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Singer-songwriter Hans Williams' Vermont roots flow through his music

A man plays an acoustic guitar on stage.
Justin Hoyos
Hans Williams' music combines the folk influences of the Upper Valley, where he grew up, with the R&B, soulful sound of New Orleans, where he went to college.

Editor's note: This story references suicide. If you or someone you know is in crisis you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Singer-songwriter Hans Williams fell in love with music when he was little, listening to songs with his parents.

"You’re not always, as a kid, on the same page, obviously, as your parents, but when you listen to the same music you can somehow feel like you’re experiencing it on the same level," the 23-year-old said. "Whereas like my parents mighta not showed me their favorite movies when I was, like, 6 or 7 years old, but they could show me some song."

Now, Williams, who is from Norwich, is seeing success with his own music. He gets more than a million monthly listeners on the streaming platform Spotify. His debut EP "More Than One Way Home" was released in March.

Williams has been creating music his whole life and the Upper Valley is embedded in his sound. In school, he did jazz band and acapella. Outside of school, he took music lessons at the Upper Valley Events Center, Hanover Strings and Tuck’s Rock Dojo.

Child in blue pants, a green shirt, a backwards baseball cap playing an electric guitar.
Kata Sasvari
As a kid, Williams took music lessons at the Upper Valley Events Center, Hanover Strings, and Tuck’s Rock Dojo.

"It’s like the one big hub of young musicians that I know of in the Upper Valley, and they basically bring bands together, and they’ll do lessons. And what I really got out of it was playing with other people," Williams said of Tuck's Rock Dojo.

Williams' style leans into the folk influences in Vermont. His main collaborator, Phin Choukas, is also from the Upper Valley. They've developed an authentic style using stripped back instrumentals and contemplative lyrics.

"Growing up in a rural area there's something about being isolated that resonates with folk music," Williams said. "A lot of music I grew up listening to or I guess the stuff that resonated with me was inward looking and very personal and so I think those factors kinda led me to get into folk music."

After graduating from high school, Williams moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University. In New Orleans, he found a bigger music community.

"I finished this past spring and it still feels like the community just gets larger and larger — or I like to think, like, smaller and smaller, because it just feels like the world of music in New Orleans is getting more and more familiar," he said.

Growing up in a rural area there's something about being isolated that resonates with folk music.
Hans Williams

In Williams’ more recent music, you can hear both the folk influences of the Upper Valley merged with the more R&B, soulful sound of New Orleans.

As a songwriter, Williams uses music as a way of processing emotions that are too difficult to put into words. Right after moving to New Orleans for college, his floormate died by suicide. He said he was one of the first people to find him — it was difficult for to process those complex and overwhelming feelings.

"He ended up passing away. His name's Jake, and I think for a while there I was just guilty about, like, the way I handled it," Williams said. "I think looking back on it, my friends and I are proud that at least we acted, but it's just one of those things that have stuck with me for a really long time, and I question if I had done something differently, would we be having this conversation right now?"

For Hans, writing the song "Body on my Shoulders" helped him process and heal after Jake’s death.

"Tell me, tell me that I'll be fine
I crashed down your door just to see if you're inside
Cause oh in my head you come alive, alive"

He says the song has two lives: one before it was released, when it just belonged to him, and one after, when he released it for the world to hear.

"The song took so long to write and I finally found the words that weren't, like, disrespectful or harmful and validated my experience. And then when I went to release it, so many people reached out," Williams said.

Williams says the response to this song was immediate and powerful. Listeners reached out and shared their own experiences with loss.

Black and white photo of man with curly shoulder length hair wearing a white t-shirt playing the guitar. A man playing keyboard is in the foreground.
Hank Miller

"I think it’s just an important thing to talk about, but it's hard to, and it's painful to some extent, but there's a catharsis in, like, talking about it or sharing about it through music that when it's shared through a medium like music is a lot easier to convey than something as harsh as words," he said.

As Williams grows and changes, he says the community in the Upper Valley remains supportive. Last summer, he performed in Lebanon.

"It was literally all my friends from high school and all their parents and all my parents' friends," he said. "It was like a big reunion."

Williams said he felt the impact of growing up in a close-knit rural community that places such an emphasis on the arts.

"It’s a lucky place to have grown up because I feel like people just want the best for each other for the most part," he said. "And anyone that’s from the Upper Valley — that's doing the same thing — I think it's cool to just champion them."

Williams hopes to release his first studio album next year.

Here are some resources if you or someone you know is considering suicide:

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Ari Morris is a senior at Dartmouth College majoring in psychology with an anthropology minor. She is from from Newbury Park, California.
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