Dar Williams Teases First LP in Six Years with Rose-Colored Ode to “Berkeley”

Photo Credit: Ebru Yildiz

Since releasing her first album in 1990, pop-folk singer-songwriter Dar Williams has been known for songs that critique social norms around gender, capitalism, and more. She’s gearing up to release her first album in six years, I’ll Meet You Here (out October 1), and her latest single off the LP, “Berkeley,” celebrates those who don’t fit into the boxes society prescribes — even going so far as to question the validity of the boxes themselves.

Williams wrote the song about a summer she spent in Berkeley, California when she was 20 years old and how the spirit of the city inspired her. “I was amazed at how hard Berkeley was holding on to its ’60s roots and how much I loved it,” she says. She remembers going to the city’s famous People’s Park and meeting communists, people who didn’t believe in property, and others who taught her new ways of thinking.

“The romance of the city, that dreamer mentality… that kind of poetic environment makes for a good song,” she says. “What I really hoped for was to be a witness of Berkeley, but also a participant — still a believer myself.” 

Her warm, rich voice sings a hypnotizing melody against simple acoustic guitar and strings, with lyrics that welcome the listener into the unique community she writes of: “The old world was fading/The canvas was waiting/Pale eucalyptus and lavender light/We courted the mayhem.”

While “Berkeley” commemorates a spirit and attitude that has persisted for generations, much of Williams’ upcoming album thematically deals with accepting change. Soothing previous single “Time, Be My Friend” makes peace with the uncertainty of the future through an open letter to time itself: “You will never tell me something/That has not happened yet/And you will never make a promise/But I can get just what I get.”

On the spirited “You Give It All Away,” she sings about dealing with the music industry’s transition from CDs to streaming, which made it more difficult for indie artists like her to break into commercial radio stations. “A lot of bandwidth was given to a very theatrical, sensational kind of pop music that was more spectacle, that was really beautiful but was very high production,” she explains. “Back in my day, I did Lilith Fair based on the response of my audience, so I had what we would call an audience-based career. Your audience-based career could hit critical mass, and you could get reception from that, like Ani DiFranco.” The song mourns the loss of this culture with lyrics like “The silver hope kaleidoscope is spinning us away.”

On the more upbeat and charmingly catchy single “Today and Everyday,” Williams sends a message contrary to the narrative most of us are hearing these days: “I can save the world today and every day.” The video, which captures a sense of childlike innocence with stop-motion animation, is meant to encapsulate the “beauty and magic in keeping our optimism alive,” Williams explains. “It feels like an uphill battle, but actually the tool box has never been more full for us to take on both the issues of social diversity and biodiversity.”

Williams has been a part of this fight herself. In 2017, she released her first book What I Found in a Thousand Towns, which documents what she’s learned during her time touring and talking to people in various cities about community building, sustainability, and urban planning. It’s based around the concept of “positive proximity” — that people do best when they’re living close together, both physically and emotionally.

She’s currently working on her next book, A Song That Matters. The songwriting guide is based on retreats she runs, as well as her overall songwriting approach, one she describes as “a patient one,” explaining, “I create the song, but I listen to what’s happening as it’s being created, so I’m guiding and listening as I go.”

Williams, who resides in Cold Spring, NY, is also known as a pioneer for advancing the recognition of women in the music industry. In 1997, she performed in the very first rendition of the Lilith Fair, an all-female music festival. “The ’90s were so much about women making acoustic music and sort of getting off of some of the mainstream grid to build that subculture,” she says. “The fact that Lilith Fair happened was a really big milestone.”

Now that restrictions are lifting, she’s excited to be playing live shows again. She’s currently gearing up to tour around the country to promote I’ll Meet You Here. “I’m finding that people are showing up game to wear masks and do all those things, and when they do, that it works,” she says. “It looks like people are more than happy to do that to have live music, so I’m confident that we’re going to be okay.”

Follow Dar Williams on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for ongoing updates.

ONLY NOISE: Real(istic) Love


ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Erin Lyndal Martin shares a selection of songs that jar her out of a sardonic mindset when it comes to romance.

There’s nothing wrong with sugary love songs. But I don’t trust them because they tend to be completely non-specific. The poet in me cries out for more details. The realist in me wonders how the people in these songs ever get their laundry done if they’re always high on love. And the cynic in me thinks of all the bad dates, all the times I’ve swiped left, all the lore about how undesirable women are after 30, all the fat shaming, all the dick pics. But I feel hopeful when I hear songs about smart, jaded people who’ve found love, often unexpectedly.

These are some of the songs that give me hope.

“Miss You Till I Meet You” by Dar Williams (from My Better Self)
Dar Williams is a talented singer-songwriter who frequently tackles real-life situations in songs that address coming of age, going to therapy, and finding one’s place among gentrification.

Bad dates are not all alike. Sometimes I’ve come home from a date feeling down because my date and I had nothing in common, or maybe it just didn’t seem like the right time, or my date asked me weird questions like if I wrote “human interest fiction” or “technical fiction.” Afterwards, it helps to think about telling these stories to someone I do want to hang around. Someone I want to hang around me.

“Papa Was a Rodeo” by The Magnetic Fields (from 69 Love Songs – Disc 2)
Helmed by Stephin Merritt, the Magnetic Fields bring an irreverent sensibility to matters of love, usually with a twist of magical realism, as on their 69 Love Songs trilogy.

At first, labeling this song as “realistic” is a tough sell. What are the chances that two people could bond over their childhoods spent roping steers, only to spend decades wrestling alligators together? But, like a lot of Magnetic Field’s 69 Love Songs, there’s a grain of truth here. At a certain point, you stop hoping you’ll meet someone who has zero baggage. Not only is it impractical, but it has ceased to even be appealing; instead, you daydream about meeting someone who understands your baggage, who sees you and sees your baggage and says “yeah, me too.”

“Something Changed” by Pulp (from Different Class)
Pulp is a Britpop band known for songs about perversion and classism (not usually at the same time).

I got the Different Class CD in high school and remember flipping through the booklet and seeing the request not to read the lyrics while listening to the music. I listened for the snotty Britpop protest songs and lurid perversions, and then this song came on – a love song written for acoustic guitar. I was surprised, but I trusted Pulp not to mess with me too much, and I thought about this as being a love song for the sort of people who trust sneering Britpop bands with love songs. I love that it retroactively assigns importance to all the little things done on a day that ends up coincidentally being the day one falls in love.

“I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You” by Tom Waits (from Closing Time)
Tom Waits is an iconic songwriter and musician known for his gravelly voice, rich lyrical imagery, and jarring songcraft.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a bar alone with just a novel and a notebook, nursing a drink and scribbling down ideas while watching people around me. This song always reminds me of those nights. I’ve had many nights where that’s all that happens. If I’m lucky I write a few good lines or draw a cute picture of a cat. But those nights tend to blur together and I mostly remember the outlier nights, when a conversation with a stranger just happened, and I was excited and terrified to see where it went next.

“Yellow Brick Road” by Kris Delmhorst (on Five Stories)
Kris Delmhorst is a singer-songwriter-fiddler from Massachusetts known for her pithy lyrics and lovely melodies.

Once I was at a wedding where the best man’s toast included the line “now your real life can begin.” Wow. Just wow. As if there are any parts of our lives that aren’t real and everything we do before we have an official, government-sanctioned bond just doesn’t count. This song celebrates who we are as individuals within a couple. “I’m not on a yellow brick road/Got a mind and a heart and guts of my own/Not looking for someone to set me free,” Delmhorst sings. “I’m not on a yellow brick road/I’ll find my own way home/I just want someone to walk with me.”

“Kathleen” by Josh Ritter (from Hello Starling)
Josh Ritter is an acclaimed and prolific singer-songwriter once voted among Paste Magazine’s Top 50 living songwriters.

This song makes me happy. Very happy. It’s about a guy who drives a beautiful girl home from a party. He knows they’ll never fall in love, but he’s so excited to be the one who has that time alone with her, that “only both of us know about.” When you don’t have the love life you want, you learn to make the best of these little moments of connection: driving someone home; smiling knowingly at a stranger on the bus when a passenger shows the bus driver her groceries; standing next to someone while you look at a painting in a museum.

“Reservations” by Wilco (from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
Wilco is a highly regarded alt-country band, and their 2002 album is already considered a classic.

Recently, a romantic partner I hadn’t seen in years came to visit and I was really stressed out, which was funny because I realized I had zero anxieties about this particular person. We know each other well and have a great time together. But the thought of sharing my living space with anyone, even for a few days, was terrifying. I wanted everything to be perfect. In the end, he was an amazing houseguest who did my dishes and bought me good bourbon and let me play him videos of goats and magicians. And I did get sick towards the end of his visit, something I feared, but that won’t be what I remember. What I will remember is that even the worst anxieties can disappear with someone who really sees me.

“Unison” by Björk (from Vespertine)
Björk is an Icelandic musician known for her conceptual albums, creative collaborations, and quirky individuality.

Unsurprisingly, Björk is wonderful at writing songs that balance realism and reverie. She has a number of them, but “Unison” is my favorite. “I will grow my own private branch of this tree,” she sings, celebrating her individuality. But trees — and people — can bend, and the refrain continues, “I never thought I would compromise.” When you’re single, it’s so easy to get lost in thought loops about who you want to be with and if you’d even want to make room in your life for another person. Björk reminds us that we don’t have to choose between ourselves and being with another person.