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Dar Williams at Thalia Hall

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 Perry

Renovated in 2013, in the up-and-coming art neighborhood, Pilsen, Thalia Hall is the new old place for seeing live music in Chicago.  On Saturday, April 25th, Singer-songwriter Dar Williams performed for the first time on the Thalia Stage.  Her folk infused sound echoed throughout the theater, serenading the crowd of new and true fans.  Three songs in, she performed the title track of her new album, Emerald.   A collection of new songs and collaborations, William's new album launches today, May 12.

William's spoke with Halfstack about her latest album, Emerald, and what we can expect from this new release!

Halfstack: When and how did you decide you wanted to become a musician? 
Dar Williams: When I was 16, I was staying home from school and took out my parents' Judy Collins record and listened to "Wild Flowers." It had a Joni Mitchell song, it had Leonard Cohen song. I felt like that music was made by people who believed that our civilization needed these words. I just remember being 16 saying, "These are life or death songs." I wished that that was the way music was still, because that was the height of the disco era. I loved disco, but it was the '80s so it was the highly produced electronic music. I loved that music, but it wasn't my parents' folk-rock collection. Then lo and behold in the '90s I was in Cambridge, MA where there was a whole station devoted to the new incarnation of this music. I was just in the right place at the right time to become a part of that scene and I never looked back.

HS: What inspires you most when writing music?

DW: Museums. Definitely museums. Museums are just dedicated to figuring things out without a definite answer or monetary goal and of course, it's provocative. So, I can always count on a museum.

HS: You have a new album releasing soon, can you tell us more about that?

DW: More than ever, it describes a big trip--like an odyssey--that is defined by relationships and friendships. It's probably no coincidence that I recorded it with a lot of different friends and wrote songs with different friends and caught up with old producers that I had worked with and went back to my friends to make the album. I was getting back to my friends and all these different parts of my life so it was really defined by relationships.

HS: You collaborated with quite a few other artists for the album.  What artists did you choose to work with and why? 

HS: I decided to do a good old fashioned co-writing week in Nashville because I'd never done that and I thought it would be fun. It was more than fun. Nashville is really hot right now for fun, interesting musicians. I worked on two songs during that week that I went home and finished and that made it onto the album. I loved working with Brad Wood and Stewart Lerman, two producers. I went back to them to do certain songs that reminded me of them and co-wrote a song with Jill Sobule. I always wanted to cover "Johnny Appleseed" which was a Joe Strummer song, but with The Hooters, outside of Philly because they're my friends. I always had a little person in my mind or sitting next to me that I always intended to record with even as   was writing it. I also wrote a song with my keyboard player who I had played with for seven years, Bryn Roberts. Maybe it was just an excuse to hang out with my friends.

HS: What is currently your favorite song on the new album?

DW: The song that I like the best right now is "Mad River" because I'm on the road and it's translating onto stage ten times better than I thought it would and that's really fun. When you go out on tour you discover what parts of your album sound the best for an audience and that one has really been good.

HS: How do you think this album will be most different from music you have released in the past?  

DW: I am actually happy to say that it has some similarities. I was concerned that working with seven producers meant that it would be stitched together awkwardly. Actually, because I'm part of the mix and because the album is unified by my voice and my experiences and possibly my friends, there is somehow some unity in the sound of the album.  Which actually makes it like other albums in a really good way, considering how eclectic the process was.

HS: What are you looking forward to most about being back on tour?

DW: Touring is, like, 20 percent mystery and 80 percent excitement, so you never know what's going to happen on a stage. But, once you're there it's always exciting. When I'm off the stage for more than two months I forget how exciting it is. Visiting cities is kind of like visiting old friends--just the streets and the restaurants and the promoters and the audiences. Every day is old home week when you're on tour.

HS: On April 25th, you performed in Chicago at Thalia Hall.   How was it being back in Chicago?

DW: Thalia Hall is new and the people who work there are really committed to doing something great. There must be some good ghosts in there because it was one of those nights were you felt like the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

HS: What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t performing, writing music, or touring?
DW: Walking around and thinking my thoughts. I'm working on a book so I have a lot to think about right now. I used to pretend that I had a hobby or that I was looking for a hobby or an intention to start knitting or speaking Spanish or something like that. But, I actually just love walking around thinking about stuff. I can never get enough time to make sense of things. I like doing that.

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