The Civil WarsThe Civil Wars are the only artists besides Taylor Swift to pull double duty on the Hunger Games companion album, since they, too, contributed a second number in addition to "Safe & Sound," their collaboration with Swift. Songs from District 12 and Beyond (out March 20) also features the equally haunting "Kingdom Come," in which Joy Williams and John Paul White implore Katniss—or someone very much like her—to "run, run, run and hide, somewhere no one else can find/Tall trees bend and lean, pointing where to go/Where you'll still be all alone..."
Williams and White are awfully high-profile right now for such deliberately low-key musicians. Fresh off their "Grammy bump," which found sales for their Barton Hollow indie debut skyrocketing after a 60-second spot on the music kudocast, they're the current cover girl and boy for Billboard magazine. There's plenty to talk about with this most refreshing of freshman acts, but for now, we kept the conversation to the duo's part in the T Bone Burnett-produced Hunger Games album—which might turn out to be the most celebrated soundtrack since the likewise Burnett-helmed O Brother Where Art Thou?
YAHOO!: The lineup for the Hunger Games soundtrack almost reads like the roster for the Americana Awards, more than what we'd expect to accompany a futuristic action thriller aimed at teens and young adults. Is there reason behind the madness, of having so much acoustic and reflective music be tied into this particular tentpole?
JOY: Though one may think the musical lineup unusual at first glance, I think T Bone was very thoughtful about how he chose to go about the soundtrack. When he approached us to write for the project, he asked us to imagine what we thought Appalachian music might sound like 300 years in the future. T Bone was, in a way, asking us to consider paying musical homage to District 12, the home of Katniss Everdeen. If you've read the book, you'll know that District 12 was a tough area, with rustic living conditions, each person left to live off the land. To be more geographically specific, Katniss' stomping grounds were tucked up into the region once known in a bygone America as the Appalachian mountains. So yes, the task was to create futuristic, "local" music true to the area. But Katniss' primitive home also beckoned for music that reflected the bare-bones existence of those fighting to survive within the rural, mountain district. For us, all of that culminated into a kind of musically stripped down, earthy survival cry of sorts. But every artist seemed to lend their own unique spin to the project.
JP: That first line ("run, run, run away") fell out immediately. It's really a song about survival. We tried to keep things just vague enough that it wasn't specific to one character, or even to just this story. But the underlying theme definitely mirrors the sense of desperation of the protagonists.
YAHOO!: It's been fun watching you and Taylor sort of circle each other as fans, and then unexpectedly collaborate. Was that something you never expected would happen, given how stylistically disparate you (usually) are, or did it seem like it might be inevitable once you actually met and connected?
JP: Joy and I have never drawn a line in the sand about collaborations, but by and large we're entirely happy with our creative process as is. That being said, when the call came from T Bone and Taylor, it was a perfect storm of events. We had a great time working with him previously, so there was a comfort level already there. We'd gotten to know Taylor, and knew that she'd spent quite a bit of time prior to her last record collaborating and co-writing. Not to mention she's obviously incredibly talented. So it seemed like the odds were definitely in favor of the day being fun, relaxed, and productive. Turns out we were right. Little did we know it'd end up being a collaboration "featuring the Civil Wars" and the lead single for the franchise. We're really proud that there's a little of all four of us in that song and track.
"Songs from District 12 and Beyond"YAHOO!: Had you read the book(s) before getting this assignment, or were you, like a lot of the artists, kind of rushing to catch up once you got contacted by T Bone about contributing?
JOY: John Paul and I are quite bookish [insert the word "nerdy" here], and were both well aquainted with the story and characters when T Bone called us up.
JP: Yeah, I finished the first two installments in the series before the third was on bookshelves.
YAHOO!: You and T Bone probably seem like an even more inevitable collaboration than you and Taylor. Is there any sort of memorable instruction you got from him?
JOY: For me, T Bone is a quiet teacher without his even knowing it. There is a wildly generous, kind, desert-drifting sage inside the heart of that man. He speaks in lyrics and anecdotes, without even meaning to. I loved the absolute freedom he gave each of us, and created an environment that silently reminded us all to keep things in the groove. To lean into the fluid, the innate, the instinctual... and to flee from all things overwrought.
JP: You sound like T Bone.