“It means a lot to me that people want to come hang out in the living room with me.”
Joy Williams, formerly of the folk duo The Civil Wars, isn’t extending an actual welcome for fans to come sit in her living room, but wants her audiences to feel at home nonetheless. In the midst of releasing her new album, Front Porch, she hopes that the invitation is heard.
Williams and I had the chance to speak on the phone, and her warmth was tangible. She immediately began to talk about the changes she’s been experiencing lately and how the feelings of grief, fear, and need for home have inspired her. After The Civil Wars split and the passing of her father, she moved to L.A. with her family to deal with her grief as her world turned upside down.
“It really was sort of a running away to heal,” she says as she discusses this transformative time in her life. Although she needed this time to be with family, she found herself missing Nashville, where she had lived for the past fifteen years.
“I wanted to move back to a place that felt familiar, a place that felt a little more like me. It took me needing it to come back and really be able to call it home.” In the process of returning to her roots geographically, she noticed that the desire to simplify her sound came along with it. In 2015, Williams released Venus,a solo album that danced between the world of pop, folk, and explored hip hop beats. The realization of “missing just the singing along to an acoustic guitar” birthed Front Porch, a stripped-back, simple album set to release in 2019 that she hopes will inspire her listeners to return home as well.
Williams had a lot to say when it came to the making of Front Porch and working with friend and producer, Kenneth Pattengale of The Milk Carton Kids. Running into each other at a graduation party in Nashville, the two reconnected and the wheels began to turn. They spoke with each other for hours about ideas for Williams’ new project and she couldn’t speak highly enough of the influence he had on the album. “I wanted to work with someone who really knew and loved harmonies as equally as I do, and the process felt so organic and easy” she says. To Williams, it was important to work with someone who understood the difficulties of producing something so simple. While her work with Pattengale may be a more stripped back sound than her previous album, Venus, it was no less work—Pattengale and Williams recorded fifteen songs in five days. Her voice sang with excitement as she recounted the times that she, Pattengale, her guitarist, and her husband worked through the arrangements and harmonies of her songs in her living room, which added to the personal feel of the album.
Front Porch isn’t the only new piece of William’s life. She gave birth to her second child, Poppy, while finishing up the album. She says that being with child during the recording process of the album inspired her “to find my spine in a way that I could be proud of and tell my kids about.” She also speaks to the importance of having her first daughter during “a really charged feminine time in the country,” pushing her even harder to find her voice and speak her truth. If her kids have changed anything musically, it would be the way that Williams approaches her work, both thematically and emotionally.
“In the process of recording, I was six months pregnant. I wasn’t one of the lucky moms that feel like it was rainbows and unicorns during the first and second trimester—I got really sick.” She remembers thinking “I’m tired, I’m going to sit on this stool and sing these songs.” Williams doesn’t view this time as being physically tolling but more-so recognizes that it helped her break down the songs in a more genuine way. As a self-proclaimed “recovering perfectionist,” she recalls something both her mom and her producer, Charlie Peacock, told her, “You don’t need to try harder, you need to try less.”
Although her music speaks to the simplistic story-telling aspect she wanted to convey, her life on the road sounds anything but simple. She travels with her husband and her kids and says that having the band with them makes it feel like a big family. She doesn’t fail to mention the trials of touring with her family but she seems to cherish her time on the road.
“Touring is like a circus,” she laughs, “It’s chaos trying to figure out bed time and show time and navigating how to do that all at the same time, but it’s a beautiful tornado that I’m glad to be a part of.”
Williams recently released two singles from her upcoming album, “The Trouble with Wanting” and “Canary.” When asked if she feels more anxiety or excitement about releasing the singles and the album to follow, she proclaims that she feels pregnant all over again with how much eagerness she’s feeling about releasing Front Porch.
“I’m just thinking ‘I can’t wait for all this to be out into the world!’” She mentions the anxiety that comes with releasing songs that have taken on a new sound, but that the fan reaction has eased the nervousness and left her feeling extremely grateful that people want to listen to her songs and come to her shows.
“We’re only two songs in, so people coming to shows right now when there is not a ton of new music out feels like a very warm welcome and a sign of good things to come.” She wants her live shows to feel like home where everyone is invited to sit together and experience what it’s like to play a record on the front porch.
“Everyone is welcome. Wrinkles, warts, scabs, and scars… all of those things. They’re all welcome because they’re all real. That’s what makes us human, and that’s what makes us loveable.”
Not only will audiences experience the feeling of family, they will get to hear a variety of Williams’ songs, old and new. She hopes that her audiences will be able to sing along to their favorite songs as well get an early glimpse at what her record will sound like.
Williams makes it clear that her new sound will be for everyone. Comparing music to cooking, she explains that “To me, making music is a lot like cooking. It’s fun to cook for yourself, but it’s way more fun when you get to share it with other people.”
Williams will be performing at the 20th Century Theatre on November 30th. Kick back, relax, enjoy the beautiful music, and feel a little more at home “or like you’re on the front porch, if we’re keeping it on brand.”