Exclusive: Rachel Williams on her college days, ‘Nashville Star’ and her Detroit upbringing

Rachel WilliamsRachel Williams possesses a feisty charm in her music that mixes the power of The Judds with a Motown flavor, only channeled through her Detroit upbringing.

After her stint on Nashville Star, the soulful singer continued making her rounds around the club and bar circuit in Music City. For a time, Rachel also attended college but soon realized that her college was spreading her message in her music. She has since amassed quite a loyal fan base, as she heads into a new era of music (set for release this August).

Nashville Gab had the chance to meet her and talk to her about her upbringing, as well as her upcoming new music, time on TV and her ever-changing hair color.


Nashville Gab: You took a break from CMA Fest, and now you’re back.

Rachel Williams: It’s definitely a homecoming of sorts. I’ve got new music and exciting things coming up. It just felt like a good time to return. In the past, I hadn’t been so in with the downtown scene. We’re really getting in there with bands and jumping up on stage. It’s really fun. It’s definitely all about the fans.

[Adding:] I think, especially when you take a breather from things for a couple of years, it’s so nice to see your music and the way people perceive you outside of Nashville. I think that is so refreshing, especially if you don’t get to go out on the road and tour that much and see the crowds as much as you’d like. It’s so nice to have everybody here. Personally, I love it when fans come up with photos taken with me at a show six years ago, and they have it printed out for me to sign. I love to see all my different hair colors. [laughs]


NG: What have been your hair colors?

RW: Oh, lord. We’ve been everything, brown, red, black. We’re back to red now. I think this one is sticking for a while. I grew up admiring redheads. I grew up a huge Wynonna, Bonnie Raitt and Reba McEntire fan. I also loved the Little Mermaid. This is my ode to Ariel. [laughs]


NG: You grew up in Detroit. What were your biggest influences?

RW: I mean, Motor City, Motown. It’s an incredible place to be raised. It’s so rich in music history. I did not necessarily come from a musical family. My grandfather took me to the Michigan state fair when I was two years old to see The Judds open for the Oak Ridge Boys. Apparently, even at that young age, I was spellbound by Wynonna’s voice, and my parents and my grandparents started buying cassettes. I think I was only six or seven by the time Naomi retired, but I had been to a dozen Judds shows by that point. I remembering by grandpa taping on an old, blank VHS all the awards shows and talk shows they would be on. I would watch them religiously. I think I was already outside the box at a very early age. I just kind of grew up as somewhat child performing throughout the Detroit area at every talent show, pageant, karaoke contest, festival. In high school, I started opening for big country acts that would come to town. Right after graduation, I auditioned for ‘Nashville Star’ and was one of the few stories where started from the ground up. You started singing 60 seconds in front of somebody and moved on and actually ended up in the Top 10 on the second season of [the show]. Then, I graduated from high school. I tried to do the college thing for about half a semester and realized I needed to be here in Nashville.


NG: What were you studying in college?

RW: I was going for music education. I don’t think I had even officially declared a major at that point. [laughs] I knew I needed to be here, so I packed up everything in laundry baskets and duffle bags and loaded up a beat up little Ford Escort and drove 550 miles to [the city]. I knew one person here. I’m very fortunate that everything else fell into place pretty quickly. I feel like very much a veteran here, but I do have ties to Michigan. I go home every two to three months. The new record is paying homage to where I’m from. I don’t really have the front porch swinging back dirt roads stories that most Country artists have. It’s still very, very authentic. My family is crazy and Polish and red-headed. My mom has a musical theatre background, so I think that’s where I got that.

[Adding:] At some point you become very unapologetic. You just start to do you. That’s what’s so great about the new music. I’ve tried the cookie cutter [music]. Let’s try to be Miranda; let’s try to be Miranda and all that other stuff. Then, all of a sudden, you just decide that it’s good to follow your gut and do what you want to do.


NG: Your upcoming record is called “I’m Not Sorry.” Tell me about that.

RW: Yea. [It’s] coming out in August. Right now, we are selling five-song CD samplers. I’m working with Jim Moose Brown, who has had a ton of industry cuts. He wrote the Jimmy Buffett and Alan Jackson song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.” He’s a Michigan boy and a huge Motown fan. He’s also the lead guitar player for Bob Seger. He came out to a show last summer, and I had never even really met him before. I just asked him to lunch and the next week, told him what I had envisioned. We did a kickstarter campaign in fall of 2012, and by the grace of God, [we] raised all that money to record a record. I started recording with him the first of this year. It’s all soul. I think one of the reasons I gravitated to Country music was voices like Wynonna and stuff that just had guts and was raw. It’s absolutely a labor of love. It just came naturally. We’re looking at 12 to 13 songs. We’re recording this a lot like they did back in the day. No overdubs. You’re not going to hear banjo or fiddle or electric guitars on this. It’s got big ole background singers on it. I’m taking people to church.


NG: When you put together an album, how do you decide what songs to pick and what story you want to tell?

RW: Every album I’ve ever done has been a snapshot of where I’ve been. 9 times out of 10, I’m really pissed off at some ex-boyfriend. [laughs] The record is definitely going to reflect that. It’s a growing experience. The whole thing with this record is that it’s been an evolution without a doubt. I’m still writing about those same people that broke my heart years ago, whatever it is. But at the same time, it’s a different approach. It’s a different perspective. I pray to God every year I grow older, I becoming a little more enlightened and become a little more rational. I think you see that in these songs. Some of these songs are really old. My last record I re-released as an EP was in 2009. Some of those songs were written before that EP was even released. They were songs that just never lost their relevance. Some of these songs, [though], we wrote in the last few months. I know it’s the songs to go with when I can create a setlist in my head and nothing seems out of place. There’s breakup song, but there’s also the empowerment, enlightened songs, too. It’s been nice to have a three-year break to step back and say ‘what do we want people to know?’


NG: You have a song called “Suicidal Heart.” What’s that one about?

RW: I had an ex-boyfriend. It’s been an ongoing saga. I can’t [seem] to get rid of him. He texted me at like 2:30 or 3 o’clock in the morning one night. I just felt it in my heart, ‘I’m done. I’m not responding to these again.’ I think it is a dramatic title. It’s a really dramatic song, but it’s about empowering. It’s not your typical breakup song. I think we all get into ruts where [we have] that one person you have that weakness for, and they make you real stupid. That’s the beauty in this record. You’re going to see what I was and what I am today. I started writing the song, and in less than 12 hours, we recorded it. I’ve never, ever had that happen. It just felt we needed to do it.


Interview originally appeared here.


Photo Credit: Facebook

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