Singer/songwriters Avi Kaplan and Joy Williams speak to Atwood Magazine about collaborating on their new song “All Is Well,” the power of music, and how departure is really expansion.
Stream: “All Is Well” – Avi Kaplan ft. Joy Williams
Sometimes a song follows you around. When you’re cooking and suddenly the words start coming through in whispers or when you’re out and all you can hear is the opening chords amongst the noise of the cars, you know you’ve stumbled onto something magical.
“All Is Well” was released on 15th February and is the second single from Avi Kaplan’s upcoming album Floating On A Dream (May 20th, 2022 via Fantasy Records). The song is a collaboration with the Grammy Award Winning singer-songwriter Joy Williams.
“All Is Well” is exquisitely beautiful. The harmonies Kaplan and Williams create together are heavenly and the whole song feels like a dreamy mantra. A place to retreat, rebuild and renew yourself.
I dove into the dark
I swear I almost drowned
But I could see the stars looking up
As I was sinking down
Kaplan and Williams spoke to Atwood Magazine about collaborating on “All Is Well”, the power of music, and how departure is really expansion.
INSIDE “ALL IS WELL”
Atwood Magazine: I wanted to primarily talk about the song “All Is Well” that you co-wrote together, dig deep into the songwriting process but also talk about your album “Floating On a Dream.” Did you two know each other before you went into write together?
Avi Kaplan: I didn’t know Joy [Williams] well, but I had met her in passing at an industry party that was happening, I think it was after some award show. I was a really big fan of hers and I was introduced to her, and she was so kind and so sweet and just a really great human and so I knew her a little bit from there. Then we got connected to write together and had got to know her much better since then.
Joy Williams: Avi and I had met at music events over the years – Grammy parties, backstage at shows…but the first time I feel like I truly met Avi was the day we wrote for the very first time.
We met up at my producer friend’s studio in Nashville, and I’ll never forget Avi’s dark beard and warm baritone voice resonating in the room. Avi brings such a gentle gravity to any room he’s in, and we talked everything from our mutual love of harmonizing to both of us growing up in CA. It was like I’d stumbled upon a long-lost buddy, who also just happened to have a guitar on hand.
Avi, what would you say what is your usual writing process? Do you usually write alone or do you tend to write more with others?
Avi Kaplan: I do both. Nashville is very much a writing city, and I wasn’t used to that but since moving out here, I really wanted to just try to stretch my boundaries and start writing with other people because it is so much part of the culture here. I would say with this album, it’s more writing with other people. There are some songs that I wrote by myself which I then brought to a friend to smooth out a little bit, but this this album was very collaborative, and I think in the future I’ll continue do both because I really enjoy doing both.
Writing with others obviously changes the output of your art but does it feel less personal when it's written that way, or do you tend to only write with people that you feel you have a connection with?
Avi Kaplan: Yeah exactly. I write with a lot of people, and I write a lot of songs and the ones that don’t feel personal I don’t use, I don’t release. I’ve started to kind of refine who I’ve been writing with so really any song that I write, it has to feel like it’s coming from me or else I don’t feel right about releasing it. It really, really has to feel like me and I think that when you write with other people it helps with creating maybe a vibe that that you wouldn’t necessarily create on your own but still has the essence, the lyricism that I have, my melodic tendencies but maybe it is just a different feel, different chords, different instrumentation, maybe a different perspective, so it’s all is all based around feeling like a song that is very personal to me.
Do you notice a departure in your writing from previous projects to this one? Like you said, you moved to Nashville and you started doing more co-writing than maybe you had previously.
Avi Kaplan: I think it’s always expanding. I think that if you listen to my old stuff and you listen to this stuff, you will hear a through line for sure, but I think it’s always expanding. I think writing with other people has helped me expand into new areas, new realms that I love to write in.
I feel like I’ve tried to write all my stuff in a pretty eclectic way and do a lot of different things, so that it doesn’t feel like when I do go in different directions it doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s huge departure. When you listen to Floating On A Dream it all feels like the same record but it goes to a lot of different realms.
Fans and critics get quite precious about an artist and their artistry when they feel like an album or a song is a massive departure from an artist’s previous work, when in fact it's, as you say, maybe more of an expansion. Have you found this when releasing new music?
Avi Kaplan: Exactly, and that’s why I’ve intentionally tried to have everything be pretty in eclectic so I’m not totally fenced into one sound because I love to make a lot of different sounds. I love to sing in a lot of different types of ways. I love to write music and compose in many different genres and all of those things, so I always want to be able to be able to stretch out musically because I love to do so many different styles. It’s also a fun challenge to try to have there be a through line in all the different types of things that I like to do. I always want there be extent expansion and growth.
When you wrote “All Is Well” together did either of you go to the writing session with voice notes or lyrics or music or did it just happen very organically from the conversation?
Avi Kaplan: It definitely happened organically. Honestly, usually when I go into write I don’t like to have anything planned because I feel like there’s an energy in the room and there’s an energy between the people and know sometimes you can capture it in a song and sometimes you don’t.
I am so happy with the song that we caught that day. It just kind of floated down which happens when you when you write some songs, you know. I just kind of started playing the guitar part and I sang some melodies, and she [Joy Williams] really dug it and then we started going back and forth on lyrics. We finished a very large portion, I would say 90% of it that day, and did a cool demo, and then really all we did was just like tweak some lyrics afterwards on the bridge but everything else stayed. It was a beautiful writing experience. One of those songs that kind of just falls out of the sky.
I’ve landed in the light
And my eyes could finally see
The darkness in my mind
Was the path to set my spirit free
Joy Williams: “All Is Well” almost revealed itself line by line to us instead of us writing it. It was steady and slow, unfolding. Like a gift. And since we both love the magic that happens when you meld two voices together, we naturally sang the song in tandem as we went along writing. We didn’t ever discuss it being a duet when we left the studio that day. That came later. When Avi went in the studio with Shooter [Jennings], I got word later that Avi was wondering if I’d sing on it with him. It was easy to say “yes” to my friend like that.
When I have spoken to other artists, they have said “I have to come to writing sessions with ideas because I feel like if I don't have ideas then what if we don't have anything to write about”, but it sounds like you're saying, you came to it with nothing.
Avi Kaplan: Yeah absolutely. No preconceptions of what I wanted to write about. I honestly feel like that kind of boxes me in. I don’t want to be set on something. I want to come in with an open mind and an open heart with the person that I’m writing with. Or if it’s by myself just kind of see what comes out of you. I really believe that songs are given and so I like to come and receive whatever it is given.
Listening back to the song, do either of you now see or hear things in the song that you maybe weren’t consciously aware of when writing it?
Avi Kaplan: I think that with this one specifically, we did have some things in mind when we were writing in it. It’s always important to me to write something that’s very personal to me but present it in a way that is open ended and not so specific so that other people can put their own stories to it. So that’s what happened with this one.
I feel like we were pretty intentional about the lyrics, but they did they definitely did morph and change overtime. We wrote the initial draft of it and all the melodies and all the chords, really the whole arrangement all stayed but some of the lyrics were tweaked at the end and I feel like it really came together as something that is very personal to me and also, like I said, presented in a way where it is open ended enough to for people to be able to put their own stories to it, which I think is really important. When I listen to music you know sometimes think, “Man, this is exactly what I need to hear right now or exactly what I’m going through” and you know full well that that may not be what the artist meant exactly but that’s how the words are getting me at that time, and it’s a beautiful experience and I want people to have that experience with my music.
I think there is something to be said for a song that’s personal and very specific. I think that people love that type of music and I do songs in that way sometimes but with the song like “All Is Well” where it could essentially be taken as a mantra for someone that’s really going through something, I like to really keep it open for those people that are needing that from of a song.
Joy Williams: Avi and I met up to write during the height of the pandemic, and I remember us both talking about creating something that spoke in the tones of overcoming and of hope.
“All Is Well” feels very similar to a lullaby. Would you agree?
Avi Kaplan: Absolutely. It’s like the cross between like a lullaby and a hymn, and songs like that are comforting. Something that’s very warm, and that’s something that I really wanted to project. Whenever Joy and I write music, we say we want to try to bring that type of energy to the music because it’s important. Music is very powerful, and it can have a profound effect on people and that’s genuinely what I want from my music.
All is well
Heaven, hell, wherever I go
All is well in my soul
All is well
The song has got a simplicity to it, in the music and in the lyrics, but there’s also a lot of depth there. There’s a warmth to it that is very comforting and reassuring. I am finding you can often just repeat the lines in your head without necessarily having to listen to the music.
Avi Kaplan: The song just has a feeling to it and that’s what I love about music is it’s like whatever type of song you create, you kind of create a world and an energy that it sits in and whomever listens to it, is automatically transported to that place or even just that feeling to make it a little less esoteric, but you know it just makes you feel a certain thing. That is one of the things I love about music is so powerful and I just makes me really happy that you felt that.
You said the arrangement on the demo track pretty much stayed the same. What did you add to the final recording?
Avi Kaplan: We added a pedal steel, some piano and a little bit of drum. It’s a pretty simple track, there’s not so much that’s in it. Like I said, the arrangement didn’t really change. The harmonies that we sang, we sang during the demo recording.
That was one of my favourite moments. I laid down the guitar track and then I sang the solo. Then Joy and I both went into the booth to sing on just one mic to sing the harmonies to my solo. Singing three-part harmony with Joy Williams and just singing harmony next to her in the way she sang everything and the dynamics and just her voice, it was just a really surreal experience for me to be able to sing with her because she’s just so amazing at what she does and so sensitive and intentional as to what she does. It just felt immediately there was this energy to what we were doing and how we were singing together and how we were blending so really beautiful experience something I’ll definitely never forget.
When I listen to Joy’s music or watch her on stage with other artists, she’s always very collaborative. She seems to always be listening to the other person, watching what they're going to do, and then she adjusts depending on the other person.
Avi Kaplan: Absolutely. She’s an amazing musician. She’s an amazing vocalist but it’s her musicianship, it’s her musicality that really sticks out. She obviously has amazingly beautiful voice but having a beautiful voice is one thing and then being able to use that voice in the way that she does, so tastefully and collaboratively, it’s something that is really special about her.
It’s the smoke, it’s the flame
It’s the ash and it’s the rain
It’s the burn you wash away
It’s the change and it’s the same
How do you feel this song fits with the other songs on the album? And did you deliberately write it so it would it fit the overall theme and sound of the album?
Avi Kaplan: No, honestly with the songs on the album, I just chose the ones that I felt were the best songs and I knew that producing it in a certain way would help them all fit together and that’s kind of the point of it for me. For me I wasn’t necessarily worried about it fitting together with everything else but more, like I was saying before, the challenge of having eclectic songs fit together feels like it’s the same… how do we say it? You know if you have the album, and you think of it as a large house or a castle. It’s all in that same castle but each song is a different room, and that room could be decorated differently and there could be many rooms with a whole different vibe but it’s all a part of that big castle.
The music video that accompanies the song feels very complementary to the story you’re telling. It fits so well with the texture of the song and the world you created. Did you come up with the idea for the music video or was it Bree Marie Fish, the video’s director?
AK: It was a little bit of both. The person that did the video is someone that I’ve worked with a lot. Bree has done all my photoshoots, so she already knows me pretty well. When I spoke to her about this this song, I just told her that I wanted it to be dark but hopeful and that’s exactly what it is. It has this energy to it. I have to say when I watch videos that don’t really make sense with the song, it doesn’t really make sense to me. Obviously, I support whatever the artist wants to do. I know what it’s like to be an artist, so do whatever you want to do, but for my own art, I always wanted to reflect the energy of the song. I wanted it to be an accentuation of the energy of the song. A good visualisation of it was important to me so I’m happy to hear you say that it was a good representation.
Is there a lyric or a line in the song that stands out to you?
Avi Kaplan: It’s tough because I really do love the lyrics of this song. I think the first one that came to my mind “The darkness in my mind was the path to set my spirit free” and I think that is probably my favourite line in the song just because I think that it’s poignant for people that are going through darkness to really understand what that’s about. To understand when you’re going through something like that it’s actually just forcing you to grow and evolve into a better form of yourself and that’s kind of the essence of that lyric is that the darkness in my mind was actually the way to set my spirit free, and when I say set my spirit free, it was to basically get away from that darkness, to feel better, to be on the other side of that.
Avi Kaplan’s next single “I Can’t Lie” from Floating On A Dream is out today.
Stream: “I Can’t Lie” – Avi Kaplan
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📸 © Bree Marie Fish
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