In April of this year, Sam Williams announced the independent release of his debut album Glasshouse Children. Three months later, in June, another announcement was made: he signed a record deal with Universal Music Group Nashville, and the label was going full steam ahead with the LP’s release.
It is hard to imagine a record of exquisite quality initially without major label support. Releasing it completely independently was always the plan for Williams and his manager. But sometimes plans change and evolve into something greater—which the singer still hasn’t fully grasped yet.
“We shared the album with them, and they were just really blown away by it. They were surprised by the quality, subject matter and just [the fact] that I was taking it really seriously,” Williams tells Sounds Like Nashville. “I have no idea how it happened but I’m really, really grateful and, here we are!”
Out August 20, Glasshouse Children marks the first full-length record Williams has released as an artist and at his new label home. The ten-track collection masterfully captures the recesses of Williams’ heart and explores the cadence of life with unabashed vulnerability. Hurt, loss, lineage, existence, triumph, romance and happiness are some of the thematic through lines highlighted throughout the momentous collection.
Williams grew up like a regular ol’ child. His father, Hank Williams Jr., “separated work from home long before I came around,” the singer says. There wasn’t anything grand, extraordinary or Hollywood-esque about Williams’ childhood. He lived in Paris, Tennessee for 18 years of his life, went to public school, and typically spent his time playing sports, hanging out with friends on Kentucky Lake and going on hunting trips with his dad.
Now a father himself with a lot more life lived than most his age, Williams has grown wise beyond his years. A firm believer in the power of vulnerability, the rising country star penned his self-revelatory songs with meticulousness, profound introspection and his heart on his sleeve—all of which amalgamated in an artwork that’s unapologetically himself.
Williams doesn’t skirt around the peripheries of life’s pertinent questions, nor does he assume the complex of a know-it-all savior. Instead, the artist courageously chronicles his stories with sheer candor, relying on both linguistic precision and poetic lyricism to paint vivid imagery.
Williams defies the genericity of the country sound right from the get-go on the titular album opener. Written two years ago, the enthralling tune serves as the foundational framework and catalytic vision for Glasshouse Children.
“I wrote “Glasshouse Children” about two years ago, and that was the point for me. It was a title I’d been holding on to, and I don’t typically write to [song] titles at all,” Williams says. “But after finishing that song, I knew that this was going to be the name of the album.”
“Glasshouse Children” contemplates the gripping pain of youth and a life riddled with insurmountable expectations and regret. It paints a musical remembrance of “the duality of beautiful fragility,” as Williams describes it. Featuring swelling strings, drums, bass and keys, the orchestral production, while unorthodox, still captures the beloved high lonesome sound of country music.
“We’re not willing to leave the pain alone / All this shattered glass laying in the past / Reflected off the falling ceiling / Just mirrors how I’m feelin,” Williams sings plaintively.
This tension between struggle and triumph is a recurring theme on Williams’ album. “Can’t Fool Your Own Blood” narrates the coming to terms with one’s lineage, “Kids”—which features Keith Urban on bass and Charlie Worsham on acoustics—spotlights the foolhardy behavior of today’s youth in their pursuit of instant gratification, “Hopeless Romanticism” ponders on the toxic spiral of love and relational dissolutions, and “Happy All The Time” questions the age-old link connection materialism and happiness, or lack thereof.
Penned by Williams and hit songmaker Mary Gauthier, “Happy All The Time” is a slow-burning that he had written at the urging of his publisher to write “happier,” more euphoric songs.
“It was kinda funny. My publisher was always on me [for not writing] any happy songs, and that I [needed] 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 write 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,’” Williams recalls.
While it was already a song “that meant a lot” to him, the icing on the cake was when one of his musical heroes, Dolly Parton, decided to sing on it with him—a secret he’s kept for over two years. While the country legend doesn’t helm a verse by herself, her melancholia and tender fairy godmother-like harmonies augment the emotional impact of the thought-provoking song.
Contrary to popular belief, even with his family name, enlisting Parton wasn’t a shoo-in for Williams. He didn’t have a direct connection to the “9 To 5” singer, nor did he know anyone on her professional team. Fortuitously, after multiple attempts to reach Parton, Williams found out that one of his longtime pals, famed songwriter Bobby Tomberlin, knew a close friend of hers—who later agreed to pass the message along to the superstar. Humbled with gratitude and sincerity, Williams took a thick parchment paper and painstakingly typed out a personal, two-paged heartfelt letter to Parton on a typewriter, no less.
“It was very serious because I look up to her very much,” shares a still-awestruck Williams. “I talked about how validating it would be [to collaborate with her], the song itself, and what I wrote it about. She got it and really loved the message of the song and my voice and the lyrics.”
He adds, “I’m really glad that I didn’t try to get a legend on a song that wasn’t super meaningful to me. That song always has been [special] and she felt the same way, and just absolutely slaughtered and put her heel in it.”
While there have been many silver linings and milestones for Williams over the past year, he’s also had to deal with pain—one that stemmed from the loss of a family member. In June of 2020, he lost his sister, Katie Williams-Dunning, in a tragic car accident, which left him and his family distraught and shattered.
Although Glasshouse Children doesn’t feature a song directly about that loss, an early-written track, “The World: Alone,” ended up taking shape as the tender tribute.
“[Now] I gotta go it alone / And I don’t know what I’m gonna do / ‘Cause I was gonna show you the world / Now who am I supposed to show it to?” he sings, simultaneously questioning the abyss of solitude, loss and despair. It wasn’t penned with Katie in mind, but the grief and ongoing healing had led Williams to realize its “clairvoyance,” while seeking comfort in the bittersweet truth that his beloved sister “is with God and can see the entire world now, without [his] help.”
Showcasing his multi-genre musical influence and staying true to himself—as Katie always encouraged him to—Glasshouse Children has a song for everyone. The sinfully catchy “10-4” and “Kids” are feel-good modern pop-country tunes, the bouncy “Wild Girl” leans pop-rock, and fans of Hank Williams might find a home in “Bulleit Blues,” the project’s most bare-bones country offering. Co-written with Carolina Story’s Ben Roberts, Williams delivers the poignant track with a tear in his voice over chill-inducing lyrics and intimate acoustics.
“Pour out some bulleit and pull it straight to the brain / I didn’t know this morning that it would be one of those days / I said I wouldn’t go forgetting my name / I know I shouldn’t / But I can’t help but try and wash it all away,” he sings in the opening verse with Roberts’ accompanying near-spoken word harmonies.
“I was reflecting on transitions in my life, mistakes that I’ve made and just pondering on what the future will hold because we really have no idea. We’re not really in control as we think we are,” says Williams of the track, which he initially saved as “had cold blues” because he was sick. At just a minute and a half, it serves as the interlude on the album—both melodically and thematically.
“To me, that is kinda like the transition from one side of “Glasshouse Children” to the drama and the really, really personal and vulnerable lyrics, into the exploration of different sounds and more so the hope that’s in the back half of the record,” the newcomer notes.
“Can’t Fool Your Own Blood” is another pristine ballad and album standout. Written with Gauthier and Jaimee Harris, Williams ruminates on the grip and power one’s bloodline has on their lives—for better or worse. “You can lie to a liar / Go ahead and flame the fire / And burn down everything you love / You can steal from a thief / I’ll act like I believe / But you can’t fool your own blood,” he emotes with both wistfulness and pointed self-awareness.
Growing up the son of a country icon and the grandson of the genre’s elder statesman, it isn’t always fine and dandy, especially with the constant comparisons faced. Sometimes, fans of Hank Williams or Bocephus would criticize the young Williams’ country street cred or echo the questions from a Waylon Jennings song: “Are you sure Hank done it this way? Did old Hank really do it this way?”
For the 24-year-old, while honoring his family’s legacy is paramount, he also believes in confidently carving his own lane as an artist.
“I would be mistaken if I said I didn’t [feel the weight of their legacy], but it’s not always as heavy as one might think. Even if it’s in my bloodline and my right to, both of their legacies have been carried on by so many artists,” Williams reflects. He keenly points out how his outlaw father has played an indispensable role in blurring the lines between country and rock, which Eric Church, Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert and other superstars today proudly champion.
While the scrutiny does feel “very heavy” at times, as Williams admits, he knows that he can’t run away from his bloodline and the indelible mark it’s made in history. So, instead of fixating on that, he focuses on ensuring his music authentically reflects who he is, what he stands for, and all that he has to offer to the esteemed storytelling format.
“[When] 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,” he reflects with marked assuredness.
As Hank Jr. sang so aptly in his 1979 hit “Family Tradition”: “I am very proud of my daddy’s name, although his kinda music and mine ain’t exactly the same.” Over 42 years later, this sentiment still holds true but this time, for the third generation Williams.
“I just write what I write, sing how I sing and look how I look, and do my best to not take it much more seriously than that. That’s what my grandfather did, that’s what my dad did, and that’s what I’m doing.”