Dar Williams

Dar Williams (Dorothy Snowden Williams, born , 1967) is an American singer-songwriter specializing in pop folk.


She is a frequent performer at folk festivals and has toured with such artists as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Griffin, Ani DiFranco, The Nields, Shawn Colvin, Girlyman, Joan Baez, and Catie Curtis.


Biography


Williams was born in Mount Kisco, New York, and grew up in Chappaqua with two older sisters, Meredith and Julie. Her nickname "Dar" originated due to a mispronunciation of "Dorothy" by one of Williams's sisters. Recently, in an interview with WUKY radio, Dar said her parents wanted to name her Darcy, after the character in Pride and Prejudice, and that they intentionally called her "Dar-Dar", which she shortened to "Dar" in school.


In interviews, she has described her parents as "liberal and loving" people who early on encouraged a career in songwriting. Williams began playing the guitar at age nine and wrote her first song two years later. However, she was more interested in drama at the time, and majored in theater and religion at Wesleyan University.


Williams moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1990 to further explore a career in theater. She worked for a year as stage manager of the Opera Company of Boston, but on the side began to write songs, record demo tapes, and take voice lessons. Her voice teacher encouraged her to try performing at coffeehouses, but her early years performing were made difficult by the intimidating nature of the Boston folk music scene, as well as her own battle with stage fright. In 1993 Williams moved to Northampton, Massachusetts.


Early in Williams's music career, she opened for Joan Baez, who would make her relatively well known by recording some of her songs (Williams also dueted with Baez on Ring Them Bells). Her growing popularity has since relied heavily on community coffeehouses, public radio, and an extensive fan base on the Internet.


Williams recorded her first full album, The Honesty Room, under her own label, Burning Field Music. Guest artists included Nerissa and Katryna Nields and Gideon Freudmann. The album was soon picked up by Waterbug Records. In 1995, she moved to Razor & Tie, and her first album for that label, 1996's Mortal City received substantial notice, partially due to the fact that it coincided with her tour with Baez. The album again featured guest appearances by the Nields sisters and Freudmann, as well as noted folk artists John Prine, Cliff Eberhardt and Lucy Kaplansky. With that success, Razor & Tie re-released The Honesty Room. By the time of her third release, End of The Summer (1997), Williams' career had gathered substantial momentum, and the album did remarkably well, given its genre and independent label status.


In 1998, Williams, Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky formed the group Cry Cry Cry as a way to pay homage to some of their favorite folk artists. The band released an eponymous album of covers and toured from 1998 to 2000.


She has since released four more studio albums on the Razor & Tie label (The Green World (2000), The Beauty of the Rain (2003), My Better Self (2005), and Promised Land (2008)), as well as a live album (Out There Live (2001)).


Williams has lent her talent and support to various causes, founding the Snowden Environmental Trust and taking part in many benefit concerts. She performed in a show at Alcatraz with Baez and the Indigo Girls, to benefit the prisoner-rights group Bread and Roses.


As someone who has toured a great deal of the time and had trouble finding suitable dining on the road, Williams was inspired to write and publish a directory of natural food stores and restaurants called The Tofu Tollbooth in 1994. In 1998 Williams co-authored a second edition with Elizabeth Zipern.


On , 2002, she married Michael Robinson, an old friend from college. Their son, Stephen Gray Robinson, was born on , 2004. She currently resides in Hudson Highlands, New York.


Dar Williams on songwriting


Williams wants her music to be an "efficient career," something she can do her entire life. She strives to accomplish this by "continuously court your muse; to keep writing stuff that feels risky about things you believe in, that you're really feeling."


Songs


Recurrent themes in Williams's songs include religion, adolescence, gender issues, anti-commercialism, misunderstood relationships, loss, humor, and geography.


Williams' early work spoke clearly of her upbringing in 1970s and 80s suburbia -- of alienation, and the hypocrisy evident in the post-WWII middle class. On the track "Anthem" on her early tape All My Heroes Are Dead, she sang, "I know there's blood in the pavement and we've turned the fields to sand."


Williams' songs often address gender typing, roles, and inequities. "You're Aging Well" on The Honesty Room discusses adolescent body image, ageism and self-loathing in excruciating detail. The song ended with the singer finding an unnamed female mentor who pointed her toward a more enlightened and mature point of view. Joan Baez covered the song in concert and later duetted with Williams on tours.


A 2001 article in The Advocate discussed Williams' popularity among LGBT people, writing that among LGBT-supportive straight songwriters, "few manage in their lyrics to dig as deeply or as authentically as... Williams does".


"When I Was a Boy", also on The Honesty Room, uses Williams' own childhood experiences as a tomboy to muse on gender roles and how they limit boys and girls, who then become limited men and women.


"The Christians and Pagans" on Mortal City simultaneously tackles both religion and sexual orientation through a tale of a lesbian/pagan couple that chooses to spend solstice with the devout Christian uncle of one of the women, thus creating a situation where people who would oppose each other on almost every political and cultural front try to get by on pure politeness. Throughout the song, the family members begin to discover their differences need not estrange them from one another.


In an interview in 2007 on the Food Is Not Love podcast, she said that the song "February" from Mortal City was one of her songs that she liked best. She referred to the way the song "kept on evolving into, not only what I wanted to say, but what I wanted to say and didn't even know was in there." She liked the way the song "kept on breaking its own rules in a way that art is all about."


Williams' relationship with her family is hinted at through several songs, perhaps most notably in "After All" off The Green World. The song appears to deal mainly with her depression at the age of twenty-one, referring to it as a "winter machine that you go through" repeatedly while "everyone else is spring-bound." It also hints at a history of physical abuse suffered by her parents, which ironically helps to give some closure and perspective to Williams' own personal struggles.


Later work


Williams' recent albums are characterized by more lush arrangements, guest artists, movement away from the tropes and techniques of folk song-writing, and the wry sensibility of a mature woman looking at her life, rather than a young woman trying to handle her upbringing.


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