Joy Williams

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Joy Williams
Nashville-based singer-songwriter Joy Williams has a new solo album coming out next week, Venus, one she says is filled with cutting tracks about the struggles she’s faced over the last few years. We chat with the “What A Good Woman Does” singer about co-writing, hiding behind metaphors and why saying what you really mean is always the best method when it comes to writing songs.

What were you going for with this album, in terms of your songwriting? Did you write all the songs yourself or did you co-write them?

I co-wrote all of them. I ended up writing 75 or 80 songs for this album. I wouldn’t recommend it [laughs]. I have to write so many for me. I have a lot that I need to get out. I’m glad that I did. Early on, I noticed that I was starting to get really irritable at home and I normally know that that means I need to get into the studio and get back to doing other things that I love. I’ve been home full time with my son, but there was a moment for me where all the talking to friends in the world, and therapy, and drinking red wine, and cooking at home or, really, ordering take-out more than cooking, and processing and processing everything that’s been happening in my life for the last two years… I really felt like I needed that cathartic process of putting pen to paper in a really concise, complicated way, and I could start staring into the darkest shadows that I was experiencing and the most jagged edges of myself and start putting the pieces together in hopes of making something beautiful out of something that has been really difficult.

How did you narrow down those 80 songs to pick out what would go on the album?

Well, I didn’t say they were 80 fantastic, quality songs… I just wrote 80 songs. For me, my criteria are, do I want to sing this song 300 times a year? Is this song authentic, even if only to me? Does this really say what it is I want to convey? Is it too much? Is it not enough? Is the melody strong enough? Am I singing it in the kitchen when I’m doing the dishes? I’m a very emotional and very instinctive person. I think about what’s missing, what’s left, and how I can scare myself because I always work better when I’m a little bit scared.

What’s your songwriting process like?

I used to clean closets and wipe down countertops before I would go in for my songwriting sessions, but now I’m more comfortable facing “messy.” My process is largely the same as it was when I moved to Nashville at 17. I like working with people who are active listeners and are interested in being brave with me. I used to feel guilty about admitting that I prefer and feel like I do better work when I collaborate. I’ve always had this romantic idea of how euphoric it must feel to wake up and have a song fully formed, top-to-bottom, but I’ve realized that I work best when I’m with people who are trying to draw the best out of me and I’m trying to draw the best out of them.

What do you think was the most difficult song for you to write?

There was definitely a lot going on in my life that I wanted to be transparent about, but not so much that it felt exclusive to anyone that listened to it, or couldn’t hear themselves in what I was writing or bring their own stories to what they were listening to. When I started writing, when I was first writing to see what there, I think I was more comfortable sitting in the metaphor and I think you can hear that in the album if you listen for it. And I loved writing that way, but I realized over time that it’s easier to write in that way, and I could stop hiding behind the metaphor. And I didn’t want to. I was set up with Matt Morris who ended up being my main collaborator, and the first time we sat down to write, I was really burnt out. I had written over 50 songs at that point. But Matt totally called me out and said, “I think you’re so worried about saying something wrong that you’re at risk of saying nothing at all.” And that’s when I ugly cried and being ok with cutting the metaphor and saying it as it is. And after I could catch my breath I said, “I would love to write a happy song one day.” And he said, “That’s a great way to start a song. Why don’t you put your laptop down and put the pen and paper away?” And every single line in the song “One Day I Will” is me talking to Matt and us putting it down. And that was one of the turning points for me as a songwriter and as a human being. I’ve been so worried about people judging or misunderstanding or taking things out of context that I had to get a friend in the room brave enough to say, “Hey, it’s okay. Just say it.” And that changed me and changed the trajectory of the record in a way that I’m really proud of.

 

 

 

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