Charlottesville singer/songwriter Will Overman had nothing special in mind when he wrote and stored away “Something to Hold,” the earliest song from his debut solo record, The Winemaker’s Daughter. It’s a vintage 2016–at the time, he and his then-girlfriend, now-wife Janey were still in school, working multiple jobs, and meanwhile, Overman was touring on the weekends with Will Overman Band. “It was a crazy time in which we were super busy, yet super happy,” he says. “At the time, it just seemed like a nice love song that could exist on any project of mine.”
What actually happened to that little slice of domestic bliss was more fortuitous. Overman would ultimately put the band to bed and go solo, bringing the song back in the recording sessions for his 2017 EP Crossroads. Still, its time hadn’t come. “My producer made the smart call and said, ‘No, “Something To Hold” belongs on a different record,’ and I am so thankful for his insight.”
That’s because when he finally uncorked it, so to speak, in the making of The Winemaker’s Daughter, it was a perfect pairing. Overman’s solo debut is a nine-track, mostly-unintentional almost-concept record collecting vignettes from Overman’s relationship with his wife. It follows the two of them through graduating college, navigating health crises together as she underwent cancer treatment, and finally tying the knot between the recording of the album and its release. Her father used to make wine on their Virginia vineyard, where Overman lived during the recording of the album–hence the title.
“Listening to and performing the songs on this record are like scrolling back years on my phone’s photo reel and watching the memories pass by,” he says. “Nothing else I’ve put out has been so simultaneously biographical and autobiographical.” Going into the studio, he had seven of the nine songs written, so in the five years since “Something to Hold,” some have aged like fine wine and others are still fresh from the vine. He says the blend of closeness and distance allowed him to bring out the best in each one.
“No matter how much time passes from the first time I wrote these songs, they’ll always be close,” says Overman. “But just as the closeness allows for me to write genuine lyrics, the distance allows for me to look at them from a 30,000-foot view and decide exactly what these songs need sonically. This record being a mix of old and new material really allowed for us to dial in the feel, more so than any past project I’ve worked on.”
That leads to everything from bigger, twangier tracks like the wistful “Bad Apartment” or “Little Things” to sparser acoustic guitar and harmonica arrangements like “Marine Street,” lending a little folky gravitas to the deeper soul-searching. (Though Overman’s roots are in Americana, he sees this record pulling more from the pop playbook than past releases. ”Something to Hold,” for its part, has a definite John Mayer quality.) And while part of dialing in the feel is about specificity, he also wanted to leave space for the listener.
“On the surface, the songs are about my wife, my winemaker’s daughter, but I want them to be about everyone’s special person,” he says. “I tried to leave just enough of myself, and simultaneously enough space, so that someone can insert their relationship into these songs. That was very important to me.”
Plus, he learned in the making of The Winemaker’s Daughter that there are limits to what parts of himself and his family he wants to put out into the world. Writing and recording songs about his wife, even playing them for other people, is one thing–but he says as someone with a public online persona, letting his marriage become a social media brand was an unsavory thought.
“There were times during the rollout and promotion that I felt I was putting my relationship on display for the benefit of me and my career, and it just didn’t feel right,” says Overman. “I realized there is a beauty to privacy. I like presenting an honest depiction of myself on social media, but I don’t need to put all of my personal life or all of my wife’s on there to tell my story. I’ll let the songs do the talking.”
And they do speak, not only to Overman’s relationships, but to five years of growth as a musician. Especially without a consistent band, he had to learn to do more for himself, plus how to communicate to other musicians in the studio about what he was looking for. But whatever spring frosts or summer droughts he had to go through, he says he enjoyed having more control over the outcome–and he’ll carry the lessons learned into future growing seasons.
“It’s liberating to put out music that I had the ultimate decision over, and it’s reassuring that even though going solo was daunting, I was able to create something like The Winemaker’s Daughter that I’m really proud of. I view every project I do as a stepping stone towards the next project, and I think The Winemaker’s Daughter has set me up well to jump off into any direction I want.”