Poison & Wine

Album: Barton Hollow (2009)
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Songfacts®:

  • This song is about a classic love/hate relationship; the chorus is a repetition of the line, "I don't love you but I always will."

    It's the first single from The Civil Wars, which was the duo of CCM vocalist Joy Williams and guitarist/songwriter John Paul White. This song makes it sound like they were in a tortured love affair, and indeed they were married, just not to each other - they had recently met at a songwriting camp, and drew on relationships with their spouses for the lyrics.
  • John Paul White explained the song's meaning to UK newspaper, The Sun: "That song has parallels to our band and our band name," he said. "It's about all those battles you have with your spouse though it could be about addiction or even about your job. It was therapeutic to write.

    We asked each other, 'What would you scream at your partner - without them hearing or without any of the fallout - if you needed to get something off your chest?' And that's how we wrote that song. We love to write in a way that is inclusive."
  • Williams and White wrote this song with the Nashville writer Chris Lindsey, who co-wrote the Lonestar #1 hit "Amazed." Lindsey was married to another top songwriter, Aimee Mayo. He told the story of the song when he was a guest on the Songfacts Podcast:

    "I was going to write at EMI downtown with them, and I was running a little late. Well, Aimee and I are pretty famous for fighting, and we had about a two-day fight going on and it culminated right before I left. I took the title in based on that fight with Aimee before I left, and there are three or four lines in that song that came out of Aimee's mouth, directed at me. One of them was, 'You think your dreams are the same as mine.' She threw something at me and screamed that out in our driveway. There are two lines in that song she said verbatim that I took.

    So I was completely roiled up. I went down there and threw this title out. I never picked up a guitar, which was unusual for me - 75 percent of the time I'm the music guy in the room, but with those two I had a lyric pad, threw out the title and just started slinging lyrics. It's the only song I've ever been on where I've written most of the lyric, not the music. They obviously had a lot of lyrics too, but it just came to me: 'I don't love you but I always will.' It's another me and Aimee thing. They brought their worlds to it too, but from my side, it was like 'Amazed' after the honeymoon. A more mature love song."
  • The song first appeared on Live At Eddie's Attic, a live album recorded during the Civil Wars' second-ever show at Eddie's Attic in Decatur, Georgia on April 8, 2009. It was released on the duo's website as a free download on June 30, 2009, then issued as the pair's first single on November 4, 2009.

    The track also features on The Civil Wars' 2011 debut full-length album, Barton Hollow. It is the only song on the longplayer that Williams and White wrote with an outside collaborator - Chris Lindsey.
  • The song is a thematic declaration of intent for The Civil Wars, encapsulating everything suggested in the duo's name when it comes to exploring the conflicts that arise as part of being a married couple. "That song probably does sum us up - The Civil Wars, the name of the band - as well as any song that we've written," said White. "We're all married, and we were all talking about the good, the bad and the ugly, and just felt like: What would you say to someone if you were actually brutally honest - the things that you could never say because it would turn them away or let the cat out of the bag or reveal yourself to be weaker? What would you actually say if you had this invisible curtain around you and could just scream it in somebody's face and they'd actually never hear it? We were all being very painfully honest, because we're all very comfortable around each other and know that things like that never leave the room, except in a song. I'm pretty proud of that song, to be honest."
  • Taylor Swift got an early listen to this song when Aimee Mayo, wife of the co-writer Chris Lindsey, played her an early version over the phone. She was blown away, and when the song was released she gave it a wholly unsolicited endorsement, including it on her official iTunes playlist, and tweeting, "I think this is my favorite duet. It's exquisite." The Civil Wars later teamed up with Swift to record "Safe and Sound" for the soundtrack of the movie The Hunger Games.
  • If you weren't au fait with the indie folk scene or one of Taylor Swifts followers, there's a still a good chance you heard "Poison & Wine" because it featured on the 2009 "New History" episode of Grey's Anatomy over a key climactic montage. Other TV shows to use it in include 90210 and The Vampire Diaries, as well as the soundtrack to the movie Something Borrowed.
  • The video, directed by Becky Fluke, starts with Williams and White in separate rooms, but by the end of the clip, they're inches away and sharing an intimate moment. Many viewers assumed they were a real-life couple.
  • The Civil Wars collected a bunch of awards, including the Best Folk Album Grammy for Barton Hollow, but they released just one more album before officially parting ways in 2014. They never gave details about their split but admitted to tremendous tension in 2012 on their tour and in recording sessions for that second album.

Comments: 1

  • Meaghan from IllinoisThis song is also on One Small Hitch
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