Balancing a Creative Relationship With a Marriage

In this episode of Death, Sex and Money, host Anna Sale interviews singer Joy Williams. Williams formed the Grammy Award-winning duo The Civil Wars with John Paul White in 2008. Anna and Joy discuss Joy's relationship with John Paul, her relationship with her husband and how trying to juggle those relationships ultimately lead to the break-up of the band.

Joy's first four albums were contemporary Christian music. In her late teens, early twenties she was touring as a Christian artist and even had #1 singles on Billboard’s Christian charts. She was living in Nashville, near her record label when she met her husband. She was out to dinner and her friends encouraged her to flirt with the cute waiter. She was very inexperienced so she didn’t really flirt but she ended up leaving him a 120% tip. Without telling her, Joy's friends wrote her phone number on the back of the check. When she found out she was mortified. But he called and they married quickly. Joy was 21 and her husband, Nate, was 23.

Nate had been interning at a record label and was working his way up while Joy started to question if Christian music was right for her. Then, in 2008 she met a musician named John Paul at a country music songwriting workshop. Williams says, “It was, umit was like meeting somebody that I had known for a really long time.” They formed the band The Civil Wars and Joy's husband Nate became their manager. They released an album that went gold and won them four Grammy Awards. Joy says that she and John Paul had a “very powerful creative connection.”

Anna asks Joy about what it’s like to connect with someone, especially a man, when they were both married. She asks if it felt dangerous. Joy says it did, and that she and her husband talked a lot about how to “stay connected as a couple in order for that to not be something that gets in the way or gets in the middle.”

She says she and John Paul's creative connection was very strong, “until it wasn’t.” As they became more successful, Joy and John Paul started to fight more and more. In 2012, the band canceled all their shows in the middle of a European tour because of “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition.” The band had a very public breakup that in turn wreaked havoc on Joy's relationship with her husband. She is open and honest about boundaries, the pain that stems from the dissolution of an important relationship (like the one she had with John Paul) and about the work she and her husband put into their marriage. Once again Anna Sale is able to pull a complex story out of her subject that most people wouldn’t be able to find.

Bonus Info: You can watch Joy Williams perform the song “Before I Sleep” from her latest solo album on .