Story Behind the Song: Clare Bowen, ‘Sweet William’
On her self-titled debut album, Clare Bowen delves into deeply personal subject matter, establishing herself as an artist in her own right after years of portraying another singer-songwriter, Scarlett O'Connor, on the television show Nashville.
However, there is one track on her album that Bowen connected to on a much different level. Not only did she not write "Sweet William," but, in fact, the song was probably written about 200 years before she was born. The English folk tune tells the story of exiled sailors and a couple separated by their displacement and the sea.
Bowen hails from Australia, and the subject matter of "Sweet William" speaks to her own family history: After Australia was colonized, in addition to the immigrants who traveled there voluntarily, governments used the new territory as an outpost for prisoners. Much like in the Americas, people often came to Australia because of their criminal history, and one of Bowen's ancestors has such a story.
Read on to learn how "Sweet William" made its way onto Bowen's debut album, and learn more about why she instantly gravitated to the song.
It was a song that Josh Kaufman brought to me, the producer. I'd never heard it before.
Australia was colonized about 200 years ago, and people say that it's a young country, but it's not. Our indigenous culture was there 80,000 years before. But so many of my ancestors came over as convicts. My ancestors, one of them was exiled to Australia for killing a sheep -- somebody else's sheep that wandered onto his land -- to feed his family. I realized [this] recently. So there were all these, like, separations that happened early, early on in my ancestry. And Josh brought me this song, and I just thought it was beautiful.
We were in Woodstock, [N.Y.], in the middle of a snowstorm. We were in the middle of this blizzard, and we cut [the song] live, I think, in one take. We just played a string guitar, and when he'd given me this song to listen to, I'd said, "Just make it the simplest possible."
It's about doing everything you can to get back to your love that's been lost. And you never really know whether she finds him -- but I think we all see each other again in the end, anyway. But, that's where it came from. I suppose it's the ancestry -- I don't have a whole lot of English, or any English, ancestry, because we were all kicked out of Ireland -- but I think that's why it spoke to me.