“It has been a complete evolution – musically, emotionally, physically, on every level. There is nothing about me or the music that is unchanged or unscathed. I’m proud of the scars.”
Rachel Williams is no stranger to the song. She’s just singing it differently these days. Look no further than the mere title of her upcoming release, Motown to Muscle Shoals and you know this redhead ain’t playin’.
Growing up within shouting distance of Motown, Rachel made the move to Music City after high school graduation (and an appearance on the second season of the USA Network’s “Nashville Star” as a top 12 contestant). Upon moving to Nashville, Williams signed a publishing & management deal with Kim Copeland and Susan Tucker. And from there, they added to an already impressive resume, with Rachel hitting the road with acts such as Wynonna, Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Jo Dee Messina, and the list goes on. Releasing 2 full length albums, 2 EPs, spotlighted as a Clear Channel featured artist, compiling rave reviews from music publications and radio DJs throughout the U.S. and internationally, Rachel also scored a hit song on radio and CMT as a songwriter. When not on the road, Williams kept her hands full being an in-demand session singer, background singer, and songwriter around Nashville as well as consistently showcasing at coveted venues such as The Bluebird Café and 3rd & Lindsley. All arrows seemed to point in the same direction.
“My hair had seen every color under the sun. I had written songs with songwriters on every level of success, sung on more demos than I’ll ever be able to count, sat in conference rooms and heard ‘No’ or ‘Maybe, come back in 6 months’, broken down on the side of the road in an RV that I decorated hot pink to share with musicians I barely knew, was told that ‘so-and-so superstar’ wanted to record my song on their next CD only to watch it fall through. All those experiences were so important, and so formidable. They were heart-breaking and incredibly inspiring. I will always be grateful and continue to stand proudly behind the music that we made. But to be where I am standing today, I know that I spent a lot of years chasing a moving target, dancing like an Osmond when I really wanted to strut like Tina. I just didn’t know I had the legs yet.”
A year ago, Williams decided it was time to go big or go home. She joined forces with Grammy-Award winning songwriter and musician, Jim “Moose” Brown on what she affectionately calls “the dream that dragged me along for the ride”. Merging Motown instrumentation reminiscent of Marvin Gaye and The Temptations with the lyric sensibilities of her heroes such as Carole King & Bob Seger, the duo created a sound that is blazing a trail on the road less traveled in Nashville.
“I’m so proud of where I come from. Motor City, the underdog, Motown…I wear it like a badge of honor. That era, the approach to everything musically whether it was in a studio or on a stage-it’s timeless. It’s uncomplicated. It’s universal. I wrote a song on a notepad, sitting on the steps of Hitsville U.S.A. and 24 hours later had driven to Muscle Shoals and was writing on a half-functioning Wurlitzer in the studio where Aretha, The Rolling Stones, the Staple Singers had recorded. This stuff moves me, literally. Anyone with a soul can’t help but be inspired. If ever it was said that I captured a split second of the magic any of those records had in that time, I can die a happy Polish girl.”
Recruiting an A-list roster of musicians (half of which belong to Seger’s Silver Bullet Band), jaw-dropping soulful background singers, and the ferocity of the Motor City Horns, the record drives the message home…This is a new Rachel Williams. And she’s ready for her close-up.
“Of course it was terrifying to veer off into the unknown at first. I had this big, unconventional vision for myself and I had absolutely no idea how it was going to come together and a lot of people who were pretty skeptical. I partnered up with a producer that I’d only been in the room with a handful of times before stepping into the studio. My songs were, for the most part, written on acoustic guitar or sung a cappella into my phone. And here I was, this barely 5 foot tall white girl that had been a Music Row baby for so long, handing these strangers charts of my songs, trusting them, and praying to God that we all come out alive.”
And survive they did. In fact, it was effortless.
Crafting 12 songs that sway the soul, all the while shining a whole new light on a woman’s road to losing herself, nearly finding herself, and everything in between.
“The process was exactly what it needed to be. I can’t imagine trying to write a certain song with a different writer, or having someone else play drums, or booking another background singer because I couldn’t get who I wanted that day. The Universe knew, I knew, Moose knew, so it happened. The timeline from start to finish took longer than any other record I’d done, but I’m grateful. I needed to grow into this album, become the PERSON, not just the singer that was deserving of this style and these songs. I’ve always been a pretty eccentric and ridiculous person, but the process of Motown to Muscle Shoals genuinely pushed me to make peace and let go. I’ve never been more fearless and less apologetic for wanting what I want. I dream big dreams. And I know they’ll always get bigger.”