Dar Williams was pacing back and forth on a dock in the wintertime, running a line from a song she was struggling with over and over again in her head. “This line doesn’t make sense,” she thought, “and if I don’t think of the right line, this isn’t going to sound good and Bruce Springsteen’s going to hate me.”
Springsteen is just one of the many artists that Williams mentions in her song “FM Radio,” the second track off of her forthcoming album, Emerald.
“The music business is struggling the same way that artists are struggling …. We’re all scrapping together and looking at each other for how we’re going to keep this beautiful business going,” Williams explained while speaking of her decision to release Emerald through a crowd-funding page on Pledge Music. When her original contract with longtime label Razor & Tie expired, she saw it as a way to cut costs with advertising and promotions and give the spotlight to her music.
“I always understood how lucky I was to have a label like that,” she told Paste. “They said early on, ‘You’re growing, we’re growing; let’s both work hard and grow together.’ And that’s what we did.”
That sense of camaraderie permeates Emerald, where Williams enlists other friends including Jim Lauderdale, the Milk Carton Kids, Lucy Wainwright Roche and her mother Suzzy Roche, as well as Jill Sobule, who joins Williams on her single “FM Radio.”
“[Jill Sobule] just loves music history so much—all the trivia and fun history,” Williams said. “She’s very reverential to the culture of music as well as the music …. So, I wanted to write with her. I knew that she was just going to inject ‘FM Radio’ with that kind of incredible love.”
In “FM Radio,” Williams infuses bits of pop culture prowess and a sense of nostalgic playfulness. The song parallels her own growth as a “’70s chick” with society’s exploration of sexuality and the era’s increase in social consciousness.
“I think a lot of these social movements were in full-force and people were in them,” she stated. “They were making music and dancing to music, singing and participating, while also having all of that love for the rock stars. It was a nice paradox.”
Emerald comes shortly after Williams celebrated the 20th anniversary of her debut album, The Honesty Room, which she commemorated in a live edition after much support from her fans.
“It’s shocking to me how my voice sounds now,” she said. “It’s hard for me to hear. I don’t even recognize that person.”
Williams attributes much of her success to the connections and friendships she’s made with fans and other musicians.
“I was just looking at the journey and realizing how much friendship was really a part,” she said. “For all you think your career’s about making music, it’s a lot about making friends and the social network that keeps you going.”
Emerald is set for release May 12. To donate to Dar Williams’ Pledge Music page click here.