You wouldn't know it from his music, but Alex Williams grew up on '80s hair metal. Thanks to his dad, the singer-songwriter was listening to bands such as Cinderella and Ratt as a kid; Williams "[doesn't] really believe in guilty pleasures too much," he tells The Boot, but he's still a big fan.

When it comes to his own songs, however, "my head is not in that world," Williams says. The influence listeners will hear on his debut album, Better Than Myself, is that of Williams' grandparents; when Williams was a teenager, they played him Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and introduced their grandson to the world of classic country music.

"I think it was just the fearlessness of it," Williams says of what attracted him to that music. "It wasn't even necessarily totally country music ... It's just like they carved their own path, and that's what I wanted to do. They did whatever the hell they wanted to do."

It's tempting to draw comparisons between Williams and Chris Stapleton, mainstream country music's biggest traditionalist, but don't let their similar hairstyles and facial hair fool you: Williams has a harder edge, and his sound aligns more with current artists such as Blackberry Smoke (his fall tourmates, in fact) and icons such as Hank Williams Jr.

Williams actually has Bocephus partially to thank for getting a very special guest, Mickey Raphael, into the studio for his debut disc: Williams was opening for Williams Jr. in Nashville, and Raphael was at the show to play with (wait for it ...) Stapleton.

"That was awesome," Williams says of recording with Raphael, who appears on Better Than Myself's title track, "Few Short Miles (Bobby's Song)" and "Old Tattoo." "He's such a nice guy."

Better Than Myself also benefits from a top-notch group of backing musicians: Drummer Victor Indrizzo has played with Nelson, pedal steel player Dan Dugmore has worked with Linda Ronstadt, and guitarist JT Corenflos appears on works from Dolly Parton, among others. Producer Julian Raymond helped assemble the group.

In fact, it was Raymond who helped Williams land with Big Machine Label Group in the first place; in Williams' words, Raymond "showed up at a good time." The singer was looking to move on from the band he'd been playing in, and after seeing Williams perform, Raymond invited him to record some demos, which Raymond showed to BMLG head Scott Borchetta. Better Than Myself was completed multiple months before its release, though Williams notes he did recently add its sixth track, "Little Too Stoned."

"I just felt like it was missing," he says. "It's one of those where it's -- it's definitely the anthem, if you know what I mean, as far as playing it live and getting the best response ... so I figured I'd be crazy not to throw it on there."

For fans looking to get a quick primer on who Williams is and what he sounds like, the artist recommends Better Than Myself's third track, "More Than Survival;" he adds that "Pay No Mind" (Track No. 9) is a good indication of his views on life. As a whole, Better Than Myself is largely upbeat -- but don't let that fool you into not listening closely to what Williams has to say in his lyrics.

"I'm not a generally depressive person, but I obviously wanted to be completely honest about what I was trying to stay," Williams explains. "I just feel like, a lot of the time, when you have an upbeat song ... everything's a party, everything's so happy all the time. There's more to say than that.

"I wanted to just focus on ... an outside-the-box outlook on life and not just focusing so much on how great everything is," he adds. "I wanted to be a little less safe, I guess."

Better Than Myself is available via iTunes, Google Play and more.

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