When you meet Holly Williams, it’s obvious she’s received a big dose of joie de vivre. Consider this: she’s an incredible songwriter and performer, boutique owner, cook and blogger. Holly approaches her passions with both eyes open and both feet in. Yes, she’s the daughter of Hank Williams Jr., but to her, he was just Dad. Even with her obvious claims to fame, Holly is a normal gal who loves to have fun. It is with great pleasure we introduce you to this week’s FACE of Nashville, Holly Williams.
I was born in Cullman, AL, but I have been in Nashville since I was 3 years old. So yes, I’m from here.
As the daughter and granddaughter of the famous Hank Williams Jr. and Sr., you have some big shoes to fill. What was it like growing up in such a famous musical family?
Well Hank Sr. died in 1952, so I sadly didn’t know him. My dad kept us totally separated from the music business. He always said, “I’m not Bocephus (his famous stage nickname), but I’m Daddy.” We knew the outdoorsman, not the man selling millions of albums and playing sold out-shows every night. So Johnny Cash wasn’t at breakfast, and Waylon wasn’t at dinner. My mom raised us in Green Hills, and I had a completely normal life. I spent a lot of time on a cotton farm in Louisiana with my mom’s family. Also church, school, field trips — and maybe one time a year did I get to go to a show of my dad’s. They were so wild my sister and I weren’t allowed anywhere near them! So nothing felt too out of the ordinary, but I am so proud to be from the amazingly talented family I am from, and I hope all of our music lasts for a long time!
How would you describe yourself?
I’m a singer/songwriter who loves the road, who loves meeting new people and hearing their stories (song fodder) and who loves going to all kinds of places to bring my favorite things back to my stores in Nashville. The third album came out this year, and my new shop, White’s Mercantile, opened a few weeks ago. It’s been chaos! But I love staying busy.
You have so many accomplishments: singer, shop owner, accomplished cook and wife of the love of your life. Where do you get your inspiration?
All over the place. I truly have passion for people following their dreams, and it’s very inspiring. So I love to find local artists to make wooden spoons for White’s, or a designer doing something different for H. Audrey. My family has many stories of love and loss, as does everyone, and I’m inspired by stories and by meeting people and just by the daily ritual of life with all the good and bad. Hank Sr. had a clothing store downtown; my great-grandfather owned a mercantile in Louisiana — White’s was named after it. So retail is in the family bloodline, along with music.
Jay Z once said people get very uncomfortable when they choose to step out of their boxes, and it’s very true. I work really hard to keep two stores up and running in this economy, to pay all the bills, to keep more than 10 employees happy, not to mention my music-business family, but all of that gives me more inspiration for songwriting and playing. I can’t have one without the other. For me, it’s like a seesaw — one career in retail balances the other. As long as I’m creating, whether buying unique merchandise or writing songs, that’s all I care about! Though I’m sure my husband would love for me to slow down.
You talk about discovering your inner domestic goddess late in life. How did that come about?
One of my best friends was a serious cook, and when I got married she said: “Now is your time! Register for a great Dutch oven, good knives, etc. It will make you love cooking.” Well, she was right! I used to buy one-dollar spatulas to save money and could never figure out why my eggs tasted like chemicals. Little did I know the $1 spatula was likely melting into my eggs. Gross! So I got a few good tools, found the man of my dreams and settled into cooking for the few nights that we were actually together off the road. It’s our therapy!
Do you have a favorite chef?
Oh, so many! Andrew Carmellini of Locanda Verde in NYC, Michael Schwartz behind Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami, Tim Love of Lonesome Dove in Texas, and of course Tandy Wilson here in town at the brilliant City House, and I adore Sean Brock and have forever. I love Husk in Charleston and was elated when he brought it to Nashville! Also Jeremy Barlow at Sloco knows how to bust out some serious sandwiches, alongside his peanut butter cookies. Amazing! Then for general cookbooks, you can’t go wrong with Ina Garten, the lovely Barefoot Contessa.
Your recent album, The Highway, has received phenomenal reviews from the critics. American Songwriterrefers to it as your most accomplished and mature album. Can you tell us what was different about this album?
I just finally got comfortable in my own skin as an artist. I had been touring forever, and writing and singing night after night. Everything gets better with practice, even when you don’t realize you’re practicing. I suffered the loss of my grandparents, went through the ongoing trials and chains of addiction with a friend, married my husband, and just did a lot of living in that time period between records. I played my guitar and piano more, and I realized what I wanted to say, and why, more and more each day.
Who was an early mentor to you?
I’m not sure that I had just one, but I was around amazing, strong women constantly. My mom is a rock-solid woman full of faith, who raised two babies out in the woods while my dad was doing over 200 shows a year. My sister has been through the trials of the diabetes that was discovered when she was 8 years old. She deals with that every day, not to mention having endured 28 surgeries after our horrible car accident. Jessi Colter is an incredible singer/songwriter whom we were around a lot as children. June Carter was my dad’s godmother, and while I didn’t spend much time with her, he told me amazing stories! So I was inspired by many strong women who were fearless in different ways, and they all molded me.
What is a valuable piece of advice you have been given?
Go where you win. Don’t try to follow a path that someone else is passionate about — unless you are, also! I win in small theaters and listening rooms, I win in settings where I can tell stories behind every song and really engage the audience. I have friends selling out stadiums, and I have friends selling out 75 seats at a small club. It’s all about finding your path in life, being happy with it and never chasing someone else’s dream.
Your new store, White’s Mercantile, just opened on 12th Avenue South. What can we expect when we visit?
It’s a general store for the modern-day taste-maker. I am so busy, as many others are, and I wanted to create a place for one-stop shopping. You can come in and pick up a birthday card, a candle, good olive oil, a onesie for your little one, a cashmere sweater for you, a watch for your husband and antique Turkish rugs. Not to mention a great cookbook, a cozy throw and a calendar. We have it all! I’m on tour constantly and love finding great little lines all over the place to bring back to our town.
Nashville has been called “Nowville” or even “Nextville.” Why do you think Nashville is in the national press?
It’s real and authentic; people are drawn to that. The people, the places, the food, the small businesses. Our lights will inspire you! And, less traffic and reasonable living prices!
If you could change one thing about Nashville, what would it be?
Suddenly God would create a miracle. There would be a mountain range 30 minutes away for hiking, and a beach 30 minutes away for frolicking in the sand.
What books are on your bedside table?
Right now it’s A Train in Winter, an incredible story by Caroline Moorehead about of a group of women in occupied France who fought for the freedom of the Jews. They secretly protected them, and they paid with their lives at Auschwitz. When I was 12, I was on a plane headed to Israel that was full of Holocaust survivors. I asked my mom why everyone had numbered tattoos on their wrists, and it has haunted me ever since. I’ve read every Holocaust-related novel and biography you can ever imagine. I’ve been to every museum, to everything you can go to. I know more than I even want to, and the images haunt me in my sleep. I think it’s good to make ourselves completely aware of history, if we can, and to know the good that people are capable of, as well as the evil, which makes me deeply sad.
Also, there is Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey.
Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
Either a cozy cabin in East Tennessee (Dancing Bear Lodge is amazing with fabulous food), or the little town of Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Cheap margaritas and tacos, and the most beautiful sunset and beaches you have ever seen in your life.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding God, family and friends?
- My two puppy dogs Alfie and Oliver, black and yellow, beautiful Labradors
- My guitar
- Good cheese
Thank you Holly! And thank you, Ashley Hylbert for today’s beautiful photos, see more of Ashley’s photography here: ashleyhylbert.com.
And for more of this interview, please pick up a copy of Nashville Lifestyles February issue as Holly answers even more questions there. A few questions may also be found online here: www.nashvillelifestyles.com.