The setting was perfect. Performing before Jamey Johnson’s early March 2009 set at The Stage, one of Nashville’s honky tonks in the famed Lower Broadway area, Holly Williams performed on the very street where her grandfather and father had performed years ago. After her short set, Holly took the time to meet with Roughstock and discuss her career thus far. Along the way she discussed a variety of topics, including one of her favorite albums, her producers for her upcoming album and her family heritage.
Matt Bjorke: Given your bloodlines, did you ever feel like you should be doing anything besides music?
Holly Williams: You know, a lot of people assumed I wasn’t going to go that route because my family did but it was always what I wanted to do. I think my parents were both good at saying to go for your dreams, whatever they may be. I wrote when I was a little girl and as a teenager, and doing all the things teenagers do, then I came back around at 18 or 19 and started playing guitar and writing. So I kinda always knew it was there from a young age.
Matt: Do people have expectations about what kind of music you’d be making?
Holly: Not Really. I haven’t run into that too much but definitely in the beginning some did think it was gonna be a rowdy country show, so in the beginning I purposely wouldn’t tell anyone who I was because I didn’t want people to have any kind of first impression and wanted them to hear it with fresh ears.
Matt: When I got your “The Ones We Never Knew” record, I had no idea who you were until I did a little research…
Holly: When they sent that record out, my first album, the label (eb+flo/Universal South) didn’t want anyone to know, so they just sent it out without prior warning.
Matt: You released a great record with them but it was more of a singer-songwriter album. Did you originally pursue that route to avoid the comparisons to your family?
Holly: No. At the time, Nashville labels said “we like you but we don’t know what to do” because it was left-of-center a bit and they were really just the kind of songs from where I was at the time. It was more Sarah Mclachlan than Rascal Flatts but then I started writing rootsier, country-like songs and here we are.
Matt: “Keep The Change” has an interesting, relatable lyric. Is that what drew you to it?
Holly: I loved the lyrics and the melody. It was so catchy the first time I heard it and stuck in my head all day. Vocally I get to sing in a different range, which is something I hadn’t been able to do before. So everything about it…the relatable lyric, the melody, it was something I could sing every night, which isn’t something you find all that often.
Matt: You and your sister experienced a tough car accident a while back, how has that affected your music, if at all?
Holly: It definitely affected it. At the time, I had been driving around in my Mom’s Suburban doing small shows in 50 states, and I just came to the point where I had to find some kind of outlet. So while playing on some tours and writing these songs, I just figured that country radio was the best way to go. Obviously when you get played on the radio you get on larger tours and reach more people. So the accident made me want to get as much done as I could at the time, get things rolling.
Matt: Who did you work with on the record?
Holly: I worked with a guy named Justin Neibank, a guy here in town who has worked with Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, and others. I also worked with Tony Brown, who was my former label head (at Universal South), who has worked with Reba, with George Strait and everybody else. Justin’s an old friend and Tony’s my former label head. I’ve known them both a really long time so it was great.
Matt: It’s always good to have someone who believes in you working with you.
Holly: Yeah, they were super passionate and really into making a great record.
Matt: How many songs did you write on it?
Holly: I wrote eight of the songs, with eleven total tracks. A great artist named Sarah Buxton wrote one of them and Hillary Lindsey and Luke Laird wrote “Keep The Change.” I also covered a Neil Young song.
Matt: Which Neil Young song?
Holly: “Birds,” it’s off “After The Gold Rush,” one of my favorite records of all time. It’s just me and my piano and I really love it.
Matt: Kind of like the songs off of your first record?
Holly: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I feel it kinda has a similar sound.
Matt: Does the album have a title yet?
Holly: Yeah, it’s called “Here With Me.”
Matt: The internet has kinda helped newer artists over the past few years. Was it helpful for you, along the way, particularly when you were doing the coffee house gigs?
Holly:Oh, yeah it was priceless for me back then because I had my own website and domain name for 200 bucks or whatever. I also made a 5 song EP that was acoustic that I sold through the internet and took on tour with me. Obviously I didn’t have a big label behind me to update the website, so the internet was my whole source to get in touch with fans. It was priceless and it still is, really.
Matt: What would you like to say to fans that may not know your back-story and heritage and are just hearing of you through your first single?
Holly: My whole goal is to write songs that are timeless in feel and don’t have people coming along in 10 years and saying “What was she thinking?”. If they don’t know much about my family heritage then I hope they check out my Dad. He writes a lot more than just the rowdy stuff he’s known for. And of course my grandfather’s stuff. There’s also my brother with his punkabilly music. He has a great live show.
Matt: He’s kinda mix of your dad’s stuff and other rock things..
Holly: Yep and he looks just like Hank Sr.
Matt: Thanks for taking your time to do this.
Holly: Thank you, too.
Holly Williams' Mercury Nashville debut, "Here With Me," is scheduled to be released June 16, 2009. You can currently purchase her single "Keep The Change" (click to read review) at iTunes and Amazon.com.