Singer-songwriter Holly Williams is not just a musician, but a lifestyle blogger (read her tips and thoughts on The Afternoon Off) and boutique owner. One thing she’s not, according to her bio, is on a “mission to try and live up to the legacy cast by her famous and prolific father and grandfather – Hank Jr. and Sr., respectively – nor has she spent a lot of time trying to live it down.”
Williams’ newest album, The Highway was released this past February and quickly landed the musician on a number of impressive lists, such as Morning Edition’s “Year’s Best,” People’s Magazine‘s “The 10 Best Albums of 2013” and New York Times’ playlist. Her tour, in support of that album, brings her to The Grey Eagle on Wednesday, Aug. 14. Anderson east also performs. Fully seated. 7 p.m, $10 in advance/$12 day of show.
In advance, Williams talked to us about collaborators, favorite songs and fashion.
Mountain Xpress: On “The Highway,” you chose to work with co-writers. Why do this instead of going solo? And, as an artist, is it ever difficult to collaborate rather than retain sole control?
Holly Williams: This album and my last record involved a few co-writers. But these weren’t random people a manager set up. The main co-writer was my husband [musician Chris Coleman], and then three very close friends (Lori Mckenna, Sarah Buxton and Cary Barlowe). So it really wasn’t a “plan.” For [“‘Til It Runs Dry”] with Cary and myself and my husband, we were sitting around the house one day playing instruments and eating dinner and it came naturally out of nowhere. Same with Sarah Buxton. I played her something I was working on (“A Good Man”) and we unexpectedly finished it together over a bottle of wine. So it’s not giving up control in anyway, it’s allowing other talented musicians to help out when needed and lend their amazing talents. And the songs I wrote 100-percent myself I don’t love anymore than these! If I’m going to have a co-writer, I love it happening naturally with someone close to me!
The album adds some rockers, like “Railraods” — is this a new direction for you? Yes, I married a drummer! Ha, but he has brought more tempo in my life and I didn’t even notice it. I wrote that song in the living room one day and it just came out of nowhere, but I know hearing him play drums all the time affects all of those tempos in my head. I love playing that one with the drummer.
What has been your most favorite song from “The Highway” to perform live, and have the songs evolved in any surprising ways since you’ve been touring them? My favorite would have to be “Waiting on June.” It’s my favorite song I’ve ever written and the most personal by far. It’s the story of my grandparents’ life together from the time they were 8 years old until they were in heaven. A 56-year marriage, that one gets everyone in the audience and then it’s hard for me not to cry! The songs have just gotten better by touring them. I’ve become more comfortable and am singing and playing them better after doing it 100 times!
Looking back over your career, it seems that early on you established a fan base in Europe, you tour there regularly and you’ve even filmed music videos in Europe. What would you say is the difference between your American and European fans? I’ve been blessed to go to both, though I’m traveling via train and lots of rental vans it’s still an amazing experience to have both. I’m not sure there is a huge difference, other than the fans getting really, really excited over there a bit more probably because they know it could be a few years before I am back, but I try to do an equal amount of touring for both.
Coming from such a country/roots family, does it feel at all counter-intuitive to connect with the European audience? Europeans love songwriters. Country radio is not big there, but they really latch on to songwriters, so sometimes I go over there with just my guitar and my songs.
What European city do you most look forward to revisiting? It’s really hard to pick one place, as I usually cover about 15 countries in a six-week run, but today I will pick Stockholm. It’s always a lovely place to come back to!
On your current tour, you’ve already played a number of dates with John Hiatt — do you and he perform any songs together? And are there any songs of his that make you think, “I wish I’d written that!” We haven’t performed any yet, but of course he is an incredible songwriter and I feel that about many of [his songs]. Who wouldn’t have wanted to write “Have a little faith in me” or “Adios to California”? He is a classic writer!
The Highway has a number of great guest vocalists (Jackson Brown and Jakob Dylan among them), and over the years you’ve been able to work with and tour with some incredible musicians. Who’s on your list for future collaborations (either realistically or in your wildest dreams)? Hmmm, I adore Beyonce, I think the girl could bust out her Texas roots and sing some Americana music. Tom Waits is my no. 1 dream of dreams for any kind of collaboration!
I wanted to ask about your boutique, H. Audrey — is the store (and fashion) another creative outlet for you? Definitely another creative outlet for me. I love design and fabrics and always have. I do all of the buying and creative parts. Over the last few years I’ve been able to transfer all the day to day vendor dealings to my store manager. It’s nice to get off of a tour and come back and just fold jeans and check people out and style them. Nice to get out of my head and just be in retail — everyone needs a break sometimes!
Do you think there’s an important connection between fashion and music? Of course fashion means so much in music. I dress very simply when I’m performing, but look at what Johnny Cash was able to do with just black clothes!