Twenty-two-year-old singer/songwriter Joy Williams can’t help but smile when she talks about her life as though it’s just now beginning. And in many ways, it’s true.
It’s been nearly five years since Joy emerged onto the music scene with the 2001 release of her critically-acclaimed, self-titled debut album. Just 17 years old then, she was juggling the challenges of high school with the demanding schedule of a recording artist. By the time her sophomore effort, By Surprise, released in 2002, Joy had logged more than 400 days on the road performing before crowds around the world.
Joy’s engaging personality has always transcended her music and earned her legions of loyal fans across the globe. Her industry accolades include five Dove Award nominations, including a nod for the prestigious Female Vocalist of the Year honor for three consecutive years. Her radio success includes the No. 1 single “Every Moment,” and CCM Magazine (2/2002) readers even voted Joy the “Best New Artist.”
On being an artist, Joy admits, “I realize this crazy life is a privilege and I know that not everybody gets to do this, especially at such a young age, and I’m grateful for the chance. However, I was expected to grow up quickly and there were moments when I had to deal with my feelings over that. I was college-bound, wanting to go to that Ivy League school and take the scholarship I’d worked so hard for. But college was not in the blue prints for me, I had signed on to a different life instead. And I would have moments where I’d find myself so jealous of friends at college who would talk about professors they loved or trips abroad they were taking. In the end, what has been so remarkable is the fact that this path I’ve taken has included many life journeys I had hoped for.”
Those journeys have included some pretty monumental moments in Joy’s life, not the least of which is her recent marriage to husband Nate Yetton in June of 2004. Some of the best and most memorable music happens when life and art come together, and it’s no accident that Joy’s newest album, Genesis, has taken more than two years to come to fruition. Those two years brought maturity, experience and confidence to a performer who already owned a sense of insight and artistry shared by few.
“There have been some pretty solid jumps in terms of my life,” Joy shares. “So much has changed since I started! From growing up a bit on the road, to becoming more independent over time, to meeting the man that I now get to grow old with. There have been steps made – not in terms of miles, but in terms of life. I feel like there have been a lot of new avenues to walk down.”
In his classic My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers poses the question, “God’s purpose, or mine?” Our focus, he suggests, should not be on the end goal, but on trusting God through the process. And it’s that same truth that Joy has learned and can share with her audience. “I’ve wriggled underneath God’s thumb at times,” she admits, “but that’s the creativity of life. As I’ve learned to trust God and abandon myself to Him, I’ve realized that His hand has always been open and kind towards me. I’m excited about the path I’m getting to walk now. I have giggled at Heaven over His obvious sense of humor with me. My blueprint plan didn’t turn out the way I thought it would at all, but it’s better than anything I’d ever hoped for.”
Genesis will undoubtedly create new opinions and deeper appreciation of Joy’s artistry from both critics and fans alike. Produced by Matt Bronleewe (Natalie Imbruglia, Jars of Clay, Michael W. Smith), it is the first album on which Joy has co-written every song. There is also a dynamic feel to her music that is original and fresh. When asked how to explain the sound, Joy says, “The only way I can think to describe it is this: like London fog rolling into the California Bay Area.” Its progressive pop rock sound combines unique programmed elements, ambient electric and acoustic guitar, driving piano and even stringed instruments recorded in Prague.
“Working with Matt was incredible,” says Joy. “I’ve never had more fun working on an album. We spent more time laughing than recording, I think! He really encouraged me to find myself and to find the music within me. It was very much a team effort. His confidence in what I was doing spurred me on to work harder and dig deeper into this project than on any other before.”
And it shows. “I think this album may cause people to blink twice,” she adds. “It’s a real change for me, but I think (and I hope) there’s a musical style here that evidences growth and draws people in. Over the past couple of years, I really began to fall in love with various kinds of music, and tried for the first time to infuse this love of what I listened to into the kind of music I wanted to make.”
Collaborating with co-writers like Jason Ingram, Matthew West, Ian Eskelin, Ben Glover and Jason Houser, Joy crafted a collection of songs that are more vulnerable and personal to her than any she’s ever recorded, while remaining universally relevant. “People who have made the most impact on me in my life are the people who lived out what they believed instead of just telling me about it. I have a passion to be like that, and wanted to make an album that reflected this desire. There are lyrics in these songs where you can hear me literally wrestling with God. There are moments where you can hear me falling in love with my husband and celebrating that. This album is a picture of life on a heart level. These songs are conversations I would have with some of my closest friends sitting in our living room or in a coffee shop.”
The whole album is the journey of self-discovery, wading through dark seasons, embracing times of questioning, reeling from love, and celebrating new beginnings. “My fingerprints are all over this CD,” Joy admits. “And what’s crazy is that I really feel like this is a debut album.”
“Hide,” the album’s first radio single, is a powerful anthem and has already become an audience favorite, setting records for an unprecedented first-week number of adds on the Christian AC format. In talking about the inspiration behind the hit song Joy explains, “Nearly a year ago, I had a counselor friend of mine point out how much I hid my pain away. And there is no way any of us will be able to heal our cracked hearts by spackling them ourselves. We need God to do that. We need others around us to encourage us in the process. This song is really an invitation for anyone who’s ever felt unlovable, disappointed, lonely…to link arms with another broken soul like mine, and to realize that you’re never alone.”
Genesis showcases Joy’s natural ability to take some of those intimate life lessons learned and reach into the heart of each listener, who identifies her questions and her struggles with their own. That honesty hits home with tracks like “Silence,” in which Joy discusses the distance she felt from God when going through a spiritually dry season. “God Only Knows” is a song Joy relates to the near-fatal incident that almost took the life of her only sister that shook her entire family.
Perhaps more than any album before, Genesis is bound to connect Joy to any audience no matter what their age, gender or faith. Her keen ability to paint an honest picture of her own life—with all its highs and lows—will not be lost on those who hear the album.
“I’m just trying to figure out life like everybody else is,” says Joy. “Connecting is what makes me feel alive—knowing I’m not the only one who has ever felt alone, or angry at God, or misunderstood, or insecure, or naïve, or whose made stupid mistakes. That’s been me, in my journal – it’s in my life – it’s in the fabric of who I am.”
Certainly the “new beginnings” and changes in Joy’s life have brought about a new outlook that demonstrates the maturity and growth of an artist who has consistently triumphed as a multi-talented singer, songwriter and performer, while allowing her faith to remain at the forefront of everything she does.
“If I can encourage somebody else, then that’s what it comes down to,” Joy says. “I just hope that God will allow me to connect with people well. Because this is, in and of itself, just music. I know that music has touched my heart throughout my life. The chance to reach out to someone through my music is the chance of a lifetime… and I hope this album will do that.”
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