Sam Williams is reluctant country royalty. He grew up in Paris, Tennessee; a couple of hours outside of Nashville, where his father, Hank Williams Jr (son of icon Hank Williams and a country music star himself) had relocated to escape the bright lights of Music City. Even though his dad never pushed him towards a career in music, Sam dabbled in writing poetry and songs; moving back to Nashville aged 18 to take entertainment classes at Belmont University.
Since then, he’s made his Grand Ole Opry debut (while wearing his grandfather’s hat), been honing his live performance skills and written numerous songs, all while constantly working towards a highly-anticipated debut album.
Despite having had a torrid past twelve months (his beloved older sister Katie passed away in a car accident in June 2020), somehow, he manages to look forward with optimism, while still expressing his terrible grief. It's almost like he’s making up for lost time – offering a flurry of singles releases, including new song ‘Can’t Fool Your Own Blood’ and that debut album, pencilled in for a late Spring release.
Holler spoke with Sam one early morning in Nashville, as he sat in a cosy loft space, relaxed and ready to talk about absolutely everything. No holds barred.
Has being your father’s son been a blessing or a curse?
I think it’s both. I would definitely associate a curse more to my grandfather [Hank Williams]; just because there’s so much folklore and legacy attached to his life and death. One blessing I've taken from my dad, is that he does a lot of normal things; he likes to hunt, he cares about his family, he likes to go out to eat. So I not only learnt about music from him, as you would imagine, but I picked up a lot of normal life skills from him too.
With your family tree, do you think you were you destined to do this?
Sometimes I do, but I also struggle with confidence and identity, just like any other person. When the right things happen, I definitely feel that way. This isn’t just happenstance, I’m doing this because I’m supposed to.
How difficult has the past year been for you and your family?
It’s been incredibly difficult. My sister, Katie, wasn’t in the music industry and she was everything that was normal about my life. It was always great for me to be able to share things with her. So, it’s been a real dagger. We’ve never gone through something like this before, I’ve never lost anyone and she’s the last person I ever could imagine to have lost. So we just have to keep moving forward.
How has your sister’s passing affected your creativity? I think your song, ‘The World: Alone’ has taken on a different meaning?
Originally I had written it about love lost; the kind of dreams that aren’t going to be realised and wanting to see the world with somebody. But I had to attach myself to the belief that, after Katie’s accident, somehow I did write it about her. I wanted to show her the world; I wanted to take her places, with my music and my career. I had to start believing that she could show me the world now, and I don’t have to bear that responsibility. Now, I have somebody that’s guiding me.
How prolific have you been in adversity – do you set yourself a target of songs to write?
No, I don’t. I think that inspiration comes when it comes, and it’s been the hardest time of my life. So I haven’t been writing very much; I’m kind of just waiting for it to strike me, to start back.
Can you separate Sam the man and father, and Sam the singer-songwriter? Or are they the same?
I like to write and sing about touchy subjects and sad material, but I’m not really like that in real life. I think that’s just the artistic part of me, but I think we’re pretty close to the same person.
How honest can you be in a country song?
I think there are certain things that can hold you back. Whether it be how many people you’re writing a song with, or if you’re trying to write something that could be popular. I always strive to be honest; it can be difficult, and I experienced that when writing ‘Can’t Fool Your Own Blood’. Some of my co-writers weren’t sure about the lyrics, but it felt really honest and authentic to me, so I had to keep them.
What’s it like co-writing with Brandy Clark and Lori McKenna?
Very cool! Brandy Clark was so funny, she came into a writing session, on the day we wrote ‘Shuteye’, with a whole airport bag. This was just for her writing appointments! Lori McKenna is such a big inspiration to me, I picked up on wanting to be honest and authentic from her. She just has something about her; she can be playing different chords, completely out of order, and everything will still sound beautiful.
What do you think when some say artists shouldn’t talk about their politics?
Yeah, that’s definitely prevalent here. I think that each person who lives in the country has the right – especially in a democratic republic like America – to have their own opinions. People can stand up for what they believe in. I’m just happy that we have a new president, it is a new era and hopefully we can get back on track and share some unity between us.
Which of your peers give you hope for the future of Country and Americana?
I really like Hailey Whitters, she released a record out called The Dream last year. I love a group called Carolina Story, who are some good friends of mine in Nashville, they write such beautiful songs. These people aren’t just committed to the whole radio and label game. For them, it’s really about the music and the message that they’re spreading. I hope I'm looked at in this way by people from outside the industry too.
Finally, what’s your hope for the world this year?
My hope for myself – and anybody else going through a similar situation – would be to hold onto the good things and keep moving forward no matter what.
Sam William's latest singles 'Can't Fool Your Own Blood' / 'The World: Alone' are out now. Watch the video for 'The World: Alone' below.
Photography by Alexa King.