How did you get into music? The late '60s, early '70s were a time that I tend to sort of mythologize in my mind . . . because there was my parents' vinyl collection and no computers and no TV to speak of. (There was) a lot of folk rock that took itself very seriously (including) Simon & Garfunkel and Judy Collins and Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. My parents took it very seriously as art, so listening to music was a very important thing to do.
What instruments did you try out? When I was 9, I tried the clarinet, and that didn't last long. Then, I went to guitar.
As you got older did your influences expand? I joke that it's my parents record collection that did it. My dad also had a lot of classical music, so I kind of fell in love with melody. I worked at an opera company for about a year, and again, the idea of narrative through music . . . was in there. To be honest, The Beatles and disco and . . . New York pop radio (all influenced me). There's not a really straight-ahead acoustic sound in my music. Then, in college . . . my friends . . . turned me onto experimental music . . . like Kate Bush and . . . Meredith Monk.
Did your time in theater help you hone your storytelling skills? Yes. When I was young, I used to choreograph all of these different musicals in my parent's living room in the dark . . . because I was an insomniac. With one light on in the hallway, I would . . . choreograph all these show tunes (from my parents' record collection). (We grew up) in a small town, but it had a . . . drama group and we used to see a lot of plays in high school. You know, you think that show tunes and musicals are sort of frothy. As I got older (I realized) there's a lot of commentary that gets sifted through musicals. "The King and I" was addressing imperialism. "Fiddler on the Roof" . . . really cemented this understanding of Jewish history and the American consciousness.
Do you remember when you wrote your first song? I wrote my first song in camp when I was 11 and then I wrote songs for theater shows in high school. When I got to college . . . I (was in) sort of an off-color variety show and I wrote a song called "If We Could All Have Sex Together."
Was there a moment when you made the decision to pursue music? I came to Boston to write plays. There was a really harsh local theater scene. Anything that was valued by the newspapers came out of New York City. In the meantime, you could just pay $2 to play two songs . . . at a coffeehouse at anyone of these open mikes that were resurging. So, I went with that. Now, I can't imagine any other life than the one I have.
What did spending some time on the road with Joan Baez mean to you? She did everything she could to humanize herself to everybody she worked with. She would encourage me to try certain things, whether it be hydrating my voice or shopping for more glittery stuff. She was a very nurturing professional. It was fun to watch my sister bowing down . . . and my parents being very shy. I also got to introduce my parents to Judy Collins last year. Both women were incredibly gracious, and both of them are very honest about themselves with their fellow performers.
What did you want to say with your latest album "Promised Land"? I have a very cool manager . . . and I said, "What do you think of 'Promised Land'?" He said, "I can't hear the expression promised land without a question mark." And I said, "That's exactly what I wanted." So there (are) two things: One is that one person's promised land is either another person's betrayal or something over which blood was shed. Conversely, I (live) in this really cool town with lots of gardeners and musicians and writers and just good friends. It feels like the promised land . . . and I really think that when you work to be a good neighbor . . . and then that all comes back to you on a daily basis . . . it's exactly what you heard about in terms as a sort of an enchanted, promised place.
What's coming up for you? I'm in the midst of taking six months off with occasional shows. York is going to be one of those. Being a traveling musician is part of who I am, so I miss it when I'm not doing it. The goal is to get (my) kids out on the road as much as possible. At its best, when you bring the two worlds together, it's as fun and wonderful as life can be. At its worst, it's two hungry kids, no sleep and you have to be on stage with a stain on your pants. But if you plan it right . . . you're constantly in the flow of living in a great town and living in a great country.
- ERIN McCRACKEN, FLIPSIDE STAFF
On the Web
For details about Dar Williams, visit www.darwilliams.com.
To listen to the interview, visit www.flipsidepa.com.
To read more meet-the-artist interviews, visit www.flipsidepa.com/musicdirectory.
If you go
CapLive and WXPN present Dar Williams Friday at the Capitol Theatre, 50 N. George St. in York. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30. For details and tickets, visit www.caplivemusic.com.