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Keep It Civil
They’re adored by everyone from Adele to Taylor Swift, who recently collaborated with them on the Hunger Games theme tune. Ed Power catches up with the increasingly massive The Civil Wars.
Ed Power, 03 May 2012
John Paul White and Joy Williams, the good-looking, non-romantically aligned duo who make up alt. country sensations The Civil Wars, sit in a busy Dublin hotel, exhausted but cheerful.
“We’ve kind of got the blinders on,” says White, in a syrupy Alabama twang. “We focus on whatever is happening right now. We don’t step back and look at the big picture. It keeps us sane.”
Starving singer-songwriters for most of their adult lives, as The Civil Wars, White and Williams are hurtling towards the big time on rocket boots. They recently won two Grammys, Adele is a tireless cheerleader, ‘Safe And Sound’, the Hunger Games theme song composed with Taylor Swift, is all over the radio. Six months hence, it’s difficult to imagine them passing anonymously among the lunchtime crowd as they do today.
“A lot of it is due to the Hunger Games,” confesses White, referring to the soon-to-be-inescapable post-Twilight tween franchise. “Not only because we did the song with Taylor. Just ‘cos it looks as if it’s going to be the next big thing. I think everybody would be surprised if it isn’t huge.”
He smiles. “Actually we’re missing the premiere. We had to be over here on tour. When we heard it was like, ‘Oh shoot…’ Then again, coming to this part of the world with our music is the best excuse we could think of to have to skip an event like that.”
A hook-up with a teenage idol like Taylor Swift would be a kiss of death to the reputation of most alt. country acts. It says something for Civil Wars’ uncanny ability to court the mainstream while keeping purists onside that they’ve breezed through whatever controversy surrounded the collaboration (it helped that the get-together was midwived by T-Bone Burnett, the impeccably credentialed roots producer).
“We could care less what people think,” says White, who will continue to distract Hot Press throughout the interview by dint of being a dead ringer for Pirates Of The Caribbean-vintage Johnny Depp.
“We don’t draw any lines in the sand in terms of who we work with,” chips in Williams, a northern Californian whose perkiness is in contrast to White’s somewhat brooding nature. “We assess everything on a case-by-case scenario. With Taylor, it so happened she’s been an unbelievable supporter of ours. She’s a fan, incredible though that may sound.”