Holly Williams: Here With Me It was no surprise that Holly Williams started writing songs at age 8 — she comes from a line of famous musicians. Her new CD, Here With Me, draws from those influences and from her well of personal experience.
NPR logo

Music In Her Blood: Holly Williams

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/106741232/106783773" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Music In Her Blood: Holly Williams

Music In Her Blood: Holly Williams

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/106741232/106783773" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Holly Williams wasn't exactly born with a guitar in her hands, but she did start writing songs at the age of 8. Given that she's the daughter of Hank Williams Jr. and the granddaughter of Hank Williams Sr., music and songwriting appear to be part of her DNA.

(Soundbite of song, "Gone with the Morning Songs")

Ms. HOLLY WILLIAMS (Musician): (Singing) I tell myself 1,000 times, yeah, I say, he and I are gonna be all right. But he don't know me.

HANSEN: In 2004, Holly Williams released her debut recording, "The Ones We Never Knew." Now, she has a new CD, "Here With Me." And she joins us from the studios of member station WPLN in Nashville, Tennessee. Welcome to the program.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

HANSEN: By any chance, is there a song on the new album that you wrote back when you were 8?

Ms. WILLIAMS: There is not, sadly. It probably wouldn't be on this record; it'd probably be on, you know, one of the Disney teen records anyway. But no, there's nothing on this one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: How aware were you that not only your father, but certainly your grandfather were country music legends?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I didn't become aware of my grandfather, especially, 'til I was older. My dad was so famous growing up that it really overshadowed the Hank Sr. legend. You know, he was on every awards show and selling out arenas and millions of albums. So I thought my dad was the famous one and my grandfather had written a few songs back in the old days. You know, I didn't really understand.

And then when I turned 18, 19 in those years, and I started listening to Tom Waits, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, you know, even all the way to Kurt Cobain and Merle Haggard, everyone was talking about Hank Williams. And that really brought me back to his music. It's almost like my influences really brought me back to my own family.

(Soundbite of song, "Without Jesus Here With Me")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) The preacher tried to make me learn, so I memorized his favorite verse. But Hank's words, they taught me everything. Thank God I saw the light for me.

HANSEN: His name actually appears in the song "Without Jesus Here With Me?"

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes. And that was kind of about, you know, growing up, there's such a stigma on Hank Williams, of his battles with alcohol and pills, depression, all of his demons - you know, tortured soul. But he really had a lot of gospel songs that I think people don't pay attention to as much. It's so many songs that really can teach us as much about a relationship with God and spirituality as the Bible or whatever your kind of choice is.

HANSEN: Is it true, though, that the song, it had its origins in a car accident that you were in, in 2006?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah. Well, I'd been toying around with a line, you know, I don't talk to him that much, I know I never pray enough. And with that car accident, it was a miracle that I came out alive - and my sister, especially. So it definitely was kind of inspired by the wreck and then, you know, I had to throw that line in there.

(Soundbite of song, "Without Jesus Here With Me")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) I still don't talk to him that much. I know I never pray enough. Oh, but I don't know where I would be without Jesus here with me. No, there ain't no telling where I'd be without Jesus here with me.

HANSEN: Tell us about the song "Mama." It's written about your mother, and your mom and dad were divorced.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah, they split when I was 3 - is when they separated - and they got divorced when I was 8. And I just started realizing, you know, she was single. I mean, even though they were still together, he was doing 300 shows a year and never, ever home. And she never, ever talked negatively about my dad. She never complained about him being on the road. She never said, well, he's out doing this or that on the road and I'm stuck here alone. She just - we didn't grow up with any bitterness. And to not try to turn me or my sister against him for any reason was just amazing, but she's always been a really positive light.

(Soundbite of song, "Mama")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) You did more good for me than you will ever know. I've seen mothers fill their children's hearts with hate. But you knew better than to drag me down with you. You let me love my daddy just the same. Oh, mama, you were smiling…

HANSEN: About your father: What does your father think of your career choice - kind of a natural?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah, he did. You know, in the beginning when I first said, I want to be a singer-songwriter, I'm going to try this, he's like, well, what do you mean? I mean, I've never really heard you talk about music, and it's a hard business - and didn't really want me to get into it. But one of the first songs I wrote when I was older was about his best friend, who died of cancer, called "My Old Friend Bill."

And when he read that lyric, he just totally changed his mind and said, you have a great talent with lyrics and I love your writing, and I want you to explore it. So, he has always been very supportive, and we've kept our careers unbelievably separate, and I love it that way. I mean, he never made calls for me, I never wanted him to. You know, we don't have the same managers or agents or labels or anything. And I think that's nice 'cause it allows us to have a dad-daughter relationship outside of music.

(Soundbite of song, "Three Days in Bed With a Stranger")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) The clock never stops and I hate this damn phone. Some days I wanna run from the place I call home. I guess…

HANSEN: You do tap into your own personal well of experiences for your song. I'm thinking of "Three Days in Bed With a Stranger." You say the song speaks for itself; it's inspired by truth and fantasy. What's true, and what's the fantasy?

Ms. WILLIAMS: You know, I've always had a weakness for international men, I would say. But I didn't literally spend three days in bed with a stranger. My mom was a bit horrified by the song. And she…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: …even my uncle called. He said, now, I don't really like that song, you know. But you know, it's partly - I imagine these women, you know, doing dishes and changing diapers, hearing this song and just kind of - almost escapism for a second.

(Soundbite of song, "Three Days in Bed With a Stranger")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) We drank all that wine on the Champs-Elysees. We got carried away on the banks of the Seine. Woke up on old boulevard St. Germain. I spent three days in bed with a stranger.

HANSEN: This is only you and your guitar, and it was a live performance. And it was raw, which you said - it was important to you to have this on the record. I mean, so it's the delivery, as well, that means something to you.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah, I definitely on this record wanted to show my raw side completely. And then with the Neil Young song, "Birds," it's just myself and a piano. And on my first record I was really tired of people hearing me live and saying, you sound totally different live than you do on your record. And I wanted my voice to come through more.

'Cause at my heart, I'm just a simple singer-songwriter. You know, I'm not a country singer or a pop singer or all these labels that are put on. I just like to sit down with my guitar and piano and sing songs.

HANSEN: You know, with all this talk about your music, there's another occupation that you have - you own a boutique in Nashville, right? How did that happen?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes. Well, the bank owns it but hopefully, one day I'll own it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: In this economy, they may be owning it sooner than I think. But, you know, after the wreck, my arm was casted up and I didn't know when I would be able to play again and how long it would take for recovery. I'd always loved fashion, I'd always loved clothing, I'd always wanted - not necessarily a Plan B, but more of something to do when I'm off the road besides worry about me all day.

When you're a solo artist and you just wake up in the morning, go, okay, interviews, Web sites, tours, songs, it can get really overwhelming, and it's nice to go fold jeans. And it's just nice to have a little bit of reality in your life when you're a musician - just a real working life, you know.

HANSEN: Do you play music in the boutique?

Ms. WILLIAMS: No, I do not. But actually, my employees put up all my posters for the album release. And it's a little bit embarrassing. I feel a little cheesy when people are checking out, and they're, like, looking at my face and I'm going, would you like another size in those jeans?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Holly Williams has just released a CD on the Mercury Records label. It's called "Here With Me," and she joined us from member station WPLN in Nashville. Thank you so much, and best of luck to you.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you so much.

(Soundbite of song, "Keep the Change")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) I'm all cashed out on your lovin'…

HANSEN: You can hear more from Holly Williams on our Web site, NPRMusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of song, "Keep the Change")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) I've paid my dues, honey, you can keep the change.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.