From Norwich to New Orleans - people standing in a line with arms around each other smiling

Following the Journey of a Young Musician With Upper Valley Roots

From performing in assembly at Marion Cross School to racking up more than a million monthly listeners on Spotify, Hans Williams’ musical career has grown steadily as he has developed his sound. Now based in New Orleans, the Norwich native sat down with The Norwich Times to discuss his roots, his journey, and his aspirations.

Music as an emotional outlet

From Norwich to New Orleans - man standing on dirt road with hands in pockets
Hans Williams

For singer-songwriter Hans Williams, music goes beyond mere lyrics, melody, and harmony; it’s also a vehicle for self-expression. He writes music to share himself and connect with others. Williams’ emotional vulnerability is front and center in tracks like “Body On My Shoulders,” which he wrote after being a first responder to his floormate’s suicide while attending college at Tulane University.“ I use my music as an emotional outlet,” Williams said. And to good effect: “I’ve been really lucky to have people that have gravitated towards it and used it for the same purpose in the last five or six years.”

Distributing his music online has allowed Williams to reach people all around the world; on Spotify, his listeners hail from 183 different countries. As an independent musician – one that has not signed with a label – Williams is able to retain greater control over his music. Revenue from digital streams and shows gives him the means to continue creating music without having to compromise on his vision and voice.

Beginnings

Williams’ musical career can be traced all the way back to elementary school. In third grade, he had a brief stint as a rapper, going by the name “Young Freezeman” and distributing CDs of his rap tapes. He also performed at regularly held school assemblies in front of his peers and teachers at Marion Cross School in Norwich. The process of recording music piqued his interest in doing more than just live performances.

At home, Williams listened to his dad’s favorite funk artists, like Parliament Funkadelic, the Ohio Players, James Brown, Tower of Power, and Al Greene. Later on, he became interested in his mom’s favorites, singer-songwriter artists like Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, and the Chicks. Williams’ music has become increasingly soulful as his unique sound has evolved over time, while staying true to its folk roots.

Though primarily a vocalist now, the first instrument Williams’ learned to play was the guitar. He began taking lessons during his childhood from Tuck Stocking of Tuck’s Rock Dojo in Etna.

From Norwich to New Orleans - young boy sitting down with guitar in hand
Hans Williams learning to play the guitar at age 10.

“When I had my first lesson with Tuck, I was 10,” Williams said. “Tuck recently told me, he talked to my dad after [that] lesson and told him, ‘Hans has got a lot of passion, but he has no clue what he’s doing on the guitar’,” he laughed.

As it turns out, Williams’ relationship with Tuck ended up being the foundation of his budding music career. At Tuck’s Rock Dojo, Williams participated in local bands that Tuck facilitated and had the opportunity to create music in his studio. According to Williams, Tuck’s Rock Dojo is the premier outlet for playing alternative music in the Upper Valley.

“You could come in there with almost no experience and find a way to add something,” he said.“ Going in there and toying around was a big part of exploring what I wanted to do with music.”

Coming into his own

Williams enjoyed playing music in school, too, and got support from Ms. Keck of Marion Cross School and Ms. Chambers of Hanover High School. He performed in chorus, acapella groups, and the jazz band. Yet, he found studying music in school to be a bit limiting.

“Oftentimes, there’s not a lot of room for exploration,” Williams explained. He continued to seek out performance opportunities outside of school, playing in a band called “Unstable Elements” and later performing on the Norwich green during the Fair as a high school junior, and at Blue Sparrow Kitchen as a senior.

After departing for college at Tulane University in 2019, Williams began seeking out solo gigs and performed in venues around New Orleans, building his audience and his musicianship over time. He ultimately recruited a band, with whom he went on tour across New England this past summer.

From Norwich to New Orleans - concert with band on stage and crowd in front of stage
Hans Williams (second from left) and band performing at Tipitina’s in New Orleans.

“I’ve had slow, steady growth personally and creatively as an artist,” Williams said, reflecting on his career. “Having a band who can push me more from an instrumental standpoint has made me realize that there’s a lot more that I can do than having four-chord, singer-songwriter songs,” he added.

Now that he has graduated from college, Williams is immersing himself in the New Orleans music scene and finding inspiration all around the City.

“I run into so many more influences than I did when I was in school,” he said. “It gets me so excited.” As a young artist, he’s soaking up everything he can from the experience.

“I’m nowhere near wanting to settle down creatively; there’s a lot more to explore,” he added. “The more I can push myself outside of my folk/singer-songwriter comfort zone, the better.”

Norwich leaves its mark

Williams’ music pays homage to being raised in Norwich, and the influence it’s had on his life and in his musical career today. His newest project, which will be released in the spring, is called “More Than One Way Home” and explores themes of nostalgia, childhood, and homecoming.“

Growing up here gave me a good sense of what community should feel like,” Williams said. “It feels so ideal in so many ways. I didn’t really appreciate how supportive and sheltered this community was until I left.”

Williams is one of a growing number of acclaimed musicians who have come from the Upper Valley, including Noah Kahan, Brooks Hubbard, and Phin Choukas. The rise of digital music and digital means of distribution make it easier than ever for musicians from rural areas to find success – and to become role models for local kids who dream big.

More than one way home

Nowadays, Williams spends his time in New Orleans working at a studio as a handyman, where he gets to sit in on recording sessions with brass bands and funk groups. He hopes to nurture more collaborations and sing with another group in a seven or eight-piece band.

This spring, Williams plans to release his first EP and go on a nationwide tour to nearly every major U.S. city with a few stops in Canada. He looks forward to meeting his listeners.

Even though Williams has been approached by major labels at recording companies, he says he isn’t ready to sign just yet – it’s a big gamble, and a lot of pressure to make money. “Someday we’ll find a partner that shares our vision and is willing to give us a good deal,” Williams said. Until then, he’s more than happy to continue to be an independent musician.

All in all, Williams said, “Making music into a career has been a privilege.”

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