Don't expect Coleman Williams to become the latest generation of his family to adopt the stage name Hank. Coleman's grandfather, Country Music Hall of Famer Hank Williams Jr., had no choice when he debuted at age 8 as a tribute act, and his dad, Hank Williams III, did it on his own terms and for his own reasons. Coleman sidestepped following either path by waiting until his 30s to cross his appreciation for country tradition with his equal love for heavy tones and fuzzed-out guitar riffs.
"I've never done my own project until now as an adult," Coleman told Wide Open Country. "There's a big reason for that. I wanted to do everything instead of this because it's assumed of me to do it. I went to college. I tried to do things differently. I'm the only member of my family to try to do that and really go all the way into it. I wanted to have an education. I didn't want to do what is expected of me because half of my family either dropped out of school or gave up on school just to do that. I ran [liquor stores] for almost six years, I've lived in the country for 10 years and I did it all on my own dime."
Coleman's debut album with IV and the Strange Band, Southern Circus arrives on June 17 via co-producer and fellow famous son Shooter Jennings' BCR Media. Songs like "Southern Despair" and "Train" add punk grime to familiar folk and country elements, as if Coleman's channeling the spirit of The Cramps' Lux Interior instead of chasing the ghost of the Hillbilly Shakespeare. "Deep Down," "Son of Sin" and other harder-hitting selections belong in an alternate timeline in which the Melvins originated from Mount Olive, Ala. (the elder Hank Williams' birthplace) instead of rural Washington state.
"My big goal is to really, actually do it without a foot in the door," Coleman explained. "I've done that. I didn't meet Shooter Jennings because of my family. I met Shooter Jennings because he heard my music and wanted to help produce it. My friend Jason Dietz, me and my friend David Talley, we made our record. [Jennings] flew to West Virginia to see us play, and he helped us. That wasn't because of my family. That was entirely because I worked and met him independently. My dad and him had a feud for 10 years, so I had no way to meet him at all, even when I lived with my father. I independently made that happen."
Coleman discovered the appeal of creating music for arts' sake instead of chasing career opportunities while growing up in Nashville and attending D.I.Y. house shows that made punk and heavy metal accessible to scene participants too young to hang out at bars. Thus, the Strange Band lineup -- Deitz (bass), Talley (lead guitar), Laura Beth Jewell (fiddle) and Taylor Powell (drums)-- helped a self-described pansexual cowboy concoct a sound that's landed tour support slots with country-punks Sarah Shook and the Disarmers as well as sludge metal lords Eyehategod and crossover thrash innovators D.R.I.
"My grandad was the son that lived his father's dream. My dad they call The Ghost," Coleman said. "If I had to be remembered as anything, I'd be the guy who tried to have fun with it. That's what it should be about: have fun, be friends. I wouldn't have made my record if I didn't have good friends and we were having fun. I will always treasure that my first record was made with my friends."
Avoiding a career and image built around "Family Tradition" tropes doesn't equate a lack of respect on Coleman's part for his bloodline. Nor does it cause a shortage of fair familial comparisons. The former English teacher's skillset mirrors that of his Pulitzer Prize-winning great-grandfather in ways that can't be forced by donning a white Nudie Suit covered in musical notes, and of course his grandfather and father hit their creative strides by embracing their own rock influences. Still, Coleman takes pride in easing the pressure created by such a rich lineage.
"It feels good to try to help change for the future of my own family the expectations that are put upon us," Coleman shared. "It's an unfair expectation. It's a lot of shadows to live in. I'm 25 years older than every other member of my generation, so it'd be nice if their cousin could make them feel less pressured for their sake. They might do even better than I'm doing, but that doesn't mean they can't be a great teacher or doctor."
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