31 Days of Women: Emma White

Credit: Susan Berry

Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, You Sing I Write is highlighting female country artists and songwriters throughout March.

Emma White isn’t shying away from sharing her age with the world. Her new song “Thirties” has the 32-year-old embracing a new decade with confidence. It’s this self-assurance she hopes to give listeners while breaking the stigma of hiding one’s age as a woman.

White says she brought the title up to other co-writers, but many passed on writing the song with her. When she got in the room with her producer, Kate Malone, and another songwriter she met on Instagram, Tori Tullier, they immediately connected with the title and melody. All in their 30s and at different stages in life, White and her co-writers felt it was important to make sure they didn’t exclude anyone from the song.

“We wanted everyone to feel like they saw a little piece of their own story in it,” she tells me. “I do feel like 20s can be kind of rough. There’s an excitement to your 30s for sure. … I’d rather own it and embrace it because I really do feel so much happier in this decade. 30 is the new 20.”

“Thirties” has seen a positive reaction on TikTok after White posted snippets in January. White, who has been writing and recording music since the age of 15, says it’s the first time she’s witnessed people respond in such a personal way to a song of hers.

“It is really honest,” she says of the song. “I feel like it helped me find my voice. … I just want to contribute somehow to women not feeling shame about their age.”

For more of my interview with Emma White and her co-writers Kate Malone and Tori Tullier visit Forbes.


31 Days of Women: Emily Rose

Credit: James DeMain

Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, You Sing I Write is highlighting female country artists and songwriters throughout March.

New Jersey native Emily Rose released her new single “Love’s Gonna Find You” today. The uplifting country ballad highlights the early stages of love while the singer’s warm vocals and vivid storytelling captivate.

Soaring steel guitar accentuated by delicate acoustic and electric guitar parts and a steady beat further the track’s intrigue. Meanwhile, Rose mesmerizes on the song’s chorus. “‘Cause love’s still love/ No matter where you find it/ On a boulevard or in a two-lane blacktop town/ And little, bitty diamonds are still forever/ So tear up the map, don’t worry about the road/ Love’s gonna find you wherever you go,” Rose sings.

Rose penned “Love’s Gonna Find You” with Donnie Skaggs and co-produced it with the Shuffle Brothers. She released it on her own Growing Rose Recording Company imprint.

“I am a firm believer in love,” Rose says. “It comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, friendships, family, soulmates, and when you’re least expecting it. Love doesn’t have to show up in big grand gestures—it’s out there for everyone and it will find its way to you.”

“Love’s Gonna Find You” follows the release of Rose’s debut EP The Heart in October and previous singles “Go to the Moon,” “Dance in the Kitchen,” “Windshield,” and “Hey Child.” I spoke with Rose in 2019 about her triumphant song “Go To the Moon” and how it relates to her career.

“It’s been a long journey here in Nashville, dream chasing,” she told me. “As an artist, you’re always faced with the question: ‘What do you want out of your music career?’ In that moment, I thought of myself like an astronaut straight out of the 1960s. I want to go to the moon. I want to break new ground and go places I’ve never been…this isn’t some far-fetched fantasy; this is something attainable and real.”

Rose touches on her personal struggles as a musician specifically in the lyric “Sometimes I go fast/ Just like a rocket/ Sometimes it feels like it takes too long.” She says the line is “as human as it gets” and the song is an extension of herself and everything she believes in.

The singer will release her next EP this summer. For more on Emily Rose, visit her website


31 Days of Women: Caitlyn Smith

Credit: Shervin Lainez

Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, You Sing I Write is highlighting female country artists and songwriters throughout March.

After 10 years in Nashville, Monument Records recording artist Caitlyn Smith releases her debut country single, “I Can’t.” A revered songwriter who has penned songs for Trisha Yearwood (“Every Girl in This Town”), Garth Brooks (“Tacoma”) and Lady A (“747”), Smith collaborates with longtime friends and frequent co-writers Old Dominion on the duet.

Smith, who moved to Nashville from Cannon Falls, MN, in 2010, has seen Music City transform over the past decade. It’s the town’s evolution that helped inform the song’s theme.

“Every time I end up going downtown, it looks like a different city,” she tells me. “Pre-pandemic, I was driving to a session in East Nashville, and I was driving by downtown and noticing the skyline and the skyscrapers, seeing my city changing right before my eyes.”

She says the drive inspired the song and its opening line: “This ain’t a 20-minute town no more/ It don’t look the same.”

“I started thinking about change in general. The city has changed, but also myself as a person,” she says. “Thank God, I’m not the same girl that moved here 10 years ago. It’s a beautiful thing that we all hopefully are going through. We’re constantly moving, constantly evolving humans, but sometimes change can just be so difficult and it can be so painful, and it can feel impossible.”

Smith initially released “I Can’t” on sophomore album Supernova last March. On Sept. 25, she unveiled Supernova (Deluxe) with the addition of Old Dominion on “I Can’t” and a cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You.” While Smith never intended the song to be a duet, when discussing the deluxe version of the album she knew she wanted a collaboration. Upon revisiting “I Can’t” she felt it was a song many people could sing together and the perfect song to pull some friends on.

“I Can’t” is the first collaboration for both Smith and Old Dominion. The song includes frontman Matthew Ramsey on vocals, with the band assisting on the accompanying music. Old Dominion guitarist Brad Tursi puts his own spin on the track and is one of the first writers Smith met after moving to town.

“I’m so grateful they said yes to do this,” she says. “I think they just got really excited because it’s a little bit different than what they are used to doing, but it still makes sense. It’s a beautiful full-circle moment that [Tursi] was really one of the first writers I met in town and now to have a collaboration out is really special.”

Listen to Caitlyn Smith’s new single “I Can’t” below. Read more of my interview with her at Country Insider and learn more about her songwriting journey at Sounds Like Nashville.


31 Days of Women: Ashlie Amber

Credit: Sara Lee Saleh

Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, You Sing I Write is highlighting female country artists and songwriters throughout March.

Ashlie Amber grew up in Colorado with the dream of being a country star. Introduced to country music early on by the kids in her neighborhood, she fell in love with the voices of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and LeAnn Rimes.

Being the only Black family in the neighborhood, Amber is no stranger to the lack of diversity. When she decided to pursue country music in Colorado no one took her aspirations seriously.

“Everybody always asks me, ‘How did you start getting involved in country? You rock a huge frohawk and you’re not the typical look,’” she tells me. “Everybody was like, ‘What are we going to do with you? You should do R&B. You should do hip-hop. You should do this; you should do that.’ So, I naturally went where things took me.”

Amber began writing songs while in Colorado and was often referred to as “the hook queen.” She wrote hooks for the local rappers and sang on their songs, sometimes appearing at their shows in the area. By the time she was 19 she signed with an independent label, but it wasn’t the direction of music she wanted to go into. Admittedly lost, she walked away from the label deal.

A friend who played piano invited her over for a jam session one night and she began singing. Realizing Amber’s talent, her friend asked why she was working at TGI Fridays and urged her to try musical theater. “It’s always been a dream to be a recording artist and to make my own music and to do this side of things, but it just doesn’t seem like this side of the industry wants to accept me,” she recalls telling her friend. “She’s like, ‘Well, have you thought of musical theater? I think you have a calling for it. And, Colorado has a really good musical theater scene. You could get paid to perform right now.’”

After a few auditions Amber began working in musical theater which eventually led her to performing on cruise ships. One evening while headlining a Whitney Houston celebration on the Celebrity Edge cruise ship she met musician Don Gatlin of country duo Darryl & Don Ellis and the band Savannah Jack. Blown away by her performance, Gatlin approached the singer, and they discussed her aspirations for country music.

“I was like, ‘I’ve always wanted to be the Beyonce of country,’” she recalls. “He’s like, ‘That’s an incredible idea!’” The pair traded information and kept in touch. Two years later Amber was finally at a point where she wanted to give country music another try, so she picked up the phone and called Gatlin in February 2019. By April she was flying to Nashville to meet producer Jamie Tate.

For more of my interview with Ashlie Amber, visit Forbes. Her first release of 2021, “Those Nights,” is below.


31 Days of Women: Hailey Whitters

Credit: Harper Smith

Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, You Sing I Write is highlighting female country artists and songwriters throughout March.

Hailey Whitters moved to Nashville 13 years ago to follow her dream of becoming a country singer. Her latest album, Living The Dream Deluxe, was released in February and follows the singer’s long journey of navigating Music City, while also sharing elements of her small-town Iowa roots.

“My mom brought me to Nashville when I was 15-years-old and we went to the Grand Ole Opry,” Whitters tells me over coffee at Nashville’s Falcon Coffee Bar weeks after making her Opry debut in 2019. “That curtain went up and I saw those lights and that was the moment I was like, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’”

Whitters has had several country artists record her songs including Little Big Town (“Happy People”), Alan Jackson (“The Older I Get”) and Martina McBride (“Low All Afternoon,” “The Real Thing”), and now the singer-songwriter is sharing her talent with the world. In 2020, she signed a record deal in partnership with her own label, Pigasus Records, and Big Loud Records/Songs & Daughters.

Below is an excerpt of my interview with Whitters from 2019 shortly after she released her EP, The Days, which she self-funded.

When was the moment you knew you wanted to be an artist?

I come from a non-musical family. I always had this draw to country music, and I have a memory of sitting on the back of my dad’s lawnmower while he mowed the lawn, singing to myself. I think I always had a really strong pull to writing. I remember being in elementary school, and I had a guidance counselor who knew that I had this passion for it, and he asked who I like. I liked the Dixie Chicks and the Spice Girls. He was like, “Well, you know the Dixie Chicks write their own music.” So then I got a guitar and I started dabbling with that.

What was the first song you ever wrote? 

My friends and I, we would try to start a chick band on the playground in elementary school and Spiceworld  had just come out. So we were making up dances and pretending we are the Spice Girls. We wrote this one song. I’m trying to remember how it went … I remember the feeling of writing a song back then. It felt like you could do anything and that’s still a feeling I get today when I write a song that I just love. You walk out and you feel like you’re on top of the world.

What’s the most autobiographical song on your EP?

“Ten Year Town” is probably the most autobiographical song because it feels so up-close and personal. [It’s] very much like my broken heart ballad to Nashville. I wrote that song with Brandy [Clark] two years ago and I was only 10 years into [living in Nashville]. Jake [Gear] was like, “You should change it. You’re only here 10 years.” It’s been this weird universe thing that we’re finally releasing it and I am 12 years in. It was just a weird timing thing.

What’s the story behind “Heartland?”

I was feeling really homesick and just questioning like, “Well, what’s my place in Nashville?” I was writing with Nicolle [Galyon] and Forest [Glen Whitehead]. Nicolle is also from the Midwest, so we started talking about going home and Nashville. [Songwriter] Barry Dean told me once, “Nashville will try and change you and make you someone you’re not. It’ll make you forget who you are and it’s important to find that place or those people that you can go to that bring you back.” That’s always been the Midwest [for me]. The Heartland and everything it stands for: hard work and honesty and good people. That is what always draws me to the Midwest. I like to go back a lot. It keeps me grounded.

For more of my interview with Hailey Whitters, visit Billboard. Her latest project Living the Dream Deluxe, which includes “Fillin’ My Cup” featuring Little Big Town, is out now.


31 Days of Women: Lainey Wilson

Credit: Alex Berger

Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, You Sing I Write is highlighting female country artists and songwriters throughout March.

Lainey Wilson has fast become one of Nashville’s most buzzed about newcomers thanks to a fiery live show and her prolific songwriting. On her Jay Joyce-produced Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, the Louisiana native’s debut released in February on BBR Music Group’s flagship imprint Broken Bow Records, Wilson boldly introduces herself as a country artist unafraid to speak her truth while empowering listeners to do the same through her vulnerability.

A self-described old soul, Wilson has always been ahead of her time. At the age of nine she began writing songs about tequila and cigarettes. A family trip to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry that same year solidified her decision to one day move from her home of 300 people in Baskin, Louisiana, to Music City.

“I remember exactly where I was on the interstate in the backseat,” she says nostalgically in a warm Louisiana drawl. “I was staring at the Batman building and little Lainey at nine years old said, ‘This is home.’ I’ve always known it and I don’t know if it’s because I spoke it out loud and it manifested itself, but I’ve always known that I’d be here.”

I had the pleasure of shadowing Wilson last year as she made her Grand Ole Opry debut. Below is an excerpt of my article and our conversation.

When was the moment you knew you wanted to be an artist?

I had written my first song not long before we had made our trip to Nashville. I feel like music just grabbed a hold of me and it did not let go. At 11 years old, I started playing guitar. It was just one of those things that I had to do. It was not really a choice to make. There’s never been a plan B, and it’s the only thing I know how to do.

What’s the story behind “Dirty Looks”?

When I think about how I was raised and my core values and things like that, the word that comes to my mind is “hard work.” My daddy’s a farmer. My mama’s a teacher. They bust their tail all year round not for themselves, but for future generations. They’ve instilled those values in me, and “Dirty Looks” tells a story about a hardworking man and a blue-collar couple who can’t keep their hands off of each other and don’t really care who’s watching them. I think there are a lot of people around America and all of the world that can relate to that story.

What’s the most autobiographical song on your EP Redneck Hollywood?

“LA” would probably be the most autobiographical song that I have on the record. I think it shows my personality; I’m a little bit crazy and it shows how redneck I am. I mean, I’m sure you can tell from the way that I speak, but it’s not just the way that I speak, it’s the way that I live, too.

The story behind that song is when I first moved to town with my camper trailer, everywhere I’d go I’d open my mouth to speak and I’d say, “Well, I’m from LA.” And they’re like, “There ain’t no way you’re from LA.” They thought Los Angeles, and I was just talking about home. That song tells my story and tells a little snippet about who I am.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about your career?

Be kind and work hard because those two things are truly the most important. If you’re nice to people, they will remember that, and nobody can stop you from working hard. That doesn’t mean that if you work hard and be kind that you’re going to be a superstar; it just means that you are going to find your place — you’re gonna find your place in the industry or wherever you’re supposed to be.

For more of my interview with Lainey Wilson, visit Billboard. Her debut album, Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, is out now. Her latest single, “Things A Man Oughta Know,” is below.


Songwriting Session with Ray Fulcher

Credit: Dylan Rucker

Editors note: After interviewing Ray Fulcher in November 2020, he signed a record deal with Black River Entertainment in February 2021.

Since moving to Nashville in May 2014, Ray Fulcher has become an in-demand songwriter. The Georgia native co-wrote four No. 1 songs with Luke Combs, including the Country Music Association Awards’ 2020 Song of the Year nominee “Even Though I’m Leaving.” A five-week Billboard Country Airplay No. 1, the poignant ballad marks Fulcher’s first CMA nomination.

Fulcher recalls waking up to 75 text messages the day the CMA Awards nominations were announced and says his mind was blown at the recognition. He then canceled his co-write to soak up the day. “I took it easy that day and tried to appreciate it,” he told me.

“Over time, reflecting on it and processing it, I realize it’s a real special song the more I hear feedback from people about it,” he says. “I’ve gotten so many messages about how it’s impacted [a listeners’] life — ‘how my grandpa or my dad or my brother passed away and this song literally got me through that.’ I have so many requests to sit down and record videos of me playing the song for somebody to help with healing. It was a special song that doesn’t come around often, for me at least.”

Fulcher recently celebrated his fourth chart topper as a songwriter with Combs’ “Lovin’ on You,” a four-week  No. 1. The song follows his previous No. 1 with Combs’ “Does to Me” featuring Eric Church, an artist who inspired Fulcher to pick up the guitar after he saw the country singer in concert in 2006.

“It was such a full circle moment for me,” Fulcher says of the Combs and Church collaboration. “Even him just being on it, much less being a single and then a No. 1. I actually got to meet Eric for the first time last year in the BMI Awards. I saw him coming up to me out of the corner of my eye. He walked up and was like, ‘Hey, I’m Eric.’ I was like, ‘Hey, I’m Ray. Thanks for being on that song. It means the world to me. I know you don’t know my story, but just know…’ and then he stopped me. He said, ‘Hey man, I know who you are and I’ve been seeing what you’re doing. I just want you to know it’s awesome and I’m proud of you.’ It was really cool that he did that.”

While Covid-19 has disrupted the music industry in 2020, Fulcher has seen success with two No. 1 songs and several cuts including “Better Than Me,” Riley Green’s latest collaboration with Alabama’s Randy Owen. One of his first Zoom writing sessions during the pandemic, “Better Than Me” had Fulcher and his co-writers wanting to find the silver lining in a difficult time. It’s something that Fulcher is learning himself in quarantine.

An artist in addition to writing songs for other acts, Fulcher was set to spend 2020 on the road as support on Combs’ What You See Is What You Get Tour. The trek has since been pushed back to fall 2021, allowing Fulcher more time to write and record a project of his own. Currently working with producer Jonathan Singleton, Fulcher has released two songs – “I Got It All,” penned with Morgan Wallen and Singleton, and “Love Ya Son, Go Dawgs.” The latter is the first outside song Fulcher has recorded. Written by Jordan Walker and Ben Hayslip, Fulcher says the song felt like a conversation he’d have with his own father. As football season approached, he decided to release “Love Ya Son, Go Dawgs” and it has since been featured on CBS Sports.

For more of my interview with Ray Fulcher, visit Forbes.


Songwriting Session with Josh Osborne

Credit: Rachel Deeb

Josh Osborne was drawn to music from a young age. Growing up in Virgie, KY, his home was filled with the music of Phil Collins, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Keith Whitley, Alabama and Randy Travis. He vividly recalls asking for a subscription to Billboard one year for Christmas and studied every name within the magazine’s pages. He soon learned the names of the songwriters, the producers and the people making the music he loved. At eight, Osborne began taking guitar lessons and by the time he was 12 his father encouraged him to start writing songs.

“My dad was a child of the ’60s, so he loved the Beatles and turned me onto the Beatles’ music,” Osborne tells me over the phone. “He said, ‘These guys were the greatest band of all time and they wrote all their songs. Maybe you should try writing songs.’ He bought me a Beatles tape set of all the Beatles’ hits. I got obsessed with it and was so drawn to how the words flow together and how the melody fits the words and how happy the music sounded. Even as a little kid I just wanted to write songs.”

That same year Osborne wrote his first song titled “The Shelter of Your Love.” He laughs as he remembers some of the lyrics. “I thought it was very poetic sounding for 12-year-old me,” he recalls. “The thing I remember about it now from an embarrassment point of view as a songwriter is I that I rhymed dove with love, which is very obvious.”

The more he listened to the Beatles, the more Osborne fell in love with the craft of songwriting. Country voices like Randy Travis and Keith Whitley left the biggest impact on him, and soon he fused his passion for songwriting with country music.

Osborne’s father noticed this passion and researched the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). He discovered there was a local chapter that met in Kingsport, TN, so he took his son when he was 13 and they listened to others talk about how they wrote songs and took part in song critiques. The following year they learned about a NSAI seminar in Nashville and attended. It was here that Osborne met veteran songwriter Terry Vonderheide. After Osborne performed a song, Vonderheide approached him and said he had potential. He then offered to write with Osborne the next time he returned to Nashville.

Pretty soon Osborne and his parents, both schoolteachers, would make monthly trips to Nashville. When school finished Friday afternoon they’d drive to Music City where Osborne began booking gigs Friday and Saturday evenings. On Saturday mornings he’d have a standing writing session with Vonderheide. The monthly trips turned into two and three weekends a month and one night while performing at Caffe Milano in downtown Nashville someone in the crowd recognized Osborne’s talent. Jerry Smith from Warner Chappell Music was looking for a young, up-and-coming songwriter. When Smith approached BMI’s David Preston asking if he had any recommendations, the executive suggested Osborne. Realizing he had just saw Osborne live, the pair met, and Smith offered him his first publishing deal.

“That was a lot of luck on my part and just good timing,” Osborne says. “For me first coming to Nashville when I was 14, it was about four years of coming back and forth before I landed a situation to where I could work here full-time.”

Osborne signed his publishing deal at the age of 18 and relocated to Nashville two days after he graduated high school in 1998. “I moved here and never looked back,” he says.

While he admits it was fairly easy to get a publishing deal in the ’90s, it took Osborne over a decade and several other publishing deals before he garnered his first major label cut with Chris Young’s “Neon.” The title track of Young’s third album, “Neon” peaked at No. 23 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in 2012. That same year he had his first No. 1 song with Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over.” Osborne penned “Come Over” with Shane McAnally, who he first met and began writing with in 2009 before becoming a partner and writer with his publishing company SMACKSongs in 2015, and a then-newcomer, Sam Hunt.

“That song was so experimental for its time. Sam has always been creative, inventive. He likes to take risks, likes to try things that are different,” Osborne says. “He came in and had that melody for the chorus but didn’t really have a hook. He was like, ‘Man, I wish we had something that lifted into this great chorus, but the verses were a little more not spoken, but more subdued and down.’ So, we started messing with it and we stumbled into the idea of the song being called ‘Come Over.’

“Originally the chorus ended with just the line come over. When we were putting the work tape down on that song at the very end of the work tape, as we’re doing the outro, Sam goes, ‘Come over, come over, come over, come over, come over,’” he recalls. “I stopped playing and I said, ‘What’s that?’ And he was like, ‘Oh, I just thought that’d be something cool to do for the tag. If you think it’s distracting, I won’t do it.’ Shane and I looked at each other and we were like, ‘No! That’s the hook. That should happen every time. The urgency of that should happen every time.’”

For more of my interview with Josh Osborne, visit Sounds Like Nashville.


You Sing I Write’s Top 10 Interviews of 2020

2020 was anything but predictable. Thankfully, the constant for me remained writing about what I love: country music. While the year brought about a lay-off from Billboard in April, I began freelancing in May for Forbes, Sounds Like Nashville and CMA Close Up before joining Country Insider full-time in October.

Interviews looked a little different this year between Zoom and phoners due to COVID-19. Before the world shut down in March, I was able to do a few in-person interviews including my first of the year with Dierks Bentley’s alter-ego Douglas D. Douglason of his ’90s-influenced band Hot Country Knights and shadowing Lainey Wilson as she made her Grand Ole Opry debut.

Here’s a look back at my favorite interviews from 2020.

1. Dolly Parton

While I’ve attended press conferences of Dolly’s before, getting 20 minutes of one-on-one time over the phone was added pressure. What has Dolly never been asked before? How do you cover everything she’s been working on in 20 minutes? I tried my best! From her giving heart to writing in graveyards and not giving up her publishing of “I Will Always Love You” to Elvis Presley, Parton shared a lot of her journey and career with me for Sounds Like Nashville’s December cover story. She also touched upon why it’s important to give back following her $1 million donation to Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center to aid researchers studying COVID-19.

“It’s better to give than receive, but it’s just as important that once you get into a position to be able to help that you really should,” she tells me. “It really helps a lot of people and it makes you feel good about yourself. I love being able to be in a position to help. There’s a scripture in the Bible that says, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ I always think about that. I’ve been given so much, so why not give back?”

2. Brett Eldredge

I’ve followed Brett’s career since the beginning and have been interviewing him over the past seven years. We’ve grown up in the country industry together and our chats about songwriting and Nashville have always been my favorites. (Here’s a photo of us after a chat in 2013!) His 2020 album Sunday Drive shows his growth as an artist and songwriter. During our conversation for Sounds Like Nashville’s July cover, he opened up about signing off from social media and stepping away from the spotlight to write his fifth studio album and shared many of the stories behind the songs on the project.

“As soon as I started giving myself the time to feel things and to be vulnerable, it was the most empowering thing. It was also the most creatively, supercharging thing I’ve ever done,” he says. “All these lyrics and all these melodies, all these things were coming up in my mind and in my heart because I was not distracting myself with phones or with anything. I was just being and that’s a huge thing to do.”

3. Hot Country Knights

My first interview of 2020 was one I’ll never forget. I spent nearly an hour with Douglas D. Douglason – aka Dierks Bentley’s alter ego and lead singer of ’90s-influenced country band Hot Country Knights – for Billboard. Mullet, ’90s attire and all, Doug kept me on my toes with his comical stories of his band’s escapades and how the Hot Country Knights planned to shake up country music.

“Look, the ’90s are hot right now,” Douglason says matter-of-factly. “[Bentley is] pretty much riding our mullets to the finish line on this one. He wanted to get involved with us and produce us and [we] wrote some original songs. It’s been awhile since I’ve done that—writing. Just using a pen. I don’t read or write much. He wrote most of them but stole most of my ideas.”

4. Sam Hunt

Sam’s sophomore release Southside was the album country fans had been waiting six years for. With the coronavirus at the forefront of everyone’s minds, our normal chats about the story behind the song and evolution of the project turned into album release plans in the midst of a pandemic for an article in the April 25 print issue of Billboard. At the time, a tour in support of Southside was up in the air but there was no doubt in the singer’s mind about releasing his much anticipated second album.

“People are at home on their phones entertaining themselves with music and videos — it’s a perfect time to release an album,” he says.

5. Nashville songwriters

I have been fascinated with songwriters for as long as I can remember. How do they walk into a room with nothing and several hours later leave with a three-minute song that can change a person’s life? For months I had worked on a story about the Evolution of the Nashville songwriter which published on Forbes in May. Quite possibly the longest feature I’ve written to date, it was a look into how Music City’s songwriters have changed since the ’90s.

Since the article published I’ve continued writing about songwriters for both Forbes and my monthly column for Sounds Like Nashville. This year I’ve been fortunate to interview the genre’s most revered country songwriters including Shane McAnally, Ashley Gorley, Nicolle Galyon, Hillary Lindsey, Kent Blazy and Ray Fulcher. I could probably fill up another Top 10 list with all these chats! Maybe next year!

6. Kip Moore

It’s no surprise that Kip would end up on my year-end list. He’s long been my favorite interview for his honesty and fresh perspective on country music, songwriting and life. (Above is a photo of our first chat in 2014!) I had the pleasure of interviewing him three times this year for three separate publications. In March, Billboard announced the date of his fourth studio album aptly titled Wild World.  

“My first hope at all times is that it does something to your soul when you’re listening to it,” Moore says. “I never want it to be fodder and just words and melodies. I hope that it somehow applies to other people’s lives and brings them a little peace with questions they have and their own internal struggles they’re having. I’m always hoping they can feel my heart as far as that goes. My heart was put in the project.”

In May, I caught up with him for Forbes where he detailed releasing music in a pandemic and why he hopes Wild World serves as escapism for his fans. “My hope was that new music would offer that to anyone needing to immerse themselves in something outside of everything that is happening for a moment.”

Several months later I hopped on Zoom for Country Insider to discuss Kip’s music video for “Don’t Go Changing” and why it was important to raise awareness and money for Nashville’s struggling music venues after they were forced to close their doors in March due to COVID-19. He urged those who had the means to donate via Music Venue Alliance Nashville’s website.

“If we can’t make society get back to that stage, then we have to take care of our own. You can’t just walk around in a fog and expect everything to be normal if you’re not doing your part to take care of these people,” he stresses. “Those venues that you think you’re just going to walk back into at some point — they’re not going to be there. It breaks my heart when I think about it.”

7. Cam

I’ve interviewed Cam several times over the years and after every chat I walk away with a new perspective. This year’s conversation for Sounds Like Nashville about her sophomore album The Otherside was no different.  

“I think because I came from a psychology background I always think of songwriting as pulling out something from the subconscious,” she says. “That’s something that I feel in my gut. I have to say it, I have to wrap it up in a story so that I can face it and heal from it. ‘Redwood Tree’ is definitely poignant right now with how you spend your limited time here, what amount of that you get with your parents and your family.”

8. Lainey Wilson

Watching an artist make her debut at the Grand Ole Opry is always special but being asked to shadow her throughout the process is an experience like no other. I was lucky enough to spend Feb. 14 at the Opry as Lainey rehearsed for her debut later that night. Surrounded by friends, family and industry executives, Lainey shared with me her backstory and journey to the famed stage from her first trip to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 9.

“I knew eventually I would have this opportunity; I just didn’t know when. This is the ultimate goal for anybody that does country music. When you play the Grand Ole Opry, you’re on the right track,” she says.

9. Carly Pearce

Carly Pearce went through a lot in 2020. “It’s no secret that I’ve had the worst yet best year ever,” Pearce told me over the phone during a chat for Country Insider. “Anything that I’m releasing right now is obviously reflective of that.” The singer finds her songs under the microscope following her divorce from Michael Ray earlier this year and was honest about the music she’s releasing.

“I’m the type of artist that I don’t know how to not write what I go through, regardless of if that’s about somebody that everyone knows or not,” she says. “Not to say that every single song I’m putting out is about this person or this relationship: It’s about relationships in general. But I had to make the decision and I don’t know how to not do that.”

10. Martina McBride

Martina has played a big role in my career as a country music journalist. She was one of the first country acts I interviewed during my first trip to Nashville in 2009. She also served as my first live coverage for Billboard back in 2011 when I covered her performance atop the Empire State Building.

It was only fitting that she was my first artist interview for Forbes in May when I began contributing to the publication. We discussed the recording of her latest single “Girls Like Me,” featured on Songland, during the pandemic.

“It’s challenging,” she tells me over the phone from her home in Nashville. “Studios are closed, and you’re not allowed to have musicians congregating together to record. So even before this pandemic happened, I started sitting with the song. I knew that I wanted the producer to be Nathan Chapman, who I’ve worked with before. I went to his house and played him the song and talked about it.

“After that, we never spent a second in the same building together throughout the whole recording process,” she continues. “Luckily, he’s an extremely gifted musician and producer so he was able to play all the instruments and record from his home studio.”


Dan Harrison Releases Feel-Good “Can’t Take You Anywhere”

Credit: Jonathan Galletti 

Nashville-based singer-songwriter Dan Harrison has released his new single “Can’t Take You Anywhere.” The feel-good, radio friendly track has the singer crooning about a girlfriend he can’t seem to take anywhere without craving some one-on-one time together. Written in April, Harrison discusses the decision to release new music in a pandemic and what Zoom co-writes are really like.

“I pitched the idea early on in quarantine to some good buddies, and we quickly realized we needed to put a positive spin on it as an antidote to this year’s negativity,” Harrison tells You Sing I Write.

Listen to “Can’t Take You Anywhere” below and learn more about the song with You Sing I Write’s Q&A with Harrison.

Tell me about writing “Can’t Take You Anywhere.” How did the idea for the song come together?

It was an idea I’d had for a while but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. Once the shutdown hit, and we literally couldn’t go anywhere, it took on a whole new meaning. I pitched the idea early on in quarantine to some good buddies, and we quickly realized we needed to put a positive spin on it as an antidote to this year’s negativity. We knew we had something special pretty soon after.

The song is very descriptive. Is there one line you’re particularly proud of?

I’m proud of the whole song, but I particularly like the shoulder strap line in the second verse. We had a different second verse originally, but after I made the demo we felt it wasn’t strong/visual enough. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Has the song changed at all in meaning since writing it?

It resonated with me right away because it’s definitely how I feel about my girlfriend. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see her since the pandemic started (that will be changing very soon), so when I finally do see her I would love just some one-on-one time, we don’t need to go anywhere. I think it’s sort of grown to remind me of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” and Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man,” which are two of my favorite songs. It’s that simple truth that there may be experiences/things I want, but I really don’t need anything else, just her.

How has your writing changed during the pandemic?

Writing has changed a lot in many ways, and in some ways not at all. I’ve been doing the vast majority of my writes virtually, which was not new to me as I write with friends who live in Canada/other parts of the country, however the balance shift to almost exclusively Zoom did take some getting used to.

On one level, it’s nice to not commute and I think it forces you to kind of get down to business quicker, and I’ve written some of my favorite songs over Zoom. But when your Internet is being wonky or you’re just not vibing, there’s really no substitute for the kind of energy that being in the room with people can create. Also, Zoom makes track writes much, much harder.

The song has a radio friendly vibe. Why the decision to release it now right before the holidays?

It was sort of just the timetable that materialized. I wanted to get something out this year, and this felt relevant, but it’s taken some time to get everything together with everything else going on in my life/the world. I feel like I’ve heard in the past anyway that a summer radio hit is often released in the winter, and it can take them until summer to really reach a bigger audience. Fingers crossed haha.

When can we expect new music from you?

I have a lot of plans in the pipeline that this song is just the beginning of. I’m working on an EP that I hope to release sometime in the summer of 2021, I haven’t announced anything yet but there’ll be more coming soon.

How have you navigated songwriting and being an independent musician in 2020?

I don’t think it’s been easy for anyone at any level of the industry, but it’s been especially challenging trying to stay afloat as an independent artist when you can’t make a living off of what you normally do every day, and there’s no real passive income yet. So trying to balance survival with keeping the momentum for your career goals. I’ve been fortunate to have some socially distant/safe gigging opportunities, and doing demo work for various clients, but it’s been inconsistent even for an industry already known for its lack of stability.

This business is all about weathering the storm, and 2020 has just been a very big test of that. But I really believe in the music I’m creating and what I need to say as an artist; I think there’s a space in country music that hasn’t been addressed yet, and I want to be the one to do it. So whatever obstacles have come/are coming, I’ll get around them.