Singer Heather Williams

March 29, 2012
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On January 15th, 2012, Heather Williams—named “Artist to watch in 2011” and singer of the hit song, “Hallelujah”—performed alongside Sidewalk Prophets at the Manatee County Fair. Ms. Williams was gracious enough to take some time out for an interview for Teen Ink.

Rachel- First, I’d just like you to tell us about yourself.

Heather Williams- Well, I am a Southern girl now, ‘cause I live in Florida. But I am originally from Michigan; Detroit, Michigan, actually. I love being outside. I love my family. I love being a mom more than anything in the entire universe. I love to sing with passion and meaning. I love being able to tell people about Jesus Christ, ‘cause He’s done so much in my life. And He’s changed me so much that I love being able to share that hope with so many people. So I love what I do. {laughs}

RH- How did you first become interested in music?

HW- I think I’ve always had an interest in music since I was a little girl. The home that I grew up in until I was 11 years old, with my birth mom and my step-father, my brother and I weren’t really allowed to listen to music. But anytime that I would hear it, just something would speak inside of me.

So when I went to live with my Grandpa—Who actually came today! I’m so excited!—I went to go live with him in Michigan when I was eleven and he would let me listen to the radio. I just fell head over heels for music. It just was everything to me.

And singing, I think, just came naturally. It’s something that God’s given me a gift for. I mean, I would sing to the radio as loud as I could, in the shower as loud as I could. Getting involved in Christian music happened after I got married. My husband was a musician and had an independent album. So he kinda was the catalyst for pushing me to get on the stage at that point and the rest is kind of history from there.

RH- Now I read on your biography that you grew up in a kind of abusive home; how did that fuel your music?

HW- You know, I would say that the forgiveness and the redemption that took place after all of that, after I surrendered it all to Christ, that’s what fuels my music today. My music isn’t fueled by anger or unforgiveness or bitterness as it could be. I mean, anybody going through all that stuff in their own mind would say, “Well, I have the right to sing about these things.” But for me, you know what Christ has done for me, which is basically set me free from all of that, that fuels how I write, why I write.

I believe in being transparent with people. I think that if you’re a Christian, you have a responsibility to be transparent. You should be letting Christ shine through you, not acting like you are perfect. God’s perfect; we’re not. And that’s what I hope that translates through the music that I write and I sing.

RH- Could you share with us your testimony of Salvation?

HW- Sure. Well, you know, as I said, I was about three, my brother was four. We were from my mom's first marriage. We grew up with my step-dad and my birth mom. We lived in Georgia and it was just kind of a situation where it was abusive almost right from the get-go. [The verbal abuse] affected me a lot more than the physical abuse. I think as a woman, I think we all kinda relate to that. Words really affect us. A bruise will heal, a broken bone will heal, but words would just stick with me.

I grew up in the church; always at church: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, potlucks, everything! I remember being six years old and I remember my Sunday school teacher having us sing "Jesus Loves Me; This I Know." I just thought, "You're a liar. How dare you tell me Jesus loves me when I'm going through what I'm going through at home." This bitterness just took root in my heart. I can remember it, plain as day, just being like, "No way! I believe You're there, God, but I don't believe You love me."

When I was eleven years old, my mom decided that I was gonna leave home. I'm not going to go into details about that. But there was a lot of abuse that was going on at the time. That's not why she had me leave; it was because I was an inconvinience, pretty much, and a year later my brother [left]. Giving us up was going to be to the state, but my Grandfather heard about everything that was going on. He decided that he would come and get me. So, here I go from total oppression, if you will, and abuse and just feeling unloved and unwanted, and then I go into this situation with my Grandfather who loved me.

He had just recently lost his wife, my Grandma, so there was not a lot of supervision, if you will, going on. He supervised me, but there was more freedom than I had ever had before. I sought out people, even though he took me to church--he loved God; he was a great, Godly man--I sought out the wrong crowd. And yes, at 11, 12 years old you can seek out the wrong crowd. I remember drinking alcohol for the first time. I remember when somebody offered me--

{loud music blares}

HW- {laughs} That's not me playing that music!

I remember somebody offering me a joint for the first time. I remember thinking, "This feels good." You know? And the Enemy gets us that way, because sin is fun, you know? If we go around telling people, "Sin isn't fun!" That's a lie. It is fun. But see, what Satan does is he just tells you a little bit of it. He doesn't tell you the consequences.

Well, I started reaping the consequences of it pretty quickly, as well: the making choices that I wouldn't have made if I wasn't drinking alcohol or smoking pot; being physical with guys; seeking out love and acceptance in any way that I could. My Grandpa was gonna be moving down to Florida and didn't want to uproot my brother and I. So we went to go live with my aunt and my uncle when I was 16 and my brother was 17. I really rebelled. I was horrible to them. I treated them like garbage. I was so far gone from wanting anybody to love me or anybody to accept me... I mean, I desperately wanted that, but I didn't even really know what that was. I was so busy pushing everybody away who really did love me and embracing everybody who said they loved me, but they didn't love me. They didn't care about me or my well-being.

My aunt and my uncle, great Christian people, took me to church. But when I was 18, I dropped out of school. I didn't tell them I was doing [that]. When I came home after an entire night of partying and thinking that was okay to come in at four or five in the morning, they sat me down and they gave me an ultimatum. They said, "Go back to school and you'll be able to stay here; or you need to get out." And I chose to get out.

That led me down about three months of finding out who my friends were, which was nobody, of pretty much--

{a little boy runs up and down the bleachers we're sitting on}

HW- {laughs} This is life right here!

RH- Yeah!

HW- [I found out] that I didn't have a place to stay. For three months, I was homeless. I had nowhere to go. I would find a warm place here or a warm place there. I actually ended up breaking into my Grandpa's house. He's living in Florida. So I go into his house in Dearborn and I just break in just to have a place to stay. It was at that point, that was my low; that was my rock bottom. Through that, of me just hitting rock bottom, I ended up meeting up with my birth dad, which I didn't know; I didn't know him from Adam! And here I meet him. He goes to church. He's Saved now, you know? (God is so funny!) He takes me to church with him and after going for a few weeks, I just had this experience where I went from being bitter, angry, push-God-away, I-don't-want-to-believe-anything to having this pastor give a message one Sunday where he said, "Jesus love you just the way you are. You don't need to scrub yourself up clean; you don't need to make yourself presentable. You come as you are and let Him be the One that changes you."

I don't know why, after a million times of hearing that, that it was that day that it clicked with me, but it really [did]. I walked forward, bawling like a baby, probably stinking to high Heaven, but I just said, "God, I can't do this anymore." I asked Him to forgive me. Get the gravity of that: A complete, stubborn girl who blamed God for everything, here I am saying, "Forgive me, God!"

My life has not been the same since. I met my husband about a year later. We've been married 16 years. God just got a hold of me. What that does is, every single one of us, when we give our life to God, we're chosen. They say we're a chosen people. But it takes saying "yes" to God, after we're chosen, for Him to actually just--what I say--it just exploded! God will be like, "Okay, watch what I can do!"

So, it's been an amazing ride to watch what God's done in my life and I'm so excited to see even what He's gonna do in my life, my kids' lives and my church. It's pretty awesome!

RH- Do you have a special message for kids who are going through a similar situation to what you went through who are looking for a way out or who don't know that they're looking for a way out?

HW- Oh, you know what I always tell them is that there's always hope. You can feel like the world is closing in on you, like nobody loves you, nobody cares for you, but the truth is God loves you! He loves you more than you can even fathom. I tell people all the time find a church youth group, find somebody who knows God and who's going to sew into your life the truth. Don't believe the people that come up to you and are like, "Oh, yeah, tell me your sob story." People who just want to sit around and talk about your problems don't want to help you. They don't want to help you! Misery loves company.

If you really want to get out of that situation and you really want to have freedom take place in your life, you have to surrender it to God. You have to be willing to say, "I don't understand why this is happening to me, but God I trust You with it." Trust Him and don't lose hope.

RH- So tonight you're performing with Sidewalk Prophets - again - so tell us about that.

HW- We met up in Grand Rapids over the summer and I think they're really great guys! I've always loved their music. One of the ladies who works at their label, Susan Riley, I know her, she's a friend of mine and she even said to me--this was years ago!--she's like, "Oh my gosh! This group! I'm so excited about them!" Which that excites me when I see somebody really excited!

Their music is amazing. I think, for me, I still pinch myself that I get to do this, you know, for a living. {laughs} That God has even allowed me to do this. Being able to come and share Christ through music, every time it blows me away!

RH- I was just over in the goat barn ('cause I'm in 4H and got to get ready for that)--

HW- Oh, yes!

RH- And there was a woman who is a big fan of yours and I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to ask you for her: She wanted to know the story behind "Hallelujah."

HW- "Hallelujah" is a song that was born out of extremely deep pain in my life. Nine years ago this November 30th, my husband and I lost our first child to cardiomyopathy. He was six-and-a-half months old. We did not have any idea that he had any heart condition at all. It was very sudden; very, very quick. It was a couple of months after he had passed away I found out that I was pregnant again with my daughter, Skye, and I was having a horrible day. I just sat down on the floor of our music room and I just picked up the guitar. I started strumming these chords and praying. ["Hallelujah] is the song that was birthed out of that. It's pretty much, other than the second verse that I worked on a little bit when I was in the studio, it's pretty much the exact prayer that I prayed that day.

You know, for me, when we lost our son, it was so evident to me that there's two choices that every single person on this planet has to make and that's run to God or run from God. In that pain, my husband and I made a commitment that we were going to run to God. I don't understand why my son had to die, I'm not saying that I have all the answers and "Oh, look at me I'm joyful!" But I trust God and my faith is not gonna be shattered through that. Jeremiah 29:11, "Plan and a purpose for our life," right? My son was six months, 18 days old; God had a plan and a purpose for his life. Look at what God has done in my life through that.

So that song, "Hallelujah" I hope it gives hope to people. No matter what you're going through, you can lift up your head and you can sing "Hallelujah."

RH- Are you currently working on a new album?

HW- Not yet, but I am writing. Hopefully, we're gonna talk this summer and see about maybe doing a sophomore project. That would be incredible. My next single is gonna be out in March and it's been doing really good. I think we're gonna try and get more singles off this album. So this one's doing pretty good. I'm just riding that right now. But hopefully, in the next couple years, we'll have a good project out again and people will have some more new music.

RH- Who do you count as your musical inspirations?

HW- Oh my goodness. Wow.

I'm a standards, I'm a vocal girl. I love Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, those old 30s, 40s singers. I also love--this is totally a secular influence here--but I love Coldplay! I love the piano driven rock. I love being able to just get up there with the piano and be able to just, "Wow! That's awesome!" So, I'd say those are pretty much my musical influences.

RH- My last question is what advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

HW- Sing any opportunity you get. Take any opportunity you can get to sing on a stage, be in front of people. That makes it so that it's second nature to you. Also, if you write, write everyday. Get a journal and, even if the song stinks, I don't care! Keep it in a journal and write everyday. That's success right there is being able to not give up. Don't give up. Don't quit. Keep going.

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