There's something beautiful, majestic and undeniable about the music of The Civil Wars, and people are taking notice. Don't believe me? Half of the tickets to the band's upcoming concert at The Evening Muse sold before the venue had the show listed on its site. They also performed on The Tonight Show weeks before its debut album was released.
John Paul White and Joy Williams each had solid solo careers before this, but there's something magnetic within The Civil Wars that draws listeners in as much as it brought White and Williams together. The duo met at a songwriting camp and felt an instant connection through music.
"The initial meeting when we sang together and were writing a song — we've said a million times that it's like she knew where I was going and I knew where she was going," White says by phone from Salt Lake City, Utah.
The only problem was how either of their independent personalities was going to let the other know what they were thinking. "It felt instantly like a dance that we'd been doing forever, but neither one of us came out and said that," White says. "Little by little we got back together and continued to write. The initial offer, as it were, was 'I'm not saying we should be a duo or what we should do. This is so good and this is so fun and feels so right, let's just make some more music and see where it goes.' It snowballed from that point."
Instead of losing their individuality, each found the perfect songwriting counterpart that offers as much inspiration as talent. "Honestly, for me, I would definitely say that working with John Paul has brought out a kind of creative process and songs that I never knew were possible to create," Williams says. "Melodies that I wouldn't normally sing just sort of fall out when he starts playing guitar. I think I've become a better performer because of linking arms with somebody like John Paul and I've also never enjoyed live performance more."
White is quick to concur with those statements — though they both initially joke that they have had to adjust to "carrying dead weight" or "dealing with somebody that's totally tone deaf." "I always sang the lead and never did harmonies, so every night I know I have to bring it because Joy's a phenomenal singer," White says. "If it's going to be great, I have to bring my 'A' game every time I open my mouth, and that's such a welcome challenge. I feel like I've grown a lot as a vocalist just from taking cues from her and working with her."
There's no doubt that two people making music together would inevitably draw assumptions that they are in a romantic relationship, but for White and Williams, it's strictly business. In past interviews, White has noted that it would be impossible to sing "I don't love you" to someone he was in a relationship with every night.
With the Feb. 1 release of the band's debut studio album, Barton Hollow, fans will get a better idea of what they heard on the duo's first release, a live album that was offered for free on its website. The two plan to continue down the steady road they've been on, one that brings them to small venues around the country, performing their stripped-down songs focusing around their harmonies and the acoustic guitar playing of White.
"If we can't keep people's attention with the songs that we've written, then adding more people on stage isn't going to help at all," Williams says. "We need to make sure that what we do is strong with just the two of us and then build on to that. We've never said that we wouldn't add anybody; we're open to that, but in the meantime, it just makes more sense for us to be doing it this way."
Neither musician has plans to return to life as a solo performer any time soon. "I don't, at this point, have an urge to take a stage by myself," White says. "It's kind of hard to fathom. I would have never expected in my life to say that. I never wanted to relinquish any of the creative control to anybody else until this point. Now, I can't imagine it any other way. It was a strange series of events and thank God it happened."