Get to Know: Sam Williams [Exclusive Interview]

"Life isn’t always going to be easy, but it’s absolutely worthwhile..."

Written by Jeremy Chua
Get to Know: Sam Williams [Exclusive Interview]
Sam Williams; Photo credit: Alexa King

On Friday (August 20), country newcomer Sam Williams released his long-awaited debut record, Glasshouse Children

A stunning ten-track collection, the album chronicles Williams’ profound reflections on lineage, relationships, existence, youth, social pressure and hope. At just 24 years old, his ability to emote personal stories and boundary-pushing messages is certainly laudable. Having co-written nine out of the ten tracks, Williams isn’t afraid to share what he thinks, even if it means being unable to please every fan of his father, Hank Williams Jr., and grandfather, country elder statesman Hank Williams.

Sonically, Glasshouse Children proudly showcases Williams’ myriad of musical influences. The title track is ethereal and symphonic, “Kids” boasts pop synths over a catchy beat, “10-4” is the radio-ready country-pop love anthem, and “Happy All The Time” features plenty of steel guitar with Dolly Parton’s tender and emotive signature vocals. After all, with Williams citing artists like Drake, Parton, Tyler Childers, Miley Cyrus as his influences, it’s only fitting that his first full-length record captures all of that and more.

Sounds Like Nashville spoke with the UMG Nashville recording artist recently to find out more about his backstory, getting into music, Glasshouse Children, and how his sister’s unexpected passing has shaped the artist and person he is today.

Introducing the next promising artist you have to “get to know”: Sam Williams

SLN:What was life like growing up in Paris, Tennessee? I know contrary to popular belief, you weren’t constantly surrounded by country music as a kid, right?

SW: Yeah, my dad definitely separated work from home long before I came around. I went to public school, played sports, hung out with my friends, went on Kentucky Lake in Paris, Tennessee, and hunted with my dad a lot on our farm. I was always a big, big music fan but wasn’t really chasing that when I was really young. 

As an artist, who are some of your biggest musical influences?

Dolly Parton, Drake, Tyler Childers, Billie Ellish, Brandi Carlile, Hank Williams and Justin Bieber. That’s all very real. I wasn’t listening to the country music that I love and enjoy now when I was really young. I was listening to Top 40 radio and was definitely influenced by late 2000’s pop music as well. I grew up with the [rise] of Drake when he was a brand new artist when I was a really young kid.

Have you always had a passion for prose and the written language? Because your songwriting is incredible at only 24 years old.

Thank you. I mean, I wasn’t necessarily a poetry nut or anything like that. I think that’s how I found my voice and got into songwriting. When I wrote “The Lost Grandchild’s Plea” a few years ago, I watched it transform from a poem I really, really loved into a record that touched a lot of people. I was able to see the power of that process. But no, I’m not a poetry fanatic, but that’s just how I was able to get into it. 

Was there a particular moment in your life that cemented your passion or ambition to be a singer/songwriter?

I would say one of them was the day I wrote “Happy All The Time.” It was funny. My publisher was always on me [for not writing] any happy songs, and that I need to write some happy songs. That song came out really beautiful and I knew it was a big one for me that meant a lot. I left that [writing session] and sent it [to her] and said, “See, look!” And she was like, “I know this isn’t going to be a happy song, but I bet it’s great.” That was probably 2017, maybe 2018. I knew that that song was going to be something and I had no idea what it would actually become. I would definitely say that was one of the points. 

As a songwriter, how do you decide which songs are too personal to share with the public? Because the album is really vulnerable as a whole.

It’s just up to the artist. To me, I feel like my more personal songs are my more impactful songs, and that’s different for everyone. If I were to release an album right now and it was only songs like “10-4” and “Kids,” I wouldn’t feel like I tried hard enough and I would feel like there’s so much more that was missing. Feeling misunderstood would only contribute to that, and I don’t want that. I’ve just seen from releasing music over the years, even though I haven’t released that much, that personal songs help people relate to an artist and really see them. You definitely have to do both. I just feel more proud of my deep-diving music and introspective stuff because regardless of genre, that’s what I listen to as well. 

“Glasshouse Children” is a stirring opener with strings and just right from the get-go, pensive emotions and pure poignance is laid out there. Could you talk about the inspiration behind writing that track, and why you chose it as the album title as well?

Well, I knew that I wanted to have a dramatic intro, kind of like if you were to close your eyes and listen to it on headphones, that can really paint a picture. I wanted to bring strings on it [as well] to make it really big. That line goes with the concept of time. “All this shattered glass laying in the past / Reflected off the falling ceiling / Just mirrors how I’m feelin” [refers] to all the things you’ve been through, been exposed to, have gone through, and have overcome that you’ve been exposed to, that you’ve gone through and overcome. [Those things] are always with you. Legacy, expectation, and tribulation—you carry them with you. It’s also about people looking from the outside of a structure and not knowing what it’s like within. That’s my favorite song on the album right now, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. It just tells stories about my past and I felt it was the most poignant and impactful record, so I wanted to name the album after it.

On “Happy All The Time,” you sing with the legendary Ms. Dolly Parton. I know you’re a big Dolly fan. But, if you had to pick one favorite Dolly song, what would it be?

My favorite one is a deep cut called “Smokey Mountain Memories.” She sings about her dad going to work in the north to make money for their family. It’s her in the future writing about her past. I just think it’s awesome and she sounds amazing on it. It’s one of my favorites. 

You also collaborated with Keith Urban on “Kids” as well. That song, again, blurs the genre lines and is an anthem for this generation of youth, young adults, or Millenials. What made you wanna cut that one?

I had never recorded a song I didn’t write before. I was really nervous to and didn’t really know if I should. But I did want the album to have commercial appeal to it and have feel-good songs on it. When I heard the demo on that song, I [thought], “This is really cool and out of the box for me!” I wanted to tackle it and see what I could do with it. I had had a song on hold with Keith Urban for a while that he didn’t end up recording, so there was a small connection there. I don’t really know him but we reached out and he agreed to play guitar on it. That brought something else awesome to it. Jaren Johnston of The Cadillac Three who produced a big amount of the album really brought it to that record and made it seem, like what you said, it blurs the lines of genres. It’s been really, really cool to see the response to that. I do love that song. 

How has the loss of your sister Katie last year impacted you as a person and artist?

Well, I think that when you go through something terrible, you have to latch on to something or several things, whether that is pills or food, a person, a hobby, a career. And getting my artist career off the ground is definitely something that I’ve latched on to, and there are definitely times where it doesn’t feel worthwhile and I’m locked into expectation and comparison. But when I don’t just think about the circumstances of how the last over a year has gone, and I think about what my sister Katie would and does want for me, I know that [it] would be to carry on and put something [out] that’s one hundred percent me, that’s beautiful and that speaks to people out there. So, that’s what I’m doing. 

To wrap, as a father, what’s the biggest life lesson you hold on to, that you’d want to pass on to your son, Tennyson Hiram?

It would be affirmations: be a hundred percent yourself, know that you’re loved, you are enough and you are unique. Know that life isn’t always going to be easy, but it’s absolutely worthwhile. 

Sam Williams also spoke with Sounds Like Nashville for an in-depth interview about his debut full-length album, Glasshouse Children. In case you missed it, read the feature here.