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It would be simply impossible to listen to Nashville singer/songwriter Holly Williams (daughter of country music superstar Hank Williams, Jr.) perform any given track off her Mercury Records debut Here With Me and not hear the soul of good music: honesty and truth.

With this release, Holly has succeeded in creating the type of album that would easily find a place among the works of her favorite artists. Penning the majority of the album's 11 tracks, she writes with piercing clarity on situations plucked from her life. While these songs come from extremely personal places, Holly's emotional honesty and commanding vocal performances give Here With Me a timeless quality that only gets richer on repeated listens. Her grandfather and father have attained icon status. Now, Holly Williams is poised to prove that the next chapters of the Williams family legacy are still being written.

Holly was born the second child of Hank Williams, Jr., son of the legend Hank Williams and superstar in his own right, and Becky Williams in Coleman, Alabama in 1981. Her parents separated when she was young, although her father took her to many of his shows. At age 17, she began playing one of her father's guitars, and soon began writing songs. Around this time, Holly began to realize the full meaning of her family's history in the music world.

Over the next few years she stayed on the road for months at a time with a hectic touring schedule. Sometimes driving up to 10 hours between gigs, Holly shared the stage with Billy Bob Thornton, Train, John Mellencamp and Duncan Sheik and Keith Urban. With five years of independent touring under her belt, Holly signed her first record deal in 2004 and released her critically-acclaimed debut album, The Ones We Never Knew, that same year.

Her career on the upswing, Holly's life was almost cut short when she and her sister Hilary were involved in a devastating car wreck near Memphis in March 2006. Hilary's injuries were much more extensive than Holly's, and both were in critical condition by the time their parents arrived at the hospital. It was nothing short of a miracle that she and her sister survived. The events of that day forever changed the course of Holly's life and serve as the inspiration for one of Here With Me's most stirring tracks "Without Jesus Here With Me".

After the wreck, Holly’s new songs began to take on a more straightforward tone. One song in particular, "Mama", struck a chord with Holly's live audiences and eventually led to a record deal with Mercury Nashville. Taking on the touchy, yet all too commonplace topic of divorce, "Mama" tells the story of Holly's own mother and the positive attitude she displayed to her daughters while splitting up with their father.

While Holly has clearly forged her own musical path, shades of the Williams family musical history pop up here and there throughout Here With Me. “Alone" finds Holly tapping into the lonesome simplicity of Hank, Sr.'s lyrics with a tune about her own fear of commitment, while Hank, Sr.'s actual name appears in the lyrics for "Without Jesus Here With Me".

In addition to making music, Holly has another outlet for her boundless creative energy. Building on her lifelong love affair with fashion and design, Holly opened the high-end clothing and accessories boutique H. Audrey in 2007, and H. Audrey Home in 2008, introducing new designers and brands to Nashville's retail scene. Holly's stores have quickly become one of Nashville's hottest retail spots, but just one listen to Here With Me makes it clear that Holly's first love is and will always be making music.

Dish caught up with Holly Williams at her home in Nashville to talk about her new album and the legacy of music that she carries on as the daughter and granddaughter of two of the biggest names ever in country music:

Dish: Can you talk a little bit about where you wanted to go with this release in relation to your 2004 debut The Ones We Never Knew?
 
Williams: The Ones We Never Knew was my very first time doing a whole album and being surrounded by all these millions of options and vocals and sounds and so forth. Looking back I wished it were a little more organic sounding. So my main goal going into this project was to make it sound as similar as I sound live as possible. Whenever I would play live people always said that I sounded wildly different than I did on my record. I wanted the music to sound as honest as the lyrics. Honesty is very important to me as an artist, I feel like people need to trust an artist to be real with them in order to really get anything from what they have to say and I wanted to strive for that in every aspect of my work.

Dish: Being so honest about everything has to be fraught with some pitfalls. What is it like for you being that person and having to take the risk of putting these very real emotions and feelings out there for the general public to dissect?

Williams: It can be really tough sometimes. The worst part about it is deciding if I want people to hear a song or not. Some of my songs come from things that I lived and some of them come from having written something for a person in my life so I have a hard time sometimes deciding if I can deal with the idea of my grandmother and aunts and uncles hearing me sing about this or not. Sometimes it is a tough choice because I wonder what someone will think of me or even what the person the song may be about will say when they hear it but I feel like it is something I have to do so I just push through it all and do what I do.

Dish: Most people by now know about the car wreck that almost killed you and your older sister Hilary. With the title song of your album “Without Jesus Here With Me” what does it feel like to be able to put all of the feelings you had during that very dark period of your life into a song?  

Williams: I am the type of songwriter who will only visit something once and then leave it. “Without Jesus Here With Me” was the one song that I wrote about that whole time and I love singing it. It feels like a big sigh and it is so cathartic every time I perform it. During the time following the car wreck people kept saying to me “Oh you will write great songs about this”. People have always said that about bad times before when I was going through a break-up or something and it usually takes me a long time before I can get to place where I can write about something but it was different this time. I was raised in a family of strong faith. We went to church every Sunday but we were just normal Christians and not the more rabid crazy ones you may sometimes see in the South. It was such a miracle that we lived through the wreck because for some reason I put on a seat belt just before the wreck and I never, ever wore one before that. It really saved my life. On top of that my sister was all but dead. Her heart rate was 55 over zero and over the next few days she was in and out. Her vital signs would go back and forth. They were telling us that if she lived she wouldn’t have use of her limbs. It was just one thing after another after another that worked out for the better and came full circle.

Dish: Anyone familiar with your family knows that there was a lot of criticism about your father becoming a performer at first and even your half brother Sheldon (aka Hank III) has faced similar barbs from critics. Was there ever a time in your life where you felt like people may not be taking you seriously because you were the daughter of a notorious hell raiser like Hank, Jr.?
 
Williams: Maybe a little at first but not anywhere near as much as you might think. A lot of radio people would have no idea that I had ever played anything in my life. I would get questions about why I suddenly started doing music at 28 and I would have to tell them I had been doing music for ten years now. I’ve probably done around 1500 shows with just me and a guitar. I’ve driven my car all over the US following people’s busses. I’ve never had a tour bus in all of my time touring except for one day and it was like heaven for a day. It’s kind of weird now especially in Nashville because I feel like everyone knows who I am. My dad dealt with the pressure of being in the “family tradition” a million times more than I did. But now since my dad has had his success and my brother is doing his thing and I’m doing mine it feels like there isn’t nearly as much pressure because we are a musical family now. I just want for people to hear what I do and respect my music for what it is.
www.Dishmag.com / Issue 108 - September 5807
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