Joy Williams - the pre-Wars interview
In 2011, acoustic duo The Civil Wars took the music industry by storm, forging their own album outside the conventional Nashville Music Row industry. This release hit number-one the day it first appeared on iTunes, launching them into appearances on national late-night talk shows, on a tour of Europe, and an opening gig with international sensation Adele. The Civil Wars seem to have begun 2012 on an equally high note, selling out their first headlining concert at the legendary Ryman Auditorium and contributing a tune on the Hunger Games movie soundtrack with Taylor Swift.
We here at LifeWay.com remember when one half of this dynamic duo took her first gregarious steps into the music world. Joy Williams visited us in Nashville in July 2001, mere days after arriving to begin a Christian music career and only weeks after graduating from high school. Williams had a couple of hours to share before a soundcheck at a nearby church - a stop on the "Summer Jam" tour with Greg Long, Anointed, and Newsong.
We've selected highlights from that interview to take a look at how far one of contemporary music's brightest stars has come since the tender age of 18.
LifeWay.com: Most of the CCM "culture" is here in greater Nashville. Do you bring a different perspective being a West-Coast type?
Joy Williams: Well, most of us are transplants here. Because it is the hub of Christian music, as well as other genres of music, I would say that everyone brings something to the table. I wouldn't say that I bring anything special. I do recognize that I'm from a different place, so your own individual flavor does come out.
LifeWay.com: Being the age that you are, there seems to be a growing trend that is mirroring secular music, in that younger people are coming in. Are you able to able to look at some of the other young Christian artists out there and learn from what they've done?
Joy Williams: I've done my best to watch the people that have come on in the past couple of years, but (also) those who have come before I did. Like Amy Grant, who came in at a very young age. I think that now it's become more focused, because people are more accepting of the fact that a fifteen or sixteen-year-old can go out on stage and talk about the Lord. I have made contact with a couple of young female artists. And I actually love it so much, because I'm not one who is competitive. I'm not competitive at all with other people. (pause) You don't believe me.
LifeWay.com: I'm just looking at the doughnuts that are on the table.
Joy Williams: (laughs) Well, when it comes to doughnuts, I'm very, very competitive. Okay, doughnuts and sports, very competitive. But ultimately, when it comes to other girls that have been gifted by God, I would never want to be jealous of them. So, it's kind of been a girlfriend-camaraderie. We talk about things that have really hit us lately. It's a good way to really talk about it, to have prayer requests. It's like family. We're all on the same team.
LifeWay.com: What a huge lifestyle change it must be. How do you prepare daily to deal with the onslaught?
Joy Williams: Yeah, this life does get crazy. But I do set my alarm early every day to make time for the Lord and His Word, and to try and hide it in my heart like it says in Psalm 119. Having that in mind, and meditating and chewing on that all day is very helpful to me. Having a prayer journal - I think a prayer life is so vital. I hope that I always grow in reading the Word and in my prayer life. Also, I have a series of mentors. I have a pastor who is speaking into my life, as well. So I'm really grateful for that authority - that spiritual protection - in my life.
LifeWay.com: Kind of like your "Paul."
Joy Williams: Yeah. And then I've got the "Barnabuses." You know, girlfriends that I know I can call any time of day, and really be honest. "I'm so tired today. I don't know if I can do this." And I can talk to my pastor and be built up that way. To read the Word and be reminded of the ultimate purpose is an amazing thing.
LifeWay.com: From what other artists in Christian music have had to say about you, there seems to be this recurring theme of, "So mature for her age. So grounded." Where does that come from?
Joy Williams: God is the only one who grants anything to any of us. But, I would definitely say my family is a huge catalyst in seeking spiritual wisdom and seeking to grow. Even at an early age, my parents always spoke to me like an adult. I can remember sitting down to the table at, like, ten and having a theological discussion with my father. And it's always been that way, and I've always appreciated that. And it's been wonderful to look back and thank the Lord for the parents that spurred me on to grow up - not too soon - but in a way that ultimately has prepared me for this, which is very much of the Lord's doing. I'm grateful for that.
And still to this day, if my father thinks that something's not a good idea, I more than likely will not do it. The same with my mom. That parental aspect doesn't dwindle, but it takes on a new form as you grow. They're wonderful friends now, which is an amazing thing. I'm thankful for the progression, and for the discipline and the boundaries, which are still set to this day.
LifeWay.com: A lot of high school graduates aren't even sure if they want to go to college, let alone what they should study. Do you know for certain that God has called you to sing for Him and for others? Or are you still exploring that?
Joy Williams: I think you have to go beyond that question and ask, "What ultimately is your purpose in life?" And my purpose in life is not to entertain. My purpose in life is to be an obedient servant of Christ. Whether or not that manifests itself on stage, singing with tracks or with the band. May that be, if that's what God wants. If not, that's fine by me. I don't feel bound by what I do. I feel very secure in who God made me to be. And that's ultimately where I find that identity.
I think I would worry a lot if I held very tightly to the fact that it was singing that I had to do for the rest of my life; "I'm a singer!" I mean, you don't know. I'm an eighteen year-old girl who's trying to follow the Lord in whatever way she can and grow deeper in Him. Singing has been something that God has ushered me into. So, for however long that is, I'll do my best to be a good steward of that, and if it ends, then that's God's will.
LifeWay.com: Did you really pursue singing? Did you have to work for it?
Joy Williams: I never wanted to be a singer. God just allowed it to drop in my lap in one of the most amazing, God-ordained ways. And the potential for things to start happening musically - professionally - came (when I was) fourteen. And I just sat down and prayed with my parents, and said, "No. Thank you, but no." I knew that it was the wrong time. And I said, "God if I've made the wrong decision, and if ultimately you do want me to do this, I'm praying that you would prepare me - especially over these next few years. If you bring it back again, I'll trust you to bring it back the second time. And I will walk (through) whatever door you open for me."
LifeWay.com: What one thing do you want me to come away with after I hear you sing on stage? What do you want me to be able to say you are about?
Joy Williams: I can tell you definitely what I wouldn't want you to walk away with in any way: a (distracting) thought like, "Wow that was a great show," or "She sounded really good." I mean, that's up to you. Ultimately, I would want you to walk away thinking, "Wow, God's amazing." And more so, that message that you're talking about - and I hope it's very apparent in the songs that I sing - that it's about having a relationship with Jesus Christ; that if you haven't met Him, you're encouraged to meet Him for the first time; that if you have already given your life to Him, that you continually fall more in love with Him, or fall in love with Him all over again if that fire has gone out. It is musical, but I pray that it's ministry - that God uses it to impact people's lives.
LifeWay.com: What you said at the beginning, made me think of the lyrics on the first track ("It's All Good") of your album: "I wouldn't try to tell you everything is perfect in my world. I wouldn't try to kid you. What you see is just an ordinary girl." But it's hard for people on the outside, standing in a darkened theater with flashing lights, and high-tech sound, not to see something else - an extraordinary person, an icon. How do you get past that?
Joy Williams: I don't feel extraordinary in any way, but God's calling is extraordinary. Max Lucado said, "What makes you extraordinary is the signature of God in your life." And I firmly believe that. For other people . . . You know, I cannot control what other people think. I pray that I walk in a way that people aren't bedazzled, that people really do see someone who is just trying to follow the lord. I rest heavily on Galatians 1:10, which says, "Who are you serving? God or man? You cannot serve both (paraphrase)." It's not up to me to please people. I'm here to please the Lord.
LifeWay.com: So, now you have this platform. What is your message to your generation, whether it's through singing or otherwise?
Joy Williams: Follow Him. That would be my message. Just follow Him, because you'll never go off the beaten path if you do. It will be an amazing journey, and it's different for everyone. One of the verses I really love is 1 Corinthians 2:9, which says, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived of what God has prepared for those who love Him." Be joyful about giving everything (you) have. It will ultimately be the most amazing thing (you) can do, and the most beneficial. Grasp hold of that. That's something that I would really like to encourage people to do.