Dar Williams, In the Time of Gods
Mythic themes – Pete Seeger as ‘Storm King’ – in everyday life
By Jim Caligiuri,
1:07PM, Wed. Dec. 11, 2013
As far as she can figure, folk diva Dar Williams hasn’t played in Central Texas since 2008. That was the last time she toured with a new album. Sunday night, 7pm, she appears at the One World Theater with In the Time of Gods.
It’s a collection of new compositions relating Greek mythology – the gods in the title – to our present times. Williams claims a near lifelong interest in mythology, studying it in college for starters. Even then, she didn’t set out to write a concept album.
“One thing led to another,” explained the New York native by phone. “I kept on saying, ‘This isn’t really a concept album, so if it doesn’t work I’ll go back to whatever.’
“I started in 2008 when I was finishing up work on my last album, Promiseland, and at that time the country was at a crossroads – the financial crisis, lots of weird weather events. and just feeling that fate was in the hands of some random force. But at least we still woke up to living in the civilized world.
“That’s what Greek mythology was all about it. These gods were incredibly jealous and moody. They shook the hell out of things and then said, ‘Don’t you believe in civilization? What’s wrong with you?’”
“So at first there wasn’t an intention to make a whole album of that. There was a joking intention. Then the stories kept on coming and had a modern relevance.”
Williams has been with the same record label, Razor & Tie, since she broke in 1994 with The Honesty Room. That’s a considerable chunk of time spent writing songs.
“There’s always something in your head that’s saying you’re supposed to be doing something else besides writing a song. It’s odd for an adult to have to take a break, to take a walk in the fields, to see if inspiration strikes instead of a whole bunch of other responsibilities one can think of. It’s always been weird to ask for that.
“Now it’s easier because it’s understood both by me and for the people around me that it’s a serious thing. I have to trick myself into getting into that mind space.”
Williams claims there was very little push back on releasing an album built on the concept of mythology, even if it does sound less than commercial. Fortunately, such an established artist earns some tolerance when dealing with record labels.
“They’re used to having to work their way through it,” she says. “I pushed the youth angle. Ultimately these are songs about power and what we do with it more than Greek mythology. You ask about trying to stay inspired or trying to find inspiration, that’s a good starting point.
“Looking at things from a certain time and seeing parallels is like solving a very interesting puzzle.”
The final song on In the Time of Gods is “Storm King.” Williams says she took the name from a mountain close to her house in the Hudson River Valley, which isn’t too far from where Pete Seeger lives. In her version of mythology, he’s the Storm King influencing everyone that comes in his path.
“There’s a storm king in these old stories. He throws thunderbolts at people whenever he feels like it. He’s unfaithful, temperamental. He’s the feared leader. I wasn’t interested in that, but I had written the song for another project and it just hit me that maybe it was a new story.
“One of the most powerful paternal symbols we have is Pete Seeger, who’s a model for that. I can’t tell you how many people have told me, ‘I was putting something together, a fundraiser or something, and Pete Seeger showed up right at the beginning.’ He planted all these seeds.
“He’s a strong leader in so many ways and he’s shown up for so many of those things that turned into a really big deal. So that’s the ‘Storm King,’ the one I’ll crown. It fit in perfectly. That’s how we fit mythic themes into ordinary life.”