One the lyrics in “Angel Take My Hand,” the opening track from Hilary Williams' debut full-length disc My Lucky Scars, is quite telling: “Some say she's never had a hard day, but I guess they just don't know.” As the granddaughter Hank Williams and the daughter Hank Williams, Jr., it's a sentiment she knows all too well.
“People look at celebrities or famous families, and they think our life is just a bed roses,” she tells Billboard. “We're just normal people at the end the day. We all eat the same way, put our pants on the same way. People think I've had this cherished life – and yes, I have been very blessed – but we all have our good and bad days.”
Much the material on My Lucky Scars is influenced by one the worst days her life – March 15, 2006. She and her sister Holly were headed to a family funeral in Louisiana when she lost control her vehicle about an hour south Memphis. Holly sustained broken wrists, a broken leg, cuts and bruises, and Hilary wound up undergoing close to nine hours emergency surgery. It was a life-threatening event, but Williams claims that, 12 years later, she's the better for it.
“It was very tragic, but I learned so much. I got so much stronger,” she says the event. In and out consciousness throughout the first few days, Williams says she “saw the light” from the other side. “It was so amazing to get to see my grandparents briefly. Of course, they passed before I was born. Looking back sometimes, I wonder how I made it through, but I know it was because everyone praying for me, and God just being there for me and guiding me. Of course, my dad and mom were so supportive, as well as my sister.”
With her life hanging in the balance, Williams wasn't too happy to be back to life – at first. “When I came out it, I was still a little disoriented,” she recalls. “I don't remember saying this, but my mom told me 'I don't want to be here.' I remember that when I was there, I was so peaceful and happy. I know my grandparents gave me a hug, then turned around, and I came right back. I think that was their way saying 'It's not your time. You have more to do.' I know I'm here for a reason, because I had a lot factors working against me. I'm happy I made it. Even when I was hanging in the car, I was crying out to God, saying 'I want to go to Europe. I want to get married and have kids.' I was naming f my bucket list, so I wasn't ready to leave here yet.”
The recuperation process was a long and winding road, taking three years. “I was in and out the wheelchair, used a walker and crutches, as well as a cane. I had to re-learn how to walk three different times. The metal either kept breaking or shifting, and I would have to go back in for surgery. There was also some physical therapy, some which I'm still doing today.”
The music on My Lucky Scars is part reflection and part celebration, as she says the record is a celebration her influences – which might surprise you. Her music is as different from her father's as his was from Hank Sr.
“I love Fleetwood Mac and Sheryl Crow, along with Stevie Nicks and Chrissie Hynde. Those were my influences growing up. I loved my grandfather's music and my dad's music, but I loved those strong and awesome women, and just loved their style and sound.” She allows that her father – who struggled for years to carve out his own identity – always encouraged her to chart her own path. “He always let us find our own voice. He never told us 'You need to sing this or that,' which I think is really awesome.”
That Fleetwood Mac influence is very apparent in the mood “Beautiful Things.” She said the idea behind the song was to give people hope through times stress.
“I wanted encourage them to not give up – there are always beautiful things in life. I wrote the song with Christi Bauerlee and Bill DiLuigi. We were out to dinner and talking. She said 'Beautiful things happen when you have faith.' I thought 'We've got to write that.'”
The song actually appears twice on the digital version the album – in the regular studio version, but also a slower version that features an instrumental cameo from one the newest members the Country Music Hall Fame.
“We didn't even plan on doing a slow version, and then my producer started playing this stripped-down melody. I just fell in love with it, so we did a slow version with Ricky Skaggs playing mandolin. It's really gorgeous and moving.”
Williams had a hand in writing eight the set's twelve tracks. One that she didn't write is the lyrically inventive “Circus Song.” She said she knew from the start she wanted to cut it.
“I wish I had written that one. I saw Natalie Hemby sing that at the Bluebird, and I just fell in love with it. When I saw that she, Josh Osborne, and Shane McAnally wrote it, I knew it was coming from three star writers, I just thought the lyrics the song were so cool. My producer didn't like it at first, but I told him to listen to it more and he would love it. I said 'We are cutting this song'…and we did.”
Hemby also contributed to the anguish-laden “Bedside Manner,” which Williams says is very much first-person on her end concerning previous relationships.
“I've had a few who have ticked me f,” she says with a laugh. “It was good to get it out, and Natalie helped me out with that. I wrote or co-wrote eight. Writing is very therapeutic for me.”
My Lucky Scars qualifies as a musician's record, as Williams gave the players full reign to create – and time to shine in the spotlight. “I just wanted to make a record that I loved and that I was happy with. I wasn't trying to please anyone. I just wanted to be myself. I love musicians, and I wanted to let them shine in their playing also.”
To promote the album, Williams will be embarking on her first major tour later this year, and will make her debut on the stage the Grand Ole Opry on June 15. She says that when she takes to the stage, she will head straight to that famous circle wood from the show's former home, the Ryman Auditorium – the same stage that Hank Williams captivated fans' attention from 1949-1952. She says she's glad to be putting the music in front the people. “It feels exciting. I'm looking forward to it. I'm a little nervous, but I know it's going to go great. I'm really pumped to get out there. I get a little bit stage fright, but once I'm up there, it goes away.”