Dar Williams, once described as "one of America's best singer/songwriters" traveled to the Our Little Roses home in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to be amongst the girls and young women, and the film she would be creating music for.
While Williams is extremely established and experienced with a tremendous following, writing a score for a film is new territory in her 20-year long career.Our Little Roses Crew Member Monica Zinn interviewed Williams during her visit to the home, while the crew was filming in late May 2013.
M: OK, Dar, so how did you find out about this project?D: Spencer invited me to be a part of it. He actually contacted my management early on to find me, because we’d known each other in college. When he reached me, he told me the whole story of how he came to want to do the project, and then how he came to make the project a reality.
M: And he contacted you saying that he’d want you to do music for the film?D: No, I think he kind of hid that one up his sleeve even though I think that was the plan from the start.
M: So what did he say your involvement would be?D: He just told me about it and said he hoped I could learn more about it and maybe come down.
M: When was this?D: Um…. Last fall.
M: This is your first time down, what was your involvement before actually coming down (to Honduras)?D: I wrote a song for the (Our Little Roses) trailer. I started to put together little snippets of songs for music, and I was present for a fundraiser in New York.
M: Why did you decide to come down?D: Spencer thought that the best way for me to figure out a soundtrack was to come, and he also wanted to introduce me to the girls.
M: What were your expectations coming down to Honduras?D: I knew that um, (pauses) that San Pedro Sula had been named the murder capital of the world, and, I also knew that they said it was safe enough here to bring my whole family if I wanted. So I trusted them but I wasn’t sure how the home fit inside the city. I think things are going to improve in this city. Being driven around during the day, by (Our Little Roses Founder) Diana Frade, I saw more stability than instability. There’s a beautiful town square, and it seems like there’s always new life coming out of the center of the city.
M: What were your first impressions of Honduras and the home?D: That being a girl is a very universal thing. The little girls touch your skirts and the teenagers raise their eyebrow at you, the 12- and 13-year olds have a lot of questions right up front, and a few people asked if I was Spencer’s girlfriend. I arrived in the evening, so it was a short visit. And then the next day I saw the classrooms, and again, experienced them as very similar to classes I visit when I talk about songwriting in the towns of New York…but I think that’s the magic of this place. You can have a very fun, really safe environment in which to be a kid.
M: What do you think of what Spencer’s doing? You’ve gotten to see some of the (girls) poems being read…D: I think it’s opening a new window, and I’m biased because I am a songwriter, but I always think that the introspection and connection we feel when we create poetry is invaluable. So many things are done well here, and he has come to add this extra, this new, discipline and opportunity for perspective to the curriculum, and I think that’s valuable.
M: Tell me about some of your special experiences with some of the girls.D: It was fun to learn a song with Tania - one of the girls. She picked it up quickly and we sang it together and it’s just… singing a song with a person whom you’ve just met and whom lives 2,000 miles from you in a country with a different language… that was exciting for me. But I think the girls trying to work on my appearance for the concert on Sunday night was the most fun.
M: You put on a concert for all the girls at the home and performed with some local musicians. How was that for you?
D: The concert was pure chaos but that’s a universal, you know, when you don’t quite know the plan, so you have to play it by ear. But it was uh, (laughs) I think it was a little bigger than any of us. It was hard to make sense of. It was very joyful. One little kid, Heidi, ran from me when I went to dance with her for the first time… Then as the night progressed, I was standing at the back while father Gustavo was playing and Heidi came back and grabbed my hand and brought me to the front to dance because now she was ready. So that’s kind of how the night went, they weren’t quite ready (at first) and then they let it all out, which was a lot of fun.
M: What kind of inspiration are you picking up for your music here?D: That’s really hard to say, it’s like the old school “Taking a roll of film, and then not knowing what’s gonna come out, until it all gets processed a couple of weeks from now” so these snapshots will sort of come up in my mind and I think I’m responding to the power of educating girls. You know, I try and think broadly but I keep on coming back to how important it is to educate a girl at this time in history. And girls are really complicated, but the message is simple to me, which is love them, support them, educate them in a lot of different ways and let them take that education as far as they can. It’s like watching a garden grow, so that’s probably where it’s gonna go.
M: Have you had any cultural shocks?D: Last night we walked to a small sort of convenience store, which is a counter behind bars basically, so um (pauses) I finally saw the San Pedro Sula that I had been reading about where all the windows in the car are darkened, and they slow down when they pass you, and you just don’t know what’s inside the night, here. You don’t know what’s going on inside the dark cars, you don’t know what’s happening in the night time. I got a glimpse of the things I don’t know because here (at the OLR home) I see papaya trees, I see a guy clearing his land and burning his garbage, and it all seems very every day … So it’s easy to believe that there’s nothing happening in the shadows but then last night it was very easy for me to understand everything that’s happening in the shadows…. what I see keeps on reinforcing that sort of cultural sense of people being very directed kind, and um connected to each other.
M: You said that you think that other musicians and people should come to Honduras and Central America. Why is that?D: I think everybody needs to go to places that are in the news, and experience it for themselves because it will teach them about the world, and about our country, and about the news.
M: How is Honduras different from some of the other countries that you’ve visited?D: I tend to locate a certain struggle in every country, the struggle of the multinational thing…that permeates the U.S, Canada, the U.K, and Honduras, and then I look at how a country is asserting itself in relationship to that universal visual language, of logos and familiar pop songs. The Hondurans that I’ve met are aware that they’re struggling more than usual right now. But I see this tremendous opportunity for Honduras to make it’s mark culturally, and I hope that pursuit continues and grows. I get a sense that they’re feeling a little down for the count right now.
M: You’re living in a small apartment with the film crew, the mural artists and other guests. How is the living situation for you?D: I couldn’t sleep until everyone got here.
M: Why couldn’t you sleep?D: I had this empty space in myself, and all of these mystery noises.
M: Mystery noises?D: Well my mystery noises (at my home in the U.S.) aren’t mystery noises at all, there’s Jackie taking out the garbage and John’s truck and there’s - you know - our birds, our neighbors, kids talking while they take a smoke at 2 o’clock in the morning. So those are my noises but I don’t know Honduran noises…But I love that everybody who is here, is very aware of the cultural sensitivity. All these American with their equipment and their computers, and the mural painters have bought all this paint, but they’re hear to listen, to use all of that as tools to listen. And Spencer, who is a minister, is here to listen and learn. So everyone’s aware that - you know - we must stay focused on not being intrusive or imposing. But what I love is that we come. There’s a whole complex argument that you don’t come down at all, because everything has an imperialistic feeling to it, but I don’t think that’s the answer either I think you come down and you listen and you witness and you bring that witness back to the US and you make yourself more a citizen of the world, by seeing the world.
M: Has this experience so far made you excited to make music for the film and continue on with the project?D: It’s been tremendously valuable, this is new for me, but Spencer asked me to do this because its new for me, so I feel a freedom to explore this as much as I’m creating it.
M : Let’s talk about that. You and Spencer and Brad are all professional and known in your own fields but this is all new for you. Can you talk about this new experience?D: I think once you establish that the person who invited you to compose is comfortable with the fact that there’s a learning curve, you have the best of both worlds. You’re able to find new way of creating things but you’re also able to, without unrealistic expectations. Spencer has been tremendously supportive, and has gone out of his way to say he believes in me.
M: Were you nervous at all to chart into this new territory?D: Yeah, but there’s a familiarity to the anxiety of the new. And there’s the in-over-my-head anxiety and there’s the ready-for-this-anxiety and I’m ready for this.
M: How does this experience differ from the normal aspects of your career?D: My career is sort of split between being a performer on stage and a songwriter in a café, so I split my time between the two extremely intimate and extremely public faces. Here I’m sort of walking between the worlds and the girls know that I do this thing in the US and I’m making myself available to them, but I’m also here to be amongst them and take it all in, and make the right sounds for the soundtrack.
M: What do you think the kind of mood of the music is looking like right now for the film?D: Well I created a very bouncy friendly theme, and at first I thought it fit the kids perfectly, but I’m seeing that the documentarians and Spencer are getting past the fun, frenetic, you know “school is school” environment that I’m seeing, and they’re finding deep narratives. So its almost like I’m going to reach into the structure of the happier song and just pull out certain threads. The more time I spend here the more the individual stories become clearer.The film crew said they were coming back at Christmas, and one of the girls just shook her head and said no no no , and they said what’s wrong and she said “its just a sad time” and he said “why is it sad? “ and she looked at him, and she cocked her head and she said, “Well, you know.” Just under the surface of these laughing girls with braces straightening my hair, asking me if I know who “Taylor Sweeft” is, are really beautiful and very fragile girls.
M: Any other reflections that you have?D: I come from the background that says “Don’t come down to teach Emily Dickinson” “Don’t come through the church “ “Don’t come through the sort of traditional structures of power” and I think in the last 20 years I think we’ve allowed ourselves to get in, and we are trusting ourselves that we are using tools as tools and not inadvertently as weapons. Western culture is here, and the way the world moves a little faster than a normal human conversation is something we are all struggling with. I’m loving the fact that we can all be together and find the universal language of the eye roll and of dancing and of dancing badly and of falling asleep in class and trying to wake up and trying to make sense of an Emily Dickinson poem – it speaks to such a human condition.
I feel like I’ve turned a page in my life to wanting to interact with the world and wanting to be in this universal relationship…I feel a sense of teamwork, I want to follow and I want to learn and I want to contribute while I can. I asked an adult what the best contribution of an American woman would be – you know the most helpful thing – and she said “sing about us” you know, witness and incorporate that into your music, so I just feel like I’m a part of this new model where I’m here to experience the poetry of different places – the poetic possibilities of a place like this where I see these girls becoming very powerful and coming into their own is very strong – I see girls on the rise – like Honduras – and I think these girls are one of the reasons Honduras is rising.