Actor. Country singer. Book author. Race-car driver.
Tyler Williams is all four, and then some. With a passion to perform that started – and almost ended – at a young age, Williams is continuing to stake his claim in country music and on the dirt road. Last month he released current single “Good For Me”, which is the title track from his upcoming album due out in January 2018.
We caught up Williams as he geared up for the USAC Turkey Night Grand Prix happening tonight and tomorrow (11/22-23) at Ventura Raceway. Check out our Q&A below:
CN: For our readers who may not be familiar with you – could give us a little background about yourself?
TW: I grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia. From an early age I had a love for music and performing. In middle school, I had the opportunity to perform in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. It was there I realized I wanted to be a performer. Who would have thought a few years later at a house party I would have one bad performance and let that one night keep me from performing for over a decade. In college, I started racing in the NASCAR Weekly Series. I learned how tough racing actually is. Over the years, we won a few poles, had a lot of top 5 finishes and even picked up a win racing against guys who’d been racing for 15 plus years. We hit a point where we needed big corporate money to make a run at NASCAR series like the Camping World Truck Series and I didn’t know how to sell that or make that happen so I got out of racing. Sitting on the sidelines for a while I decided it was time to move on. Around that time, I had just gotten back into performing after night of karaoke. After a few years, I realized how much I missed music and dug a little deeper into my story and why I let it go so easily. That led me to write a book titled, I Have A Voice. I wrote it to help other people see a glimpse into the imperfections of life and how small moments can setup what the years down the road look like if we don’t take responsibility and own our own story. I had to show that I was over my major fear of performance, so we cut an EP called Believe Again and released it with the book. That fueled my desire to go even farther down the road with music and so here we are pushing the release of Good For Me, a seven track album that I can’t wait for everyone to hear. With music coming to life again, it’s also given me a renewed desire to go after racing with more intention as well. Who says I can’t be a country music singing race car driver.
CN: When did you realize you wanted to be involved in music? At what age did you get into acting? What drew you to the stage?
TW: The first time I remember anyone cheering for me I was about 5 years old. I was in the bathroom taking a bath and belting the Star-Spangled Banner at the top of my lungs. When I dressed and walked out of the bathroom, my uncle who was visiting at the time was down the hall clapping and hollering. Looking back it was a funny moment, but probably my first round of applause.
From there, it felt more serious being in the choir in middle school. The director was intentional about creating opportunities for us to be in the community singing and that led to us performing at the Fox.
Performing at the Fox was my first taste of acting, although, because it was a musical, it didn’t feel like acting. As I was overcoming my fear of performing, I signed up for acting classes at The Company Acting Studio in Atlanta. I thought it would be fun to submit for some extra work so I did a day of work on Trouble With the Curve with Clint Eastwood and Justin Timberlake and I did another day on The Internship with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. I spent parts of seasons four and five working as a stand-in on The Vampire Diaries. That was a ton of fun. It helped me take what I was learning in acting class and really see it happen every day on set.
CN: Which artists – country or not – have you looked up to? Are there any current country artists that you are inspired by?
TW: I didn’t really get into country music until high school. I listened to it, but I wouldn’t have said I love it. Eventually, it won me over. George Straight & Alan Jackson were big inspirations. I remember seeing Brad Paisley perform He Didn’t Have To Be at the Opry; he had a big impact for sure. Now, Tim McGraw and Lee Brice are two guys I am really inspired by.
CN: On your upcoming album Good For Me, you co-wrote more than half the tracks. Can you walk us through your songwriting process? Do you tend to write mostly from personal experiences, or experiences of those around you, or situations that you may not have any connection to?
TW: For the most part, there is a personal connection to the songs I’ve written. Some may be deeper material to source from than another, but I want to relate as much as possible to the story there. We have a few songs from others that really resonate with me. What I love about Nashville is it’s about the story and the song. And it’s not always going to be a song I am on that hits the spot. It’s good to see a place where writers and singers can come together and create some real magic.
CN: How excited are you for your fans to hear the new material?
TW: I can’t wait for everyone to hear the new project. When I put out the book and my first EP, I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to go long term, but once the music was released it fueled my hunger to create and share more music.
CN: Does this new album differ from your first release, Believe Again? How?
TW: I think listeners will definitely hear the difference in the two. Sonically, you’re going to notice the new album hits on more modern sounds. I think you’ll hear my goal develop a little more and overall I think it shows the growth I’ve gone through from just figuring out how to get back into music with having a little time back in the game. And honestly, I still have a ton of room to grow as an artist. That is what I am most excited about. I believe the best is yet to come.
CN: You had a bit of a battle to get your confidence back after a bad performance at 13, and you credited a breakup to helping you do just that, as well as a night of karaoke. Can you explain how that both those things helped?
TW: When I walked off the stage from the failed performance as a kid, I silently said to myself I’ll never do that again. In the moment, it didn’t seem like a big deal. I was self protecting myself from feeling hurt and stupid. I think it played out a lot bigger than that over the years where I didn’t offer the fullness of who I am. I am naturally on the shy side, but even more than being shy I think I kept my voice to myself for too long, even in the relationship that ended. I think I could have used my voice more confidently. When that relation was over is when I took a look back through my life and began to ask questions about how I ended up where I was, what decisions did I make that led me here and if I am not happy with that outcome what could I have done differently so I don’t repeat those same steps for future relationships and decisions. It’s really about creating self-awareness and forgiving yourself for the imperfections so you can move forward.
The night at karaoke wasn’t some grand plan to overcome this fear. It just happened on a whim. A buddy of mine pushed me to the point where I said yes, I’ll go up there and sing basically. What I found was that it wasn’t so scary and I had been missing out on having a lot of fun on stage.
CN: Which song did you sing that night?
TW: I know I sang two songs that night. One from Jason Aldean and one from Dierks Bentley. I think it was Johnny Cash and Every Mile A Memory or something like that.
CN: How does it feel to rediscover your voice?
TW: It’s hard to put into words that do it justice. It’s everything. It’s desire and purpose. It feels like there is more meaning to what you do every day. It’s not only about being on stage using my voice, but having a voice in the world where I want to share more with people, friends and family. In a way, it’s a second chance to live fully.
CN: What was it like to have such a personal book like I Have A Voice published? How proud are you to not only come back personally, but to release a book that can inspire others?
TW: I was nervous to release the book for sure. You never know how personal stories are going to relate and connect with people, but I had to do it for me. Once it released, I heard a ton of stories of how it was impacting people, giving people courage to pursue that thing they stopped doing years ago or help them think about a relationship differently, all the way down to the person who said it saved their life and gave them a new look on the future. It means a lot to have the book out because it gives a deeper look into the story. Putting music out is great, but without an understanding of the complete journey someone may just think oh well, that’s nice, another artist. But when you find out the back story, the road that I’ve been on, I think it gives hope to others that they too can do some really powerful things.
CN: You wear two hats: One as a singer/songwriter and the other as a race-car driver. Can you compare the emotions of performing on stage to that of a race? Is it the same type of adrenaline rush?
TW: They feel different to me. Racing especially dirt racing is quite an independent feeling. You are strapped in with no radio communication except the scoring tower. It becomes somewhat of a meditative experience where you are so focused time goes by quickly. It’s you and the machine. You’re strapped into working the track and other cars to perform to the best of your ability.
Music is all about the audience and building a connection. It’s you and your band working together to create a certain moment. They are in the show as well. Without them, it’s not the same. In racing, we are a team, but on track it’s all on me to get the job done.
There is a certain amount of adrenaline experienced from both of them, but the feeling of one versus the other is so different. I am happy I get to do both No one has sang country music and raced at the highest levels of NASCAR since Marty Robbins. I want to be that guy. I have that gut level feeling that says go for it. I can’t deny myself the opportunity to see if we can do it. How special would that be?”
CN: How did you do at this year’s Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix?
TW: We race tonight and tomorrow so let’s hope I do well.
CN: Is there a dream collaboration that you would love to see happen?
TW: I’d love to work with Lee Brice. His writing and production has always been spot on for me and what I enjoy. For a vocal collaboration, it’d be cool to share a song with Danielle Bradbery. Leon Bridges is another that would be interesting.
For more information on Tyler Williams visit his website at: www.tylerwilliamslive.com
Williams’ EP Believe Again and lead single “Good For Me” are available now wherever digital music is sold.
Album pre-sales for Good For Me will begin next week, December 2.
I Have A Voice in paperback, click here.
Tickets for the USAC Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway can be purchased here: www.venturaraceway.com