Though she may be from one of the most recognizable country music bloodlines of all time, granddaughter to lonesome country crooner Hank Williams and the daughter of his rowdy Hank Williams Jr., Holly Williams is her own artist with her own voice. And though her lean figure and covetous cheekbones eerily hint at her grandfather’s lineage, Williams isn’t riding any ancestral coattails. Nor is she trying.
“People assume just because I’m Hank Jr.’s daughter that I wake up in wads of cash every day or something,” she told CMT.com during a recent interview. “I have a very successful dad, but he wants us to be our own people. He’s always been very supportive.”
With a smile, she added, “I mean, he’s not going to buy me a tour bus. I wouldn’t expect him to.”
Besides, she prefers her Suburban anyway.
“I did a tour bus for a few weeks when I was opening for someone, and I didn’t sleep very well,” she said. “There’s something about being able to drive where I want.”
And for the past 12 months she’s done just that — roving the countryside with her band that also includes her husband and musician Chris Coleman. She’s been busy playing gigs to promote her third studio album, The Highway, a soulful collaboration of tunes released earlier this year. The project features introspective and poignant lyrics, much like the album’s namesake. Songs like the brooding cheating-song, “Drinkin’,” and the adoring ode to her maternal grandparents, “Waiting on June,” highlight the project’s introspective and poignant lyrics.
In January, she’ll be joining Jason Isbell for a few concerts before planning a trip overseas where she looks forward to the international release of her album. By November, she hopes to be working on her next musical project.
In the meantime, Williams is enjoying pounding the pavement to play her music, stopping at local eateries and antique stores along the way, tasting and taking in the local cultures– even if it means being ribbed by one of her bandmates.
“My bass player calls it the ‘Tour With Soul’,” she grinned. “We do it in a very Jack Kerouac way and experience all the local culture. One day, a tour bus would be great, but I’m happy where I am now.”
Hailed as one of CMT’s Next Women of Country , Williams has always been one to appreciate a good story. In fact, contrary to what many may assume, Williams wasn’t raised on a musical diet of country music alone. Instead, she nurtured her love of storytelling — no matter the genre — developing a voice of her own.
“Even though my dad was a country singer, he didn’t play music for us at all at home,” she explained. “He said, ‘I’m not Bocephus. I’m Daddy.’ So when he was home, it was hunting and fishing. It was not music. So I found music I loved.”
Gravitating toward singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, she would find herself getting lost in their story webs as well as music from Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell to Dolly Parton and even Jay-Z.
When discovering a musical direction for her own work, Williams refers back to key advice she was once given by a manager, who told her, “Go where you win.”
Heeding these wise words, she did just that.
“For me, I win in small, singer-songwriter club, small theaters,” she said. “That’s my fan base. It’s a sit-down, listening crowd, and they love the storytelling part of it and all the stories behind the scenes. It’s just going where it fits you. I’m not thinking every single day about what radio station is or isn’t playing my song. I’m thinking about putting on the best show I can for the fans. It just teaches you that if you want to do this for a living, you have to keep doing it for yourself.”
In fact, just after what she thought had been the last day of recording in the studio for what would become The Highway, Williams told her husband she felt as though the project was missing an important piece to the puzzle.
“There’s something else that I need to say,” she told him. “‘I feel like this album has another song that’s supposed to be here, but I just don’t know what it is exactly.’”
Surprisingly, she found her answer later that evening while routinely performing one of life’s most mind-numbing nuisances — getting gas. As she was filling up her car, Williams began to sing, “Out there on the hiiiiighwaaaay.”
“A lot of songs have come to me that way,” she detailed. “When I’m driving a car, usually I try and turn my phone off and be still, especially if it’s nighttime. I always get a lot of ideas that way. So I started singing the chorus and ran home and told my husband, ‘Oh, I have a chorus I love! I have to write it real quick!’ And, I finished it that night, and I told my producer the next morning, ‘OK, we’re not done. We’ve got to add one more.’”
Her video for the song gives viewers a glimpse into her life out on the open road. With footage of rolling hills, blacktop roads, her beloved band and various venues and hotel rooms, Williams can be seen quietly pondering her thoughts while gently plucking away at the guitar.
A love song to the road, “The Highway” features the lyrics, “I’ve been sitting here asking him every night/For a brand new song and a peace of mind.”
“I’m the girl that prays for a song. I literally do,” she said of the song’s lyrics. “That may sound ridiculous to some people, but I believe God gives us creativity and ideas, and I’m always praying that I’ll get more. You have to be open and in a still moment. Every time I write a song, I feel blessed to be able to have that creativity for it to come out of nowhere like that song did.”
Despite her love for traveling and sharing her music, Williams is also passionate about her home life in Nashville where she fancies quiet time with her husband and their two dogs as well as running two local retail stores.
“It definitely feels like two very separate lives,” she said. “But that’s what to me makes me a better musician or writer because I really have to go away sometimes for a few days — or a week, if I’ve been on tour for two months — to get creative again and then be able to go back to the piano or guitar and write. It’s more like a split-personality feeling. I’m really happy in both places. Which is a good problem to have. I’m not miserable anywhere. I feel very at home in both — trying to balance them.”
Looking forward to the year ahead, Williams is eager to join Jason Isbell for a period of time on the road. His highly-praised latest project, Southeastern was her most cherished album of 2013.
“I hope he will love me and want to work together. He’s an unbelievable songwriter, and that’s really what I grew up in,” she said. “I think we both kind of play for those kinds of crowds who love music, and it’s about the songs and the storytelling. It’s not just about the single. They fall in love with your album.”
And though her goals for next year may not be selling out arenas, Williams simply looks to cultivate her craft and touch fans with her storytelling along the way.
“I hope they walk away with at least one song that really pierced them and set with them and made them feel like she’s talking about exactly what I’m going through,” she said. “For me, I love stories. I hope these stories that I’m telling about have a universal theme we’ve all been through — love and loss and friends with addiction problems — kind of every emotion just running the gamut. I just hope they saw I had a feeling in my singing and there was passion there.”