Dar Williams Makes A Northampton Homecoming: a Q&A with the Pop Singer-Songwriter

Folk-pop super-group Cry Cry Cry, a trio consisting of acclaimed singer-songwriters Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell, is heading to the Calvin Theatre in Northampton on Saturday, March 31. The band made their debut in 1998 with a self-titled release and is known for its lush three part harmonies and reworkings of cover songs. Now, the group plans to release new music as part of their reunion tour.

Cry Cry Cry with Dar Williams (center), Lucy Kaplansky (right), and Richard Shindell (left). Photo courtesy of Cry Cry Cry.

Dar Williams is no stranger to Northampton. During the 1990s, she lived in Northampton and could be found playing iconic venues such as the Iron Horse Music Hall. Williams spoke with Valley Advocate staff writer Chris Goudreau about her love of Northampton, returning to Cry Cry Cry, and her thoughts about the current political landscape in the United States.

Chris Goudreau: First off, what led to you, Richard, and Lucy deciding to revive this group?

Dar Williams: We were invited to reunite for a festival, but what that led to was us realizing that we had wanted to do this for a while. It was perfect timing for us as well.

Chris: Why did you initially start Cry Cry Cry and why do you like being a part of it?

Dar: Richard and I were on the road together and we would just sing cover songs of our friends during soundcheck. We thought we would put on a tape recorder and just record those, but our manager at the time said, ‘Why don’t you just make it a thing and really go out and find the best songs that you can by the people you know in the songwriting community?’ So, it became a way to sing harmony and we added Lucy. It became a way to make music together and also find songs that are contemporary and that was really another dynamic piece of the project.

Chris: How do you go about choosing those songs?

Dar: The songs really chose themselves, actually. These were songs that took well to harmony just like a certain kind of surface will take up paint beautifully. So, that was great. And we would encounter people at concerts and at festivals along the way and hear them on various radio stations. We’d collect them like you’d collect beautiful art. We would put them in our pocket and take them to each other. There was no fighting. They were obvious choices to us.

Chris: Are there any particular themes or different genres that your drawn to as far as the music your playing with Cry Cry Cry?

Dar: No. I think we’re all big supporters of every kind of song. There’s a certain kind of song that was right for our harmonies and for the way that we were going to arrange them … The best case scenario is when you have a song that’s beautifully written and then you do your best to bring your harmonies and arrangements to them and it only brings out the written more word even though what you’re trying to do is a musical thing. If it’s a well written song, it’ll bring out different aspects of the words as well. I learned that when I was covering [Pink Floyd’s] Comfortably Numb myself, not with Cry Cry Cry.

Chris: Do you have anything you’re working on as far as your solo work; maybe a new album?

Dar: I wrote a book that’s called, “What I Found in A Thousand Towns,” and its sort of my take on urban planning via touring and what has helped cities and towns become very unique and vibrant. That’s really just an exciting ride. It’s opening up the world of city planners and regional planners and city leaders to me. I’m really enjoying my ride there right now.

Chris: I know you used to live in Northampton in the 1990s. What are your thoughts on returning to Northampton to play this show?

Dar: There was this one point when I realized that I had to not make every song about Northampton. So many of them were written there or influenced by Northampton, so I had to kind of put a lid on it. That was a kind of funny revelation. But it was an incredibly meaningful time and place to have the opportunity to write songs the way I wanted to write them and that made a huge difference in my career to live in a cheap, easy going, beautiful town and to there were so many ways to court the muse when I lived there; so many people that inspired me … It’ll always feel like coming home to me.

Chris: Do you have any favorite places to visit when your in town?

Dar: I described Northampton as the best three blocks of shopping that you’ll have (laughs). Basically, I tend to do a lot of shopping when I’m there unabashedly. I love all of the Indian food and all of the sushi in Northampton.

Chris: What are your thoughts about the current political climate? Is there anything kind of giving you hope and do you think what’s going on might end up being translated into song?

Dar: I don’t know if it’s going to make its way into any songs. It has everything to do with the book that I’m touring with. There’s a lot of material damage that’s going to come to actual lives and the environment with our current administration. Parallel to that, I think it’s really important for towns to recognize, and I’ve been going around talking about it, which is there’s a narrative that says, ‘You’re a bunch of morons, you never get anything done, you’re so divided, and let’s find someone to blame.’

And that narrative alone, that scares people away from self government or that tires them out. It’s very important to understand that that’s just a narrative to get us away from the very best of our democracy, which is what we call civic engagement. And so, the most important thing for people to continue to do is to continue to be engaged with everything they love with where they live; to get out of their houses and be excited about what they’re involved with and to understand that that is absolutely the fabric of our country.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com.

Author: Chris Goudreau

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