Dar Williams’ latest record, In the Time of Gods, is a bit of a concept album – it’s just that the Westchester County, N.Y.-based singer-songwriter didn’t know what the concept was until she looked back on the songs following the record’s completion.
The record, she thought, was a collection of modern, adult-perspective takes on stories she learned as a child. But, Williams told The Beat, she realized later that the stories that came to her did so specifically as “an unconscious response to the strangeness of the time, through all these weather (disasters) and the economic pendulum that has swung during the recession.”
Williams said she saw the effects of both of those in the news, on her friends and neighbors and, at times, in her own life.
“There are a lot of allusions to building civilization (on the record), and references to civilization within,” she said, citing songs including Write This Number Down and Storm King.
“There was definitely a hunkering down. In many ways, society was tested.”
In the Time of Gods doesn’t attempt grand pronouncements regarding how civilization stood up to those tests.
“It was simply songwriting doing what it’s supposed to do, which is collecting the collective. It was like this album is reporting back from the front.”
Williams finds herself wrestling with the concept of power lately, which also colors the perspective of the record. As a songwriter addressing social issues for the past 20-plus years, Williams said finding herself now in her 40s (and with a family) has meant reassessing what can be done about those issues and who should be doing it.
“For me, in my 40s, I was getting a sense of my own power, but also my own mortality,” she said.
Another recent interest of Williams’ addresses both of these, but, as with the songs on In the Time of Gods, without grand pronouncements. She has begun working with children and youth, raising awareness of bee conservation.
“I found a lot of people who first heard my music while they were at a summer camp, so I do five or six summer camps a season, hanging out with kids and planting bee-friendly gardens,” she said.
“We talk about (bee conservation) in a not-scary way. Sure, it echoes into other kinds of thinking, but I prefer to keep an innocent excitement about it.”
Not that Williams doesn’t sing and play the guitar with the kids at these camps, but she admitted it’s “fun to be teaching not about songwriting, but about just getting in the dirt and planting.”
Sort of building a civilization.