Alex Williams is a new songwriter rooted in old sounds. He's also one of the youngest musicians signed to Big Machine, the high-powered label whose clients include Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts and Midland. Despite sharing a roster with some of country music's biggest crossover acts, though, Williams makes music that's more reminiscent of his Seventies influences, mixing the Waylon Jennings' booming baritone and Willie Nelson's speak-sing delivery with his own brand of introspective songwriting on his debut Better Than Myself.
Today, Williams is the newest guest on Chris Shiflett's Walking the Floor podcast. As always, we're premiering the episode below and rounding up a list of the highlights.
Williams is a former metalhead.
Hair metalhead, that is. "[My dad played] the LA Guns and Cinderella," says the Indiana native, whose own voice – a booming country baritone – lurks an octave or two below the range favored by his high-singing Eighties favorites. Like the scene that spawned LA Guns and Cinderella, though, his metal phase was short. "My first concert was Motley Crüe," Williams says, adding, "Luckily, I got saved and started listening to Billy Joe Shaver and Waylon."
Despite being signed to one of country music's biggest labels, he couldn't care less about mainstream success.
"We didn't do the mainstream push," he says of the promo campaign behind his debut album, Better Than Myself, "which is kind of cool. Everything that I listen to am inspired by is not really played on mainstream radio, so it's good to be in that lane." Instead, Williams says he's "building it the way it's supposed to be built," with an emphasis on heavy touring. He's found some success on SiriusXM's Outlaw Country radio, too, broadening his reach beyond the cities he's been able to play.
After attending college for a year, he dropped out of school altogether, looking to double down on his live shows instead.
"A major in songwriting, man – that's a strange thing to have," says Williams, who briefly studied music at Nashville's Belmont University before becoming disenchanted with his studies. "It's very focused toward the machine that's going on in Nashville," he explains of the school's program, "and they just felt contrived, man." Looking for more hands-on experience, he headed to Lower Broadway, where he landed a recurring gig playing old-school country music at a tourist trap. "I quit college to play at Tootsie's," Williams adds, "thinking that was the ticket to the top. It was definitely a good place to get exposure onstage. Luckily, I didn't get roped into doing the music that I don't wanna play. We had one of the earlier shifts, where [the focus] was still traditional."
You can take the student out of the songwriting class. . .
Years after leaving school, Williams hasn't completely discarded the work ethic he picked up from his professors. "We write all the time," Williams says, name checking his guitar player as his main cowriter on the road. "It's nice to keep it rolling. I get a lot of fucking anxiety when I'm not writing. It's like, 'Fuck, man, I'm falling behind. I need to go read some more books.'"