Keeping Company With Alex Williams
On Aug. 11, Big Machine dropped the debut album of Alex Williams, Better Than Myself. It takes all of 20 seconds to realize this is big-time, traditional country music. Rolling Stone recognized this with a spot on its July list of “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know” and put Williams into a Holy Trinity of sorts, suggesting that Big Machine is grooming Williams to be the label’s very own Chris Stapleton or Sturgill Simpson.
No doubt Williams has the natural chops for it. He called into Pollstar (exactly at the expected time – who does that?) and introduced himself with a barrel-chested baritone that is built for an outlaw country star. Songs like “Freak Flag” and “Old Tattoo” are rudimentary country tunes, unsurprising for someone who cites Jerry Jeff Walker as an influence.
Williams grew up in Pendleton, Ind., outside Indianapolis and, after a boy’s natural upbringing on hair band heavy metal, became a student of Texas songwriters and a fan of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.
Today, with all the buzz around his recorded music, Williams’ live performance history has been a bit overshadowed, so Pollstar made an effort to even it up. Williams is preparing for a tour with Blackberry Smoke and Aaron Lewis.
He spoke to the magazine prior to a visit to the office Sept. 11, but we waited until he could shake some hands and play some tunes before publishing the interview.
– Alex Wiliams
You’re on the road promoting your debut album. What is your background with touring?
Well, I had written one song in high school with my dad. There was this talent show in high school called Wintertainment and he kind of persuaded me to perform it. It was a really bad song, like everybody’s first one. So we did that then I started playing, on my own, local bars around central Indiana and a little bit in Texas. Then I was at college for about a year and did the Tootsie’s thing, thinking that was the ticket to the top [laughs]. That’s not true. But it was definitely good exposure.
But then I met this old band I used to have called Williams & Company. I immediately got a van and started touring around Nashville, ridin’ down to Texas quite a bit. Now here we are I guess, about to do the Blackberry Smoke tour.
How more significant is this summer, touring this album, versus a year ago?
That’s a good question, man. I would say it’s a lot more significant just because I didn’t expect it to come out like it did. Obviously if I did not break up with the band, this whole thing wouldn’t have happened. So I’m pretty happy that came about.
When there is a tour launch like this one, does it involve a lot of strategy? Is there a roomful of people charting it all out on a chalkboard?
No, not at all, man. And that’s what’s been really great about Big Machine, first of all, putting out something like this, which is an honor. It’s something I would say is definitely out of their wheelhouse. But as far as performing goes, I think they’ve been pretty loose about it. We just do what we do. We’re nowhere near of doing meet & greets yet! We’re just playing as the opening act for now.
When you’re opening for someone like a Lynyrd Skynyrd, doing a one-off, do you actually get a chance to interact with the headliner at all?
Well, yeah. We’ve only done one show with Skynyrd and we’re going to do two more this next weekend in South Dakota and Council Bluffs, Iowa, but they’re great guys. Obviously there is only one original guy left, Gary [Rossington], the guitar player. But they’ve been around the block forever and they could be total assholes to the opening act if they wanted to but they were extremely nice to us. The crew as well.
We didn’t get to talk to Hank Jr. that much but definitely did with Aaron Lewis. I thought it was a strange mix at first but it’s been working, and he’s really helped me and the rest of the band out as far as getting us in front of bigger audiences. He’s been a really nice guy.
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Aaron Lewis has a dedicated fan base that probably doesn’t need to show up for the opening act but, apparently, they’re there to see your set too.
Yeah! Yeah! I can feel it’s getting better and, for the most part, everybody is mostly there by the time we go on. It’s mostly good.
What are your plans?
Well, we have a pretty busy fall and the summer’s been a little slower now that the album has come out. We’ve got the Blackberry Smoke / Aaron Lewis co-headline tour starting in October through the end of November.
Well, this album should make for an interesting year and it’s an honor to be a part of it for just a few minutes.
Ah, well, just gotta keep on truckin’ and pushing the album, and get ready for the next one!
– Alex Williams
Alex Williams visits Pollstar