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Country Or Folk? The Civil Wars Blur Grammy Lines

09:01 AM Friday 2/3/12 | |

Even Grammy voters don’t know what to do with The Civil Wars.

  • The Civil Wars

    Americana Music Association Awards, Nashville, Tenn.
    October 13, 2011

    (AP Photo)

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The duo has been nominated for best folk album and best country duo/group performance, two categories that bear little resemblance to each other. Fellow nominees run the spectrum from Kenny Chesney to Eddie Vedder to Gillian Welch and Fleet Foxes.

And John Paul White and Joy Williams love it.

“We kind of had a little bit of a grin between the two of us and our team as well about that, too,” Williams said. “I think it’s fun the fact that we can’t be pigeon-holed into one or the other. That’s just fine with us.”

“We’re going for best dance recording next year. We’re going to do a dubstep record,” White joked.

The truth of the matter, though, is they don’t have time to record an album right now.

The Civil Wars were one of music’s underground success stories of 2011. The pair of hard-working, long-toiling solo artists joined together as a songwriting partnership and found the next step in their performance careers. Championed by Taylor Swift, Adele and dozens of other artists, it’s been a nonstop acceleration as they continue to sell copies of their 2011 debut album Barton Hollow, tour the United States and Europe, and collaborate with artists they never would have expected.

  • The Civil Wars

    WXPN Non-Comm, World Cafe Live @ The Queen, Wilmington, Del.
    May 20, 2011

    (Doug Seymour)

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They recently debuted “Safe & Sound,” their “Hunger Games” soundtrack song with Taylor Swift, live at Ryman Auditorium with a surprise visit from the pop star. And they unveiled the new documentary soundtrack for “Finding North” which they co-wrote with T Bone Burnett at Sundance. They’ll leave for their first European tour about two weeks after the Feb. 12 Grammy ceremony in Los Angeles.

They hope to spend time there with fellow nominee Swift, who has become a close friend. Swift knew each as a solo artist, and was instrumental in drawing attention to them at a pivotal point in the duo’s career.

“I love The Civil Wars because they’re such a perfect example of two people who seem to be absolutely meant to make music together,” Swift said in an email. “Seeing JP and Joy come up with harmonies in the studio together is like watching a pair of twins communicating in their own way, finishing each other’s sentences and thoughts.”

That incredible chemistry has led to new heights each week, it seems. They hope to achieve the same kind of audience reaction in Europe. In less than a year, their audience has grown from a hundred or so a show to thousands who soak in their dramatic harmonies and simple instrumentation in rapt silence.

“I’d be lying if we said we had our brains wrapped completely around it,” White said. “We’ve kind of had blinders on all the last year and just focused on what’s going on that day. And each night we look up to a bigger crowd in a bigger city, a bigger piece of transportation, our crew gets bigger and it’s like, ‘How did this happen?’“


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