Just a few weeks after the national release of her third studio album, (her first new release in three years) Joy Williams took some time to talk to NewReleaseTuesday.com about the changes that have taken place in her life since we last heard from her. From marriage to greater spiritual realizations that come with a growing maturity, Genesis reflects a life that continues to evolve from the very beginning. For the first time, Joy has penned many of the songs, direct from her journal. The result is a personal and sometimes intimate look at one of Christian music's emerging artists. So in the midst of a promo tour and whirlwind schedule, Joy took some time between bites of breakfast on her way to an early morning flight to discuss some of the inspiration behind on the year's best albums and what she has learned so far.
I hear you're on your way to the airport. Where are you heading to next, and what have the past couple of weeks been like for you?
Right now I am headed to a music festival in Morocco, Africa for four days. This festival is a part of a humanitarian effort to join Americans and Muslims together. The objective is to let people know that we can have relations and that there doesn't need to be any tension between us. The last couple of weeks have been crazy for me! I have been on a mini-tour promoting my new album, Genesis, and just recently, we traveled through four Mid-Western states in one day! For me, it's been early mornings and late nights, but for the most part I really have been enjoying it. It's been a lot of fun, and I have been meeting some incredible people out here on the road.
Your new album was just released May 3rd. Tell us, how did you come up with the title for your new release?
The title, Genesis, comes from the song on the album called "Say Goodbye," which is about saying goodbye to who we were before and saying hello to a new beginning. There have been so many new beginnings and transitions in my life, and you can read about these experiences in the lyrics. For example, I just got married 11 months ago.
Thank you so much! I really wanted to make sure that I wrote honestly. Spiritually, I felt like I have been on a bit of a journey, and it has been somewhat challenging. Sometimes when people are faced with the trials of life they may question God wondering where He is, and I have come to a realization that even if I can't feel Him around me, He is still very active in my life. Everything is on the CD from my spiritual journey, to being in love, right down to the everyday nothings of life. My journal is also included in the CD of this project, and it's been amazing to know the music has been connecting with some people.
The message in the music definitely connected with me. Lyrically, I noticed that you had some thought provoking, yet encouraging messages on your new project. Can you explain some of the themes you sing about on the new album?
The major themes on this project are celebrating the journey of new beginnings, asking the tough questions of God, realizing the beauty of a broken soul and favoring relationships that we get to have on earth. "Hide" came from a pre-marital counseling session. Our Pastor, Jeff, was asking us to share our experiences in life. He wanted to know what challenges we have been dealing with over our lifetime. My husband, Nate, was sharing his story, and then it was my turn. I told him, "I am from California, raised a pastor's kid, I'm an obsessive over-achiever, yet I have been struggling to understand the concept of God's grace." As soon as I would share some of the darker elements and the pain I have been experiencing, I'd reel that pain right back in, then come and give my spiritual platitude, acting as if everything is fine.
So you were essentially hiding your feelings and emotions?
Exactly, and that is what Jeff pointed out. He said: "Joy you really do hide; everybody has cracks in their heart, and it's ok to admit that you have cracks in your heart too. The cracks on the inside of you are something that you will not be able to spackle on your own or neglect them and then think they will go away. You need people in your life, and you need to know that the love of God is disarming and overwhelming enough, that when you come into the light, this will be the only time and place you will begin to heal." "Hide" was written from this experience.
The song "God Only Knows" was written during a season when I was delving into the broken aspects of life. There were times when I was really discouraged about how slow I felt I was growing. I was frustrated by various selfish habits or worrying about this or that. I was thinking to myself, "God knows that I have these shortcomings, and instead of being flustered by it, I need to just continue to remember that God loves me in the process while I am being changed." Then, while I was experiencing my own personal challenges, my sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Later they discovered that she didn't have a brain tumor, but an aneurysm, and she had to go into the hospital for surgery.
I am sorry to hear that. How is she doing?
She is better now. Sarah is 26 and so vibrant and wonderful, but there were a few days where we thought she was not going to make it. I kept wondering what life would be like without her. I was asking God, "Why is this happening?" But the real question should be, "What do you want me to learn from this?" During this time God really showed me how faithful He is, and no matter what is going on, God's not phased by any of it. It's never a surprise to God when we are going through difficult times. That really is kind of an ode to God's sovereignty and recognition of the fact that God knows the deepest and darkest places of our heart, yet He still remains so faithful, even we are not. That experience is how the song "God Only Knows" came about."I'm In Love With You" is a love song to my best friend and the man that I have committed my life to. Nate and I were married in June of last year (2004). Every single line from this song is a memory for me, and each line has been taken from my journal. Nate didn't have any idea I was writing this song. I never told him until the day I decided to let him hear it. I remember saying to Nate, "Hey, I have a demo I want you to hear!" He had just gotten back from a long day at work, and he plopped down on the couch. I said, "I wrote this for you." Nate just started listening to this and by the first chorus he had alligator tears streaming down his face.
The same thing happened to me when I first heard that song. I started to cry too! [laughter] You have to remember, I have almost 18 years of memories from my marriage and when I heard the lyrics, that message went straight to my heart.
That's a song I really want to continue to sing to Nate when we are 15, 20 and even 35 years into our marriage. I had a woman, who was joking, tell me, "After you have been married 20 years, the title of that song may not be, 'I'm In Love with You'—it may just be, 'I Put Up with You!'" I was like, "Oh man!" But the title, "I'm In Love With You," just rolls off the tongue so much nicer!
It certainly does! This is the first time you have shared writing credits on one of your albums. What has that experience shown you?
Writing on this album has been a vulnerable, nerve-racking journey, but one I knew I really needed to take. As I was listening to the music that I loved, I realized the music that touched my heart the most was when it was truly written from the person who was singing it, and I felt challenged to do the same. I had started writing here and there on the first album and then there are a few co-writes on the second album. On this third project I really felt inspired to begin to invest even more into the music. I felt that I just couldn't do it the way I made previous albums, and I knew this time I had to do it differently. Also there were some things that I had just gone through in my life, and I felt by sharing these experiences people would be able to relate. They could say, "Hey, I have gone through that too," and I call that "the me too factor."
I felt the same way when I listened to this album. I could just relate to the experiences you shared. It's a beautiful album!I read in your bio where you were offered a record contract at age 14, but you turned it down because you wanted to be a regular high school student. You eventually did launch your music career, at age 17, while attending your senior year of high school. Just weeks before releasing your self-titled debut album, you graduated from High School with a 4.0 GPA and tied for the #1 position at the top of your class. At this point you are at a crossroad in your life, because you have the opportunity to go to an Ivy League College, or you could pursue a Christian music career. Can you share what that experience was like?
That was a tough decision—deciding whether or not to go to an Ivy League College that I had worked for all of my life or choose the opportunity of traveling and making music. I honestly don't think I thought it through all of the way. How can you really think through a decision like that at 18? I discussed it with my parents and my sister as much as I could, and I really prayed about it a lot. Then I just felt a real peace about pursuing music. Originally, I had always felt peace about going to college. I even had a scholarship pending, but later, I came to a place in my life where I didn't have a peace about going to college anymore. While there are still days I wish I could have gone to college to study psychology, I am much more grateful that I was able to grab a hold of this music opportunity while it has been offered. Oddly enough, I do get to major a little bit in psychology as I am meeting people out on the road. God has kind of given me the opportunity to do what I had intended to study, and one of these days I would definitely like to go back to school.
I am sure that when you do go to college, you will be warmly welcomed! It's just amazing to me that you were able to attend high school, while juggling a music career and graduate at the top of your class!
Thank you. I really can't take credit for that. There are moments when I look back and I don't even realize how I got through that"except by God's grace and sense of humor.
How were you able to go to school, have a music career and still manage to carry a 4.0 grade point average?
I'm not going to lie—it was very difficult. While I was still in high school, I was offered a record contract, but I told them that I would only sign this as long as I could continue to go to the school where I was currently attending. I was involved with student counsel, I participated in sport activities, and I really wanted to continue my involvement. Eventually, I did sign the contract while in High School. After that, I went every weekend and holiday to record my debut album. I even went on a quick tour called "Winter Jam," for two months (January to February), with Audio Adrenaline and the Newsboys while in school. I came back with 150 pages of homework and assignments, and I got it done in a week! I really don't know how that happened; I think it was like coffee, sleep depravation and a whole ton of prayer! I totally have looked back and experienced "God's kisses" along the way of being able to do what I thought was impossible.
God carried you!
God carried me and I still know that to be true! It feels amazing!
Any tour plans?
I am hitting most of all the major summer music festivals. You can visit www.joywilliams.com to check out my tour schedule. I am going to be touring with Bebo Norman in the fall, and we will be performing at colleges while also reaching an older demographic. It's been really cool to hear that people who are older are also enjoying this music.
Before you catch your flight, do you have any closing thoughts for the readers of NRT?
Honestly, I hope that people can be encouraged by this album. I wanted to write this to give others a sense of hope—a heartfelt message people could relate to. It's been both amazing and encouraging to me to see young girls, teenage girls, college girls and guys connecting with this, right up to their parents. I even had people tell me, "I can hand your CD to somebody that doesn't know the Lord, and I will not feel like I am hitting people over the head with a message that is too strong for them—yet this music leads people to ask the questions that will lead them to heaven."
Angel, a concert photographer and writer, frequently conducts artist interviews for NRT. She loves Christian music and currently lives in FL with her husband.