Holly Williams makes name for herself
Holly Williams isn’t as well known as other singer-songwriters with the same last name. And it’s unlikely that she is ever asked whether she’s related to Lucinda or Dar, even though her sound is closer to them than to the three Hanks in her family.
Williams – the country music legend's granddaughter, Junior’s daughter and III’s half-sister – is proud of her heritage and gracious about discussing the topic for the umpteenth time since her first album, “The Ones We Never Knew,” was released in 2004.
But it seems redundant, if not demeaning in a way, to raise the subject especially after the release of Williams’ outstanding new record “The Highway.” At what point does the music speak for itself? Here’s one vote for now. These songs, and those on “The Ones” and “Here With Me,” her fine second album, come from Williams’ pen; they weren’t sent via messenger, celestial or earthbound. As a matter of fact, “Waiting on June,” the haunting closing track of “The Highway,” was written about her maternal grandmother.
“You don’t really control when the inspiration hits,” says Williams, who plays the Southgate House Revival Thursday night with her husband, guitarist Chris Coleman, after visiting the WNKU studio in the noon hour. “But I think the older you get, the more you realize the time you spent with your grandparents and what it means. When I was in my young 20s, I didn’t really think about that I stuff. I was totally unfocused.”
The three albums reflect Williams’ experiences. Picking up a guitar at 17, she began writing songs and traveling the country before heading to Europe where she developed a solid fan base. Her life changed when she was involved in horrific car crash with her older sister Hilary in 2006. Uncertain if she would be able to continue to play music because of her injuries, Williams opened H. Audrey, a clothing store in Nashville.
“I had a really big gap between the first and second records – different record label, car accident, opened the store – then another big gap after the second album – changed managers, got married, so I think people wondered, ‘Is she going to keep doing this?’
“Music is always the first priority. The store was kind of my plan B while I was in the hospital; I didn’t know what was going to happen at that point. Now (the store) is finally running itself. I’m still involved, but I’m not there like I used to be, all day every day.”
These days, Williams is driving around this country again in a van, her transportation of choice. But fame by association can be a hard handle to shake.
“Some lady last week said, ‘Is this an act of rebellion?’ I am not joking,” she laughs. “Even though my dad does have millions of dollars … he gives us nice birthday presents. But it’s not like I have the family jewels.
“If I ever became huge enough to have a tour bus, I don’t know if I would take it. I love traveling the way we do. We were in Wyoming and we stopped in an old soda fountain, and we stay in old hotels. Last week we had a day off, and we went up to Mount Hood (Oregon) and stayed in a little motel. You can’t do those things in a tour bus. We just drive and it’s like Jack Kerouac and ‘On the Road.’ It’s really good to see things and soak up things.”
Memories of sights, sounds and experiences such as these populate the songs of “The Highway.” But at 32, Williams has also embraced her domestic side, which might bode well for an even more eclectic mix of songs on her next effort.
“I love touring, I love playing for people and being on the road constantly,” she says, “but I also love being at home now and I want to start a family sooner rather than later, so it’s kind of back and forth. I’ve always tried to write about these situations and personal stories.”
Before the shoutout to her grandmother on the new record, Williams wrote “Let Her Go,” a plea to her father on behalf of her younger half-sister. The track on “Here With Me” should resonate with every father who has had a teenage daughter.
“… (My sister) was probably 17 at the time,” Williams says. “When we (Holly and Hilary) were teenagers, he was gone all the time, so this was really his first time being in the house with a teenage daughter and all the things that come with that. It was their song, and I was hoping he would loosen the reins a little bit.”
Although written for someone else, one line in particular seems to apply to the writer as well: “She wants to touch the world with her own hands.”
Music might be the family business, but Holly Williams has earned success with her own hands.
Holly Williams with Anderson East, 8 p.m. Thursday, Southgate House Revival, 111 E. Sixth St., Newport; 859-431-2201; southgatehouse.com.