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The Civil Wars release new album despite hiatus

Tuesday - 7/9/2013, 7:14am  ET

FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2012 file photo, John Paul White, right, and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars perform at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, in Austin, Texas. Williams and White are on hiatus and are not speaking to each other but will release their new self-titled second album on Aug. 6, 2013. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP, File)

CHRIS TALBOTT
AP Music Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- There are still helium balloons clinging to the ceiling and new toys scattered across a table in the living room when Joy Williams answers the door. The Civil Wars singer recently found cream cheese icing in her hair, she notes with laughter, more remnants of her son Miles' first birthday party the night before.

It is one of the happiest times for Williams, but as is often the case with life, it's also one of the most difficult. Over the next hour, Williams will laugh and cry and express a range of emotions from pride to fear and hope as she talks about the status of her Grammy Award-winning duo with John Paul White and their new self-titled second album. The group is officially on hiatus even as a single hits the airwaves and the album nears its Aug. 6 release date.

She is fiercely proud of the new music and can't wait for everyone to hear it. But she knows she has to tell the story of how things fell apart before she can expect anyone to pay attention to the music.

"This album chronicles loss and regret and anger and victory and sweetness and loyalty and I hope that people get the chance to listen to it," Williams says as she sits at her kitchen table. "What I've noticed is people may be curious about it, but once they listen to it, they are hooked. ... It's so honest and it's so rich and, not to toot my own horn, I'm just really proud of what we created together. And we created it together -- we just happened to be in a bit of a civil war ourselves."

The last we heard from The Civil Wars, they were ending a European tour in abrupt and unexpected fashion, issuing an unusually honest news release that attributed the decision to "internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition." Williams says eight months later she and White aren't speaking, but she hopes time will bring them back together to perform the new music live. There are currently no plans for them to tour together, however.

In her first interview since the decision to come off the road, Williams says the hiatus is meant to be "a deep breath of 'What's next?'" and inhales in search of a moment's serenity. She hopes in time there will be healing and friendship and collaboration again.

White was not available for an interview and he did not respond to a message from The Associated Press.

"John Paul and I aren't speaking right now but to me that doesn't determine the outcome of the band because if we're not speaking we can't determine the outcome of the band at this moment," she says. "So the other elephant in the room is what's happening with the band? The reality is I'm not even quite sure."

The added subtext increases the interest in the duo's new Charlie Peacock-produced album, with its cover photo of a column of smoke and intriguing first single, the electrified "The One That Got Away." But there already would have been plenty of attention paid to "The Civil Wars." The duo's independently released first album, "Barton Hollow," rode White and Williams' emotion-laden boy-girl harmonies, vivid storytelling and the new interest in folk rock to gold status.

They met after being randomly paired for songwriting sessions for a put-together mainstream country group in Nashville and their chemistry was immediate and undeniable. Fans thought they might be a couple. They were claimed by the country, folk and Americana worlds after their initial success. They won two Grammys in 2012 and in their only public appearance together this year, they took home another Grammy with Taylor Swift and T Bone Burnett for their contribution "Safe & Sound" to "The Hunger Games" soundtrack.

Underneath all the success there was unseen tension, however, Williams says. She took some time away to have Miles last summer, but the weeks apart didn't solve their growing problems. The two met for writing sessions and though they were able to work together to create the songs that would make up "The Civil Wars," the relationship continued to deteriorate.

They left for Europe, but eventually they chose to retreat to their homes and families. They apologized and even offered to pay expenses and service charges for fans who'd already committed to traveling to their shows.

As in many separations, explanations didn't come easy. There was no band-ending argument. They didn't start fighting in Europe and then quit the road. Tensions built up over time and reached an impasse.

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