veirs - July Flame; DVD - Feist - Look What The Light Did Now ; Vinyl - Karen Dalton - It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You Best
JPW: CD – Dylan LeBlanc – Pauper’s Field; DVD – The Orphanage (Guillermo Del Toro); Vinyl – broken. Sigh.

Thanks to Joy Williams and John Paul White

Special thanks to Shawn Fowler, Nate Yetton, Tony Moyers and Jocelynn Pryor

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