fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

Kasey Williams Steps
into the Spotlight

By Tori Phelps | Photography by Jessica Iampolskaia, Forever Photography

When talent was handed out, Kasey Williams got more than her fair share. She’s a songwriter, singer, and stage and screen actor who’s also charmingly self-deprecating and laugh-out-loud funny. It would be easy to feel aggrieved at her overflowing cup if she weren’t so darn likable.

Currently, the actress turned singer-songwriter has her hands full with a career that might involve a film set one day and the 30A Songwriters Festival the next. But she graciously took five to discuss her down-home roots, the necessity of an occasional f-bomb, and why she has no intention of choosing between music and acting, thank you very much.

Kasey Williams yellow wall

Williams didn’t grow up thinking the limelight was her destiny. It was, of all things, a high school performance of Once Upon a Mattress that got her pondering a career on the stage. As the main character, Winnifred, Williams found herself basking in the applause during curtain calls. “I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, I can handle this, like, forever,’” she laughs.

As the oldest of three children growing up in Johnson City, an eastern Tennessee town best known for a mention in the song “Wagon Wheel,” it wasn’t exactly a straight shot to fame, and Williams didn’t make it any easier on herself with her choice of college. Instead of a performing arts school known for churning out Broadway stars, she opted for the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and a major in communications. She did minor in theater, but Southern small-town pragmatism meant she was encouraged to “get a real degree”—which she has yet to use, she points out wryly.

Williams was initially torn about whether she should move to Los Angeles or New York City after university. A summer-stock show in North Carolina’s Outer Banks made the East Coast decision for her. She became tight with fellow actors who eventually moved to New York City, and during a visit with them she had a moment of clarity on a West Village stoop. “I felt like New York could be my home,” she recalls.

With degree in hand, she made the leap to NYC with two suitcases, several hundred dollars in her pocket, and a healthy dose of optimism. Amazingly, everything fell into place almost immediately. A sublet that was supposed to last two months turned into a seven-year stay, and a bartending job landed in her lap the first week.

Acting jobs didn’t come as quickly, but they did come. In the beginning, she was focused exclusively on theater and even cofounded (re:) Directions Theatre Company. Williams threw herself into (re:) Directions for three seasons, during which she learned that producing theater is, as she says, “hard freakin’ work.”

As an actor, she was used to showing up, knowing her lines, and delivering a performance—a relatively easy job when compared to the nonstop work of raising the money it takes to produce a show. It was an eye-opening lesson about how much goes into mounting a play, even at (re:) Directions’ off-Broadway level. Eventually, work in little-known but well-received films turned her attention from the stage to the screen.

Oh, and a music career got in the way, too.

Kasey Williams ferris wheel

Music was always in the background for Williams. She was drawn to instruments growing up, in part because her dad had been a musician. He usually had a guitar lying around, and in high school she picked it up and taught herself to play. Her grandmother, a church organist who taught piano in her home, also let Williams plink out tunes when she visited.

The self-taught musician enjoyed singing, as well, but was reluctant to believe she was any good at it. Being deaf in one ear isn’t typically a characteristic of great singers. Nonetheless, she is, and she’s working on breaking the mold.

The music bug bit Williams hard during a Brandi Carlile concert. She should have been enjoying one of her favorite musicians, but Williams spent the entire show wrestling with the soul-deep truth that she wanted to be onstage doing the same thing. That visceral reaction must have shaken something loose in her psyche, because Williams woke up the next morning with a song idea in her head. Her first song poured out as she sat at a small keyboard she could only partially navigate. “I think I knew what a C chord was at the time,” she laughs. “But I did it.”

Williams was officially hooked but plagued by guilt and self-doubt. She struggled with the idea that she was “cheating” on her acting career. In New York City, she explains, the arts are absurdly competitive. People come to the city because they’re laser-focused on one thing—and one thing only—whether it’s dancing, acting, art, or music. Williams was passionate about both music and acting, and she struggled for years to settle on a single path.

Williams was passionate about both music and acting, and she struggled for years to settle on a single path.

During an eye-opening trip to Africa, she realized she didn’t have to choose. Surrounded by locals who had few material possessions but plenty of joy, Williams started reflecting on what made her truly happy. Maybe it was being outside her comfort zone. Maybe it was having time and space to think. Whatever the source of her clarity, she could no longer deny that the answer was music and acting.

By chance and by choice, though, most of her energy has been funneled into music the last few years. Coming off a string of not-so-great shows, Williams was frustrated by being at the mercy of other people’s creations. Music, on the other hand, has allowed her the freedom to express herself in a way that is wholly hers.

That self-expression sounds like a cross between folk and pop, with some of her Tennessee roots thrown in. The lyrics, like Williams herself, are often humorous and always honest. Her hilariously explicit (and surprisingly upbeat) “Get the F Out of My Way,” for example, evolved out of a very real moment when she was particularly fed up with waitressing. She says the anthem, which is chock-full of the f-bomb, is her most popular song. Go figure.

The songs on her self-titled debut record, released in late 2014, are especially intimate. Williams had just decided to pursue music when her father was killed in a car accident. Music was a passion the two shared, and during what was to be their last conversation, her dad encouraged her to keep writing. In the aftermath of his death, music took on a different weight for Williams. “In that moment, I had to do it,” she says of songwriting. “I dedicated that record to my father, and all the songs on it tell a story. They capture defining moments in my life.”

Making an EP would be a remarkable accomplishment for anyone, but for Williams, it meant overcoming the fact that she only has hearing in one ear. When recording vocals, most singers want to hear themselves through the microphone and outside of the headphones at the same time. “That’s why you’ll often see a singer holding one side of the headphones out,” she explains. “I couldn’t do that.”

Other challenges weren’t physical, but they were still worrisome. Williams had never played with a band before she went into the studio, and as a solo performer she had the freedom to speed up or slow down as the mood struck her. As part of an ensemble, though, she had to play to the click of a metronome. Fortunately, her producer was also a good friend, as were the musicians, artists, and pretty much everyone else associated with the record. They were patient, she was persistent, and a debut record was born.

Kasey Williams sunset

Since then it’s been back to performing music, including shows in New York every month or two and several tours last year. She adores touring and isn’t shy about how much she loves being onstage (remember the high school applause that got her into this whole thing?). “I love traveling and I love playing music,” she says. “When I’m out on the road doing that and meeting new people, it feels like what I’m supposed to be doing.”

She was treated to plenty of audience interaction while playing this year’s 30A Songwriters Festival along the beaches of Northwest Florida’s South Walton County. “It was just the best,” Williams says of her experience.

30A was my first festival, and now I feel so spoiled. What could be better than playing music for amazing fans alongside incredible artists on a beautiful beach?

She wouldn’t hesitate to make a return appearance; in fact, she’s hoping her enthusiasm doesn’t scare the organizers away. “They’re probably wishing I would stop contacting them,” she jokes.

Truthfully, she’d have to squeeze the festival in. She’s working on another summer tour and writing more songs—plus she wants to record a second album. Williams is also enjoying the release of her new single, “Stick Around.” The song, a sweet duet with Justin Bohr, was unveiled on her birthday, March 21, at a full-band gig she played in New York.

Music is clearly what’s on Williams’s mind, though she eventually wants to get back into making movies. But she’s not in any rush. She chooses to have confidence in herself and in a timing that’s happily out of her control for “making it” in the music and acting industries. “The older I get, the less pressure I feel,” Williams reveals. “I really believe that as long as I keep putting myself out there, it will happen the way it’s supposed to happen.”

— V —


Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine September 2023 Jay Mercado
VIE Magazine - The Art & Design Issue November 2021
VIE Magazine January 2021 Special Commemorative Edition
VIE Magazine September 2020 Wanderlust Issue, Fancy Camps, The Idea Boutique
VIE Magazine August 2020 Art & Culture Issue, Nathan Alan Yoakum Art
VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail