Every new album from Dar Williams represents her thoughts and feelings about both her own life and larger forces in the world. But her ninth studio record, Emerald, marks a particularly dramatic confluence between her experiences and broader contemporary culture—and what it means to be a songwriter at this moment in history.
In the past few years, Williams has been involved in a wide range of different efforts and projects: teaching a course titled “Music Movements in a Capitalist Democracy” at her alma mater, Wesleyan University; working with children at several summer camps; leading songwriting workshops; getting involved with the workings of her village; and writing a book about the ways she’s seen towns becoming more independent and prosperous over her twenty years of touring. In addition, in the face of dramatic transformations in the music industry, she is releasing Emerald on her own after choosing to part ways with Razor & Tie, her label for almost twenty years.
“It’s like the record business is a giant building that collapsed,” says Williams, “but when the building is destroyed, you get to see what remains. And this incredible structure of the music and the friendships that I have is all still there. Seeing that led to a decision to record songs with themes about relationships and connections—I wanted to write songs for my friends and about my friends.”
Where her last album, 2011’s In the Time of Gods, was an ambitious and evocative series of songs that melded the imagery and narratives of classical mythology with modern issues and themes, most of the inspiration on Emerald was concrete and immediate. She began writing “Mad River” during the Occupy Wall Street actions, based on a real-life example of current economic dysfunction.
If friendship and human connection lie at the heart of Emerald, Williams had to put these ideas to a very real test when she decided to crowd-fund the making of the album through Pledge Music. While it was an adjustment getting used to sharing as much as possible from the album’s sessions with her fans and followers, she enjoyed the opportunities for interaction.