The Civil Wars LIVE in Leeds 18/03/2012
Each song is an intimate conversation, and no third wheels or dinner-party chatter are going to interrupt that gorgeous, haunting hush. If it looks like The Civil Wars’ appeal might cast a net that extends well beyond the typical audience for acoustically based music, that may be due to the inherent sensibilities Williams and White bring to their collaboration, which are quite disparate, if not necessarily warring.
Both were gigging and recording on their own prior to teaming up a year and a half ago, neither solo career quite suggesting what their conjoined sound would turn out to be.
If the music ultimately leans more toward White’s native South than Williams’ northern Cali roots, he says, “I think Joy’s got some hillbillies in her ancestry or something like that. There’s a song on our record called ‘My Father’s Father’ that we wrote on the day of the inauguration down in Muscle Shoals, not long after we got together.”
“My Father’s Father” by The Civil Wars
“Poison & Wine” isn’t just The Civil Wars’ breakout song. It’s also a thematic declaration of intent for this utterly complementary odd couple, encapsulating everything suggested in the duo’s name when it comes to exploring the conflicts that arise as part of couplehood. Speaking of which: They aren’t, that—a couple, that is. But they’re far from insulted if you mistake them for An Item in the storied tradition of the Swell Season, Richard and Linda Thompson, or other famous duos whose on-again, off-again relationships offstage complicated their stage relations. “Poison & Wine” fits the paradigm of subject matter too true to be spoken, as opposed to sung.
“We’re all married, and we were all talking about the good, the bad and the ugly, and just felt like: What would you say to someone if you were actually brutally honest—the things that you could never say because it would turn them away or let the cat out of the bag or reveal yourself to be weaker? What would you actually say if you had this invisible curtain around you and could just scream it in somebody’s face and they’d actually never hear it?
We were all being very painfully honest, because we’re all very comfortable around each other and know that things like that never leave the room, except in a song. I’m pretty proud of that song, to be honest.”
When “Poison & Wine” was heard in its entirety on Grey’s Anatomy—versus in the background, for a few seconds, as Williams and White had expected—they knew that if the show’s audience liked what they heard, it would put their search skills to the test. The title only pops up in a verse, not the chorus, so it involved some ingenuity or intuition to track the tune down. Fortunately, viewers proved up to the test of finding, and choosing, their “Poison.”
White and Williams met in 2008 on what he describes as a “blind date, getting stuck in a room together, not knowing anything about each other.” This was a strictly professional blind date.
Months later, they did their first show as The Civil Wars at the French Quarter Café in Nashville—where their future producer, Charlie Peacock, was in attendance and definitely taking notice. Their second show was at a club called Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Georgia, and it was attended by roughly 100,000 fans. At least, that’s how many people have downloaded The Live at Eddie’s Attic, a FREE DIGITAL ALBUM, from their website.