While we are all very different from each other, most of us, at the end of the day, have similar life goals – to find that partner that perfectly suits us, and to work doing the things we are most passionate about. Many of us go through our entire lives never reaching these goals. Matthew and J. Williams, otherwise known as Pickled Holler, are blessed enough to have found both in each other and are pickin’ their way to the top.
Matthew and J. are the core members of Pickled Holler, with frequent guest appearances from friends/family members including Rev. Jeff Mosier, David Blackmon, Isabella Williams, and Trey Young. When not performing as PH, they can be found jamming around the late-night campfire, sitting in with a number of artists on the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park stages, and performing with Rev. Jeff Mosier & Biscuit Tragedy.
Despite their busy schedule, they let me pick their brains for a few moments after Suwannee Spring Reunion Festival, where I gained insight into their past, present, and future in the music scene. Read the interview below and make sure to catch one of their upcoming shows.
Matthew, not only do you get to share the stage with your wife and some of your best friends, your daughter Bella got a chance to sing onstage with you guys at last year’s Spring Reunion. I was there and she did a phenomenal job. How has that impacted her individually as well as you guys, as a family unit?
Out of all of the many great musical moments in my life, that one takes the cake! That performance helped ignite a flame in her musical soul. Bella has done a lot of growing this past year and music has remained in the center of it all. Since last year, she has learned cello, piano, clarinet, and is now playing the alto saxophone in 6th grade band. Watching her grow musically lights a spark in J and I both. A nice reminder that music is the unsolved mystery book that we can’t put down. The elusive calm storm. We have a lot of fun as a family and chasing music is a huge part of that.
Photo credit: Betsie Green
How did the name Pickled Holler come about?
J: I can’t remember which one of us was pickled and which one would holler but there we were!
So, J. is classically trained, while Matthew is a self-described “old road dog,” which I assume means much of what you learned was on the road, primarily self taught. Do you find there are advantages and/or disadvantages to either or both?
Matthew: I grew up in the Atlanta jam scene and J. studied with master-class flute players. She likes for things to be very structured while I tend to rebel against it. It’s all about respect for us. We started this band to enhance our relationship. We are aware that we have to compromise a little and usually end up in a better place for it. I’ve honed in my musical notation skills and J. can now hold her own at a bluegrass jam. Happiness is the end goal for both of us so we work the kinks out respectfully and always support each other.
J: I put music away for more than 10 years. Matthew encouraged me to bring it back to the surface and I am forever grateful. I can get wrapped up in my failures pretty easily and he does an excellent job at helping me keep my feet on the ground. I wouldn’t say that I had to start over when I started playing with Matthew but I did lose a lot of my training and from time to time I can get pretty discouraged. Matthew has a lot of experience playing with lots of different people and traveling on the road. Because of my training, Matthew knows that I have it in me to succeed. I often have to remind myself that without struggle there is no success.
J: I remember reading that you once sang in a punk band. What sparked the transition from that genre to Americana/Bluegrass (or, Pickledgrass, as your fans like to call it)?
I was the lead singer in a punk band in my mid-twenties. It was more of a pop-punk/metal band with a lot of theatrics. As a child I grew up singing gospel and listening to bluegrass. Now that I am feeling more settled in life and with a partner who shares a similar interest in music, I can feel good about getting back “home” in music. It was a different path at that point in my life. Who knows where this journey will take me next!
J: What elements of that experience prepared you for this new adventure?
I got a pretty good clue back then that if I ever wanted to be successful at making music, I would have to work ceaselessly at balancing the day to day, while juggling multiple projects at once. I didn’t know it at the time but I feel as though I have slowly been building my resume for this dream of an opportunity that I get to create with my partner who happens to also be my best friend for life.
Photo Credit: Richard Fay
Matthew, you originally played with Blueground Undergrass. In doing so, you’ve been able to play with more than a few individuals who are quite influential in the music community. How do you think that experience prepared you for the music you are creating today?
Anyone who knows Jeff knows that he likes to give people a chance. He took a chance on me for sure. I thought bluegrass was just fast-country and after playing with Blueground Undergrass, I realized that I didn’t know the half of it. BGUG gave me courage and inspired me to challenge myself every time I get on stage. I got to play music with a lot of my heroes during those years (2004-2007). Jeff is not only a great band leader/showman but he has this innate ability to break a song down and reconstruct it in a different light. The fans were expecting it to be different every night. When your solo is coming after David Blackmon’s you realize quickly that you need to have quite a few tricks up your sleeve. Sometimes it works and other times, you fall on your ass. I learned how to be humble and keep a yielded ear. Always remember – “Each show could be your last show.” and “Play it like you mean it.” There were so many moments in that band where everything just came together.
What projects are you guys currently working on?
Matthew: We’ve been recording demos at the house in preparation for the first Pickled Holler album. We’re hoping to get something out to our fans later this year. We both stay pretty busy in Athens, GA. The three of us, including Bella, were recently featured on a track with Bryan Howard, called “I Hate Balloons”. Bryan is doing a lot of positive things right now. I play with his band The HEAP as much as I’m able. They put a record out this year called “Overdue.” I definitely recommend looking them up. It’s heavy-swamp funk with horns and a ton of fun.
J and I have also been gigging with Jeff Mosier a good bit. That is always a special treat for us. He really has a great thing going on these days and is playing with Biscuit Tragedy, all top-notch Atlanta musicians. It’s all great fun for J and I. We feel very blessed right now. We’re just trying to soak it all in and keep everything positive. We try to shine a light on the good times in life through our musical adventures. It’s a blessing to be around other musicians with the same mindset.
What is your most memorable live show thus far?
J: For me it was Suwannee Spring Reunion 2016 on the Porch Stage! Bella came on stage, announced her song and had the crowd roaring with laughter! Then she performed Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” flawlessly in front of a crowd of 3-400 people. Definite top 5 moment.
Matthew: I’m with J on this one. Last year’s Spring Reunion Porch set is going to be hard to top. I have also enjoyed all of the shows we’ve done with Kenny George Band. We’ve become really great friends with those guys. If you’re an alt-country fan, you need to get to know them. We’ve had some great all-night pick(l)ing sessions with those guys.
I see you guys are headed out on Spring Tour soon. Will this be your first tour in the new van, RV2-D2? I know how much Olive loves the van, does the whole family get to go on this adventure?
Matthew: We spent most of 2017 getting our camper-van road-ready. This upcoming season will be the most traveling we’ve done with RV2-D2. This van is a beast and she’s running great. J and I have fun working on it. Most of the heavy lifting is done. J just sewed some nice curtains for the inside and I’ve been working on the electronics. I have to be honest, when we first got it, I didn’t think it was ever going to work out. We had to replace the entire fuel system (two tanks). We learned a valuable lesson in patience and I think it’s helped us with Pickled Holler. Just because you think you have a great idea, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen on its own. We do what we can, when we can and always push each other to make it work. It feels good going down the road in a vehicle you’ve put so much work in.
J: They both love traveling in the van and travel with us as much as they can!
So, you guys list several musicians as extended Pickled Holler family members/contributors. Will any of them be involved in your upcoming shows and/or projects?
J: I sure hope so!
Matthew: There will definitely be some other folks joining us on some of the upcoming shows. We are lining it all up now. We’re playing the Family Harvest Hoot in April with Edward Hunter on fiddle. Jeff will be there with Biscuit Tragedy so that one will be a barn burner.
You two are so inspiring, both as musicians and as a couple. How is it spending that much time with your significant other?
J: That’s really kind of you to say! Thank you. We really do have a good time together. We share the same hobbies so that makes conversation very easy. We also share the same goals in life. Making sure that everything is running smoothly is the best way to reach those goals as a couple. That certainly includes taking some time apart to reflect on our time together. We also both work full time so that keeps us separately pretty busy during the week.
Matthew: It helps to keep us humble for sure. J and I are good at talking through everything. It all starts with respect. Even when we disagree, we are both open to working it out. Anyone who has ever been in a band knows it’s a lot like a marriage. You’re around each other all the time in very small spaces. We have a great balance right now and are trying to pace ourselves so we have time to enjoy each other’s company.
What does Suwannee Spring Reunion and Roots Revival mean to you? Do you feel you can attribute some of your success to the support you’ve harnessed from the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park over the past couple years?
Matthew: I can certainly say that my life wouldn’t be the same without this place and the people who put these great festivals on. My first Springfest was 2005, when Jeff brought me down with Blueground Undergrass. It was the year of the flood and it changed my life forever. I was very new to the whole bluegrass/folk thing at the time. A flooded meadow didn’t stop the music. We played all night. There was absolutely no ego. Jam sessions with brilliant musicians all weekend. I met a lot of great friends through Suwannee. It’s been great returning to the park and sharing that same joy with the rest of the family. We are very grateful that Pickled Holler got to perform at Spring Reunion and Clusterpluck last year. We were both honored to be back this year as a part of the Biscuit Tragedy with Rev. Jeff Mosier.
J: I had no idea what I was really getting into when Matthew started grooming me as a bass player just two years ago. Just a year later Jeff asked us to join him at Suwannee Spring Reunion. I was absolutely thrilled and seriously honored. I wasn’t sure that I was really ready but I made it on that stage. I have never in my life met a group of people more welcoming and nurturing than the Suwannee Music Park community. The love I feel makes me stand a little taller every time I leave Suwannee and it ignites something in me to keep pushing forward.
Pickled Holler is kicking off their Spring Tour on April 6th at Cherokee Farms, with several shows throughout Georgia in the coming months. Do yourself a favor and catch them as much as you can!