Norwich’s Williams adds to Upper Valley’s growing singer-songwriter roster

Singer-songwriter Hans Williams has been spending time at his family's home in  Norwich, Vt., where he was photographed on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Williams completed a New England tour with a show at Lebanon Opera House last month and performs Friday at the opera house's free Nexus Festival. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Singer-songwriter Hans Williams has been spending time at his family's home in  Norwich, Vt., where he was photographed on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Williams completed a New England tour with a show at Lebanon Opera House last month and performs Friday at the opera house's free Nexus Festival. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Jennifer Hauck

Hans Williams is playing at the Lebanon Opera House's Nexus Festival this weekend. Williams grew up in Norwich, Vt. where he was photographed on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hans Williams is playing at the Lebanon Opera House's Nexus Festival this weekend. Williams grew up in Norwich, Vt. where he was photographed on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By CAOIMHE MARKEY

For the Valley News

Published: 08-10-2023 8:30 AM

NORWICH — In the music video for his 2022 release “All Is Well,” 22-year-old singer-songwriter Hans Williams pulls up to a cluster of battered mailboxes in a truck, wrenches out the day’s letters and trundles down a grassy track.

The truck shudders to a halt, and Williams pauses. Then, as if he’s come to a decision, he’s out and dashing across a hayfield, leaping high and joyous like a billy goat to the woods beyond, as a sprightly acoustic riff leads into the song.

Oh yes, he’s happy to be home.

Shot in Williams’ own backyard in Norwich, the video provides a familiar scene for Upper Valley dwellers, who will recognize those forest-lined open fields and rolling mountains. It’s here that Williams found an affinity for music and began passing out CDs to his fellow third graders, here that he took music lessons at Tuck’s Rock Dojo in Hanover, and here he met longtime friend, producer and frequent collaborator Phin Choukas.

It’s also the place that he returns to after concluding a summer tour across the Northeast, finishing last month at Lebanon Opera House, a venue that will host him again this Friday as part of the Nexus Music and Arts Festival before closing its doors for five months of renovations.

“They’ve got a special crew over there,” Williams said in an interview Monday afternoon at Mon Vert Cafe in Woodstock. “It was a wonderful way to engage with the community that raised me.”

Williams’ body of work, which does not yet include an album, is reminiscent of a younger, Vermontified Hozier: tender, folksy, a little more pop-y, a little huskier. In the past, his backup consisted mostly of acoustic guitar arrangements, but Williams is still developing his sound.

“I don’t really listen to a lot of my old music because there’s a lot that has changed for me both sonically and personally. Being around the music scene in New Orleans, where I just graduated from Tulane, made me become more aware of how there’s a lot of expansion available with a big-band arrangement that feels dynamic. A song doesn’t have to stand alone to be good.” Williams said.

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However he feels about his older work, it’s no small feat for a young independent artist with a limited discography and no record label to gain the kind of recognition Williams has. “All Is Well” has amassed 20 million streams on Spotify, where he has 1.2 million monthly listeners, and even before his summer tour around New England, he performed a sold out show at the estimable Tipitina’s in New Orleans before graduating from Tulane with a degree in marketing and music science and technology.

Coming home to Norwich after the fast-paced lifestyle of New Orleans is soothing, if a little stagnating, Williams said. His parents — Jenny, who helped to establish the nonprofit Finding Our Stride, and Stan, the CFO of internet provider ValleyNet and co-founder of the local fiberoptic network ECFiber — are deeply supportive and integral parts of his world at home. Williams, like many other young people who leave Vermont after high school, needed to spend time away to fully comprehend the privilege of a rural Vermont upbringing. He is not the only one coming upon this notion, either. Vermont’s cultural presence as a bucolic haven away from the mayhem of urban life is proliferating.

“We’re seeing an era that’s commodifying the ideal of the small-town Vermont life. People are flocking here because it’s cool to find a space of your own, not in a reclusive way, but more a reflective one,” Williams said.

Williams is another emerging artist, like Noah Kahan, who’s shining a spotlight on Vermont as a site of artistic inspiration. Kahan, whose 2022 album “Stick Season” made a commercial breakthrough and who actually looks like a Vermontified Hozier, coincidentally graduated from Hanover High School only a few years prior to Williams. Kahan recorded his EP “Cape Elizabeth” over a single pandemic week in producer Choukas’ home studio in Norwich, where Williams also finds a safe creative space.

Choukas has mixed and mastered Williams’s songs since 2018.

“I think it was Tracy Chapman who said that if you don’t have anything to say, don’t pick up the guitar. But honestly, I love picking up the guitar even if I think I don’t have anything to say at first,” said Williams. “I just run with my imagination, let the chords and the rhythm come first. Then I figure out what I’m trying to say, and often I’m surprised by what’s there.”

Williams, who does the writing and acoustic arrangements for his music, credits Bon Iver, Norah Jones and The Black Keys, among others, as major influences. His process is largely about play; melody first, lyrics later.

But it isn’t just the two-person ensemble of Williams and Choukas anymore. Hans started recruiting band mates while away in New Orleans, and during his summer run he’s been enjoying the symbiosis of a newly formed band, polishing and sharpening their new sound in preparation for another U.S. tour in April. Among his new, New Orleans-based crew, Isaac Worley plays drums, Elliott Miller bass, Richard Rourke keys, Joe Pizzolato guitar and Asher Etlin saxophone.

Now a college graduate, Williams looks toward the future with an end-of-summer move back to New Orleans, where he’ll continue to work on his music. With a tour on the horizon and a tentative EP release date in the spring, it’s likely this won’t be the last you’ll hear of Hans Williams.

Hans Williams is slated to perform at 6:45 on Friday at Lebanon Opera House’s free Nexus Music and Arts Festival. Register at lebanonoperahouse.org/nexus.

Caoimhe Markey is a freelance writer. She lives in Woodstock.