It’s been 14 years since Dar Williams last visited Santa Barbara and plenty has happened since then. Not only has her sound evolved from folksy singer/songwriter fare to more lush and lavish arrangements, her lyrical subject matter has grown exponentially. From the vantage point of upstate New York, Williams-now a mother of one-is looking at her community in a whole new light. While she has always been concerned with painting the big picture in her songs, it’s the people and goings-on in her own town that are now coloring her palette. They also served as the foundation for her most recent recording, Promised Land. While the goal of Williams’s music has always been to highlight the common threads that connect us all, this Friday night at SOhO she’ll offer Santa Barbarans an all too rare opportunity to make an in-person connection.
Promised Land has become your most triumphant release yet in terms of chart success. What are you personally most pleased about with the album? There are three things. Firstly, there are songs that started in one place and ended in another and really surprised me, so it’s always good to know that the creative process is alive and well. And another was that I managed to hook up with [producer] Brad [Wood], and he did a beautiful job separating out the sounds and what he did was beautiful. So no matter how it did with regard to sales, the clarity of the production was something that made me very happy right off the bat.
I understand you spent a lot of time wandering art galleries and museums while putting these songs together. How did that experience impact the creative process? I knew I had eight months to flesh out all those songs, so I put myself into that world and it worked. There’s a book called The Artist’s Way that says, “Figure out what makes you feel joyful and creative,” and one thing for me is going to museums. The other is watching bad romantic comedies. There’s a buildup of creative pressure that comes from looking at visual art that I love, and then there is obviously a relief in the other that not everything is life or death and you don’t have to write the equivalent of the great American novel in song. I need the pressure and release to be creative.
Does your daily life also work its way into the mix? You do have to court the muse. And I find that if I’m assuming she will pop up as I’m doing the dishes, I’m mistaken, as I’m too invested in the details of what’s at hand. But, in terms of writing what you know, my life ensures that I know a lot. When you have a kid, you really get to know your community, and that’s what has taken up a lot of time. We have garden planning meetings and town meetings and geothermal strategy meetings and library meetings and seeing friends. It’s a wonderful life. And when I do go out and loosen up my brain and get into my creative life, there’s a lot more there to work with and sink my teeth into.
In addition to your own songs, Promised Land also features some intriguing covers. The inclusion of “Midnight Radio” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch begs for a little explanation. I am drawn to that song no matter what. It’s an amazing song. The upshot is that it was written by a friend of mine who really affected me in college-mostly in my sensibility about music. So when I heard the song, I heard it in terms of how important my friendship to Stephen Trask had been, and also in terms of what an important song it was for the world. It’s funny because Brad Wood recorded the album of the stage version of the production, so it’s a great circle.
Dar Williams will play SOhO (1221 State St.) with Melissa Ferrick this Friday, April 10, at 9 p.m. Call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for details and ticket info.