By Paul de Revere
Ever look at a status update on Facebook and think, “What’s going on with them?” Well that’s what seems to be going on between vocalist/pianist Joy Williams and guitarist/vocalist John Paul White, better known as the acclaimed country-folk duo the Civil Wars right now. Except it’s taking place in the mainstream music press and it’s giving fans more questions than answers.
In a recent interview, Williams said of the duo’s forthcoming self-titled album, “I’m just really proud of what we created together. And we created it together — we just happened to be in a bit of a civil war ourselves.
“John Paul and I aren’t speaking right now,” she reaffirmed, “but to me that doesn’t determine the outcome of the band because if we’re not speaking we can’t determine the outcome of the band at this moment. So the other elephant in the room is what’s happening with the band? The reality is I’m not even quite sure.”
The duo released a statement last November canceling all remaining tour dates citing “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition” for being unable to continue touring. Since then, Williams and White have remained relatively mum until now about their future as the Civil Wars, even as they maintained separate careers, with White contributing music for the ABC drama Nashville.
It’s a tough and uncertain position to be in for such a promising new country upstart, which formed after White and Williams were randomly paired together at a Nashville “[song]writing camp” in 2008. They battled internal conflict just as their star was rising, following the release of their 2011 debut Barton Hollow and a GRAMMY-winning collaboration with Taylor Swift. According to Williams, however, all will be explained by the songs on the Civil Wars’ sophomore album, set for release August 6.
“All I can do is just be myself and be vulnerable,” she added in the interview. “This isn’t some marketing ploy to make things more interesting for a second album. This is my life, and my life is on this album. And if you want to know what happened to the band, listen to the album.”
Be it her intention or not, Williams has taken some control of this story by breaking the Civil Wars’ silence first and being so earnest and upfront about how she feels. According to a recent tweet from Williams, she filmed a segment in her home for the Today show last week, though it has yet to air. More press will continue as release week draws nearer, with Williams likely leading the narrative.
White, once an active Twitter user, has not tweeted since the band announced its hiatus last year. He’s done virtually no press, and when he has, it’s been to promote a solo performance at London Sundance; one interview in particular saw the writer blocked by White’s publicist when he asked about the Civil Wars.
With Williams’ husband Nate Yetton as the duo’s manager — he acknowledged that he and his wife’s marriage suffered due to the Civil Wars’ career in the aforementioned interview — it’s likely upped the personal/emotional stakes of the Civil Wars’ “civil war,” as Williams put it, and thereby endanger the duo’s continued existence. With a kiss-off like “I wish you were the one that got away” on lead single “The One That Got Away,” the Civil Wars’ self-titled might end up being a Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours-esque airing of personal drama, with band tensions spilling over into the studio. The song’s simple video showed the duo in the recording studio, but a connection was missing; they were harmonizing but still, slight tension could be felt.
Bottom line: if Williams didn’t intend to boost the Civil Wars’ buzz ahead of its second (and possibly final) album — sales of which already seem promising — she’s sure done a good job of it, anyway.