From its storytelling tradition in the 1920s rural South to today’s unlikely cross-section of pop, Americana, rock, folk, and even rap, country music defies definition. And now, like never before, the genre’s been unboxed. Everyone from honky-tonking troubadours to songwriting sirens are challenging what it means to be a country artist these days.|Story by Rachael Maddux; Produced by Jennifer V. Cole.
Artist: Holly Williams
Home Base: Nashville, Tennessee
Holly Williams began writing songs when she was 7 years old, which totally makes sense once you see all the Hanks lining her family tree. Growing up, though, she was influenced by her mother and her maternal grandparents, to whom she pays tribute on The Highway. “Waiting On June” and “Gone Away from Me” are finely wrought tearjerkers about family ties, loss, and deep, deep love. “I’ve always gravitated toward those kinds of things,” she says of the often-somber subjects of her songs. “That’s what life is—it’s bittersweet. We live, we all know we’re going to go one day, we try to make the best of it.” When she was younger, Holly didn’t particularly aspire to follow in her dad’s and grandfather’s footsteps, but once she decided to make a career in music, she kept her pedigree on the down-low. After “five good, hard years of playing happy hour[s] where no one’s listening,” she released her first record in 2004, then self-released her latest one to ensure full creative control. Holly may not have traded on her fore-Hanks’ fame, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t looked to them for guidance. “It’s like my grandfather always said: ‘I don’t know what you mean by country. I just write songs the way I know how,'” she says.
Musical Hero: Jackson Browne
Her New Fave: Brandy Clark