THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN - Holly Williams set out on the road that led to “The Highway” in January 2012.
That’s when work commenced on the album Williams self-financed and released independently. “Highway” followed her major label releases “The Ones We Never Knew” (2004, Universal South) and “Here With Me” (2009, Mercury Records).
“I wanted to do it on my own label this time,” Williams said in a recent phone interview with The Goshen News. “I’m really not the artist who hates majors. I know there’s a lot of those. But for me it felt like the only focus (had been) about a country radio single. I don’t really consider myself a country singer anyway.”
“I’m not against it,” she continued. “... My grandfather always said, ‘I don’t know what you mean by country. I just write songs the way I know how.’ And that’s kind of how I feel. These are my songs. I don’t know — people call it singer-songwriter, folk, Americana, somewhere in there.”
Williams isn’t tethered to labels, either record company-wise or in terms of genre. And her grandfather’s words are worth noting, given the source. Holly Williams is the granddaughter of Hank Williams, and the daughter of Hank Jr.
As for her songs, they will be showcased in downtown Goshen Saturday night when she performs at Ignition Garage, 120 E. Washington St.
When Williams embarked on “The Highway” — the biggest seller of her career thus far — she had traveling companions. Among them was co-producer Charlie Peacock, who’d worked with The Civil Wars.
“I was a huge, huge fan of The Civil Wars’ album,” Williams said. “I just think Charlie Peacock did such a great job with really making it about the song and lyrics and emotion and not tons of instruments just for the sake of having instruments, really.”
“The Highway” also includes Williams’ multi-instrumentalist husband Chris Coleman, and high-profile talent including Dierks Bentley, Jakob Dylan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jackson Browne.
Browne especially is a good fit. “The Highway” sits comfortably on the “If you like this, you might like...” sonic shelf alongside Browne’s early ‘70s debut.
“I love Dierks and Gwyneth and Jakob — they’re all friends of mine,” Williams said. “But Jackson is on a hero level.” Williams added that she didn’t know Browne before he sat in on the album.
“I could not thank him enough for coming in,” she said. “There were definitely a few moments when I’m sitting there and he’s like, ‘OK, let’s read these lyrics.’ And he picks up my lyrics and I’m dying going, ‘Oh, my gosh, Jackson Browne is reading my lyrics.’”
Browne is supportive of new artists and he was of her lyrics, Williams indicated. She said Browne told her he was touched by the content of “Gone Away from Me,” the “Highway” track on which he’s a guest.
Thematically, “The Highway” includes takes on family, love, loss and too much to drink. The album is bookended by two of its most affecting tracks, “Drinkin’” (harrowing) and “Waiting on June” (devotional).
The opening line to the opening tune (“Why are you drinkin’ like the night is young?”) was written years ago for a friend struggling with alcohol use, Williams said. “Drinkin’” is a story Williams said she saw happening around her in small country towns.
As for “Waiting on June,” Williams describes it as the most personal song she’s ever written, and probably the one of which she’s most proud. “June” is a life story of a love, a musical timeline of a couple stretching from childhood to raising a family to old age and death.
Williams drew on material close to home.
“I was very, very close to my mom’s parents,” she said. “And that’s one side of the family that obviously doesn’t get focused on much because of Hank Williams.”
Williams didn’t know Hank Sr., who died in 1952. Not so her mom’s parents. Williams recalled spending time with them at their Louisiana farm. They left a mark on her.
One day, Williams said, she was washing dishes and the song came “pouring out of the blue” to her. She rushed to grab a guitar and write it.
“It sounds crazy, but I pray for songs, and feel like God just kind of drops them into my lap,” Williams said. “And there it was. So it means the world to me, that song.”