Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Additional Q&A with The Civil Wars

Here is more from my interview, one of my more memorable chats this year...

Q: What does the current tour entail?
John Paul White: Typically when we play, it’s just she and I and guitar. Occasionally, piano. That’s front to back on headlining shows or support slots. We always play the same way, which is exactly how we recorded the record too. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Q: How did the pair of London shows go last week?
Joy Williams: John Paul and I had been to the U.K. often, several times prior, but never for music together. It was great…the first one with James Vincent McMorrow was a sold out show and a really intense crowd. We played our first headlining show at a smaller club known for being reputable. A sold out crowd there too. The response has been positive there so far.

Q: Did Adele’s audiences respond to your music well during the short run of shows here last month?
Joy: Her voice is such a signature part of what she does and who she is. We felt that translated well. People were there to hear somebody sing and not put on a lights, dance and fog production. The format really suited us and we were really grateful to be on it. We had an unbelievably fun time with her, too.

Q: The live album was recorded at your second ever live gig. It’s rare for a new act to be secure enough to do that. Obviously you were pleased with the results.
John Paul: That’s the beauty of how this band is configured. She and I are the manager and we make all the decisions within about five seconds. There’s not a lot of red tape. We were listening to the board mix after we left the show and just decided, ‘what the heck. What stops us from putting it out there for free? Let’s see how people react to it.’ Get some dialogue going and use it like a business card. The market is so much different nowadays. You have to come up with new, fresh ideas on how to get the word out.

Q: Where is Eddie’s Attic located?
John Paul: It’s a small seated dinner club in Decatur, Ga. They demand that you be quiet. They serve really good meals. The ownership and management are just impeccable. It’s a place that a lot of people go to without knowing who is even going to be playing. They’ll go anyway because they trust the owners that
there’ll be god music in there.

Q: At that particular gig, you did the Sade cover "No Ordinary Love." Still do that one live?
Joy: We continue to keep things fresh when it comes to covers. We do have some standards that we bring out, but we’re also always trying out new things, when it comes to bringing that to the live show. We’ve added a few, here and there.

Q: There was already a buzz about you before the 'Grey's Anatomy' episode aired. 
Joy: I think what was helpful was because “Live from Eddie’s Attic” – warts and all – was out prior to that, people had created an online presence about it, had typed out the lyrics, so when people Googled a line from the song, there was the song and a free download. No email retrieval or nothing. So it was a great way to keep the conversation going and continue to build the story.

Q: I was surprised that you’ve done the “Tonight Show” twice in six months. They must really like you over there.
John Paul: We’ve got some dirt on Jay.
Joy: [laughs] Not really.

Q: What was the first time doing it like for you?

John Paul: It was completely surreal, to be honest. It was as normal as it can be – and I’m assuming it trickled down from the top – but everybody was so sweet and welcoming and hospitable. Regardless, it’s the “Tonight Show.” We all grew up with it. The most nerve-wracking part for me was walking on the set for the
first time for rehearsal. You’ve got this huge array of cameras moving around in front of you like a spider. You’re trying to take in the fact you’re even there. After doing rehearsal, I think we both settled into it and thought, ‘this is what we do. This is what we’ve always done. We don’t really have to talk. It’s completely scripted what we do. If there’s anything we should be comfortable doing, it’s this.’ We had a ton of fun with it, honestly.

Q: You’ve had some prime exposure via Twitter. Do you think the social networks have been an important promotional tool for the band? 
Joy: I think it’s a wonderful tool for any artist and especially for independent artists like us. Because we don’t have a large machine behind us, it’s a way to quickly disseminate information. We’ve informed people about every leg of the tour thus far via Facebook and Twitter. With the exception of a few shows, they’ve all been sold out. We’re big believers in [having] an online presence. It’s something we’re capitalizing on and it’s something we actually really enjoy doing too because it removes another layer. It will connect with people who are supportive of the music. It’s a great thing for us and part of the new music business model that we’re happy to be part of.

Q: How did the album recording process go with producer Charlie Peacock?
Joy: Thankfully everything was as seamless as it could’ve been. He was really masterful at stepping back and letting us lead the way in the moments when we wanted to do that. He was a total Yoda when it came to linking arms and helping us accomplish what we wanted to do in the studio. We laughed more than we recorded, too.

Q: While making the album did you look to any past or present male/female duos as a guide?
Joy: No, honestly. We just wanted to do something we loved and would be proud of. As simple as that. Could we imagine playing it seven days a week? We didn’t have a lot of frame of reference.
John Paul: In that way, we’re probably more influenced what not to do, like ‘let’s don’t be those guys.’

Q: What prompted you to include “The Violet Hour,” an instrumental? It reminds me of what you’d hear after opening an old music box.
Joy: We sort of toyed around with what a lyric would sound like on that. The beginning of that song and the idea happened during a sound check, which is happening more and more with us…we tried putting words to it and it just didn’t fit. We try to make a habit of listening to a song and letting it speak to us. Any of the words we were putting to it felt wrong. So we left it as is.

Q: Now for some history: who were some of your early music influences?
Joy: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, The Carpenters, Beach Boys. I grew up in Santa Cruz, so even San Francisco rock, top 40 and a lot of gospel music.
John Paul: For me, it was Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins and old western swing stuff. My parents got disillusioned with music in the late ‘70s when the ‘Urban Cowboy’ thing came along and just stopped buying records. We’d listen to their old stuff or top 40 in the car. Later when I started buying my
own stuff it was definitely heading down the rock path with Queen, metal and grunge was a big deal. I stayed more on the grittier, darker side of the music spectrum than Joy did. Somehow they two worked well together – the light and the dark.
Joy: Yin and yang.

Q: Did you play instruments while growing up?
Joy: I was forced to play piano for a year and gave it up. Wish that I had stuck with it. Now I’m learning [more] as we’re going. John Paul, you’ve been playing guitar for quite awhile.
John Paul: I started in college. I was a late bloomer. I played piano for 5-6 years when I was younger. I was always a singer. If you come from a really small town, the guitar players don’t want you to play, like ‘that’s my job, you just get up there and sing.’ Which was perfectly fine with me. When I got to college, I picked the guitar up and paid more attention.

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