Posted March 17, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

Holly Williams: Getting to the root and the rawness

Holly Williams
Holly Williams

The daughter of Hank Williams, Jr. and the granddaughter of Hank Williams, singer Holly Williams is a prodigious talent of her own right. Her recording career started nearly ten years ago but last year’s The Highway marked a real turning point. It’s a mature album of terrific country tunes that stands up to just about anything by alt-country icons like Lucinda Williams and Shelby Lynne. Williams recently answered a few questions via email as she was on doctor’s orders to rest her voice for the current tour.

This record was a highly personal one. Talk about that a bit.
All of my records, and songs for that matter, have always been highly personal. But the difference in this one was that it was on my own label. I was free from the opinions and persuasions musically from a major label, and was able to record how I wanted to with who I felt was the best for the song. This one definitely dug into deeper territory though. I lost both my grandparents (their story documented in “Waiting on June”), married my husband (“Without You”) and struggled with a friend’s addiction (“Giving Up”).  For some of the stories I found the characters from books (“Railroads”). I always hope that people leave my record feeling like they’ve been taken on a journey, and are really getting to know who I am as an artist.

What was turning 30 like and how did the experience influence the songs on the album?
It was scary and strange, but truly the best year of my life. When you’re 30 you’re finally starting to really figure things out, and for me that was evident in my music. I feel more comfortable in my own skin as an artist, writer and performer than I ever have. I know what I want to say and how I want to say it, and what instruments and melodies to go back to. I was so scattered for so many years through my 20s, but I settled into 30 really nicely, and it feels like my real work as a musician is just beginning.

What’s the most important musical thing you’ve learned from your father?
He plays every instrument, he goes boldly into unknown territory. He busted his butt since he was 16 years old on the road, sometimes doing 3 shows a day in vans in the early days. He kept getting told no and kept doing it no matter what. He worked for years to get where he exploded in into the mainstream in the ‘80s, and taught me never to give up no matter what. I love being a storyteller and singing my songs every night, and I will always find a way to do that.

What about your grandfather?
How I would have loved to have met him. He did things his way no matter what, similar to my dad. They both have a streak of independence and made the music they wanted to make whether it was on trend or not. Hank Williams created an entirely new sound that wasn’t heard before. I admire them for doing it their way and for what their hearts were telling them to do. I will always strive for that.

Genres are exhausting to me.

Those guys were real country music purists. Do you see yourself the same way?
I don’t know about a county music purist, but I’m a purist. I’m a singer/songwriter who will always try to bring the root and rawness of the song and the emotion of the lyric out. Genres are exhausting to me. I love John Prine, Jackson Browne and Patty Griffin; those are the artists I look to for building an amazing career on beautiful simple songs, whatever genre they fit in.

The Highway is a beautifully crafted album. Talk about performing the songs live and whether you try to do anything different with them in the live setting.
It’s always interesting coming out of the studio and starting the live performances. I can’t afford a whole band out with me right now, but I usually bring two people with me—an upright player and a guitar player. It’s a more simple, stripped down version of the album, but I still think the songs work just as well. Sometimes lyrics can get lost in too much noise and I never want that to happen. You really hear my stories and songs if you come see me live.

You said you went through a writing lull prior to penning “Drinkin’.” Did that song snap you out of it?
Definitely! I was literally washing dishes and it came out of nowhere and I sat down to grab it real quick and write it. After that song I was sure I wanted to move forward with making the record and I felt like I was ready to start down the road again. Sometimes a new song is all you need to jump-start again.

Are you currently writing tunes for and thinking about the next album?
Oh yes, I would love to release it in the fall of 2014. Way too much time went in between my last record and this one. This record feels like the most authentic and real representation of me, and is also getting the best response by far! I’m starting to write here and there, and can’t wait to get in the studio and see what happens next . . .

Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates 

March 13

March 14

March 15

March 18

March 19

March 20

March 23

March 24

March 27

March 28

March 29

April 19

April 21

May 3

June 1

The Paramount, Huntington, NY

American Music Theatre, Lancaster, PA

Bethlehem Events Center, Bethlehem, PA

Ridgefield Playhouse, Ridgefield, CT

Lisner Auditorium, Washington, DC

Palace, Greensburg, PA

Lakewood Civic, Lakewood, OH

Motor City Casino, Detroit, MI

SPACE, Evanston, IL

Meyer Theater, Green Bay, WI

Do317 Lounge, Indianapolis, IN

World Café Live, Wilmington, DE

Tin Angel, Philadelphia, PA

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, New Orleans, LA

WVU Creative Arts Center, Morgantown, WV


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.