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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.”

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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. 

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Songwriting Session with Ashley Gorley

Credit: Josh Ulmer

Editor’s Note: After interviewing Ashley Gorley, he celebrated his 51st No. 1 single.

Ashley Gorley has accomplished a feat no other songwriter has achieved. In August, he became the only songwriter in any genre to earn 50 No. 1 songs in the history of the Mediabase and Billboard Country Airplay charts.

Over the span of 14 years, Gorley saw success with acts like Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett and Cole Swindell. His 50 chart toppers were recorded by 30 different country artists, something the reigning seven-time ASCAP Songwriter of the Year is especially proud of. He says the variety of acts he’s written with and the constant challenge of penning new music keeps him inspired as a creative.

“It’s a blessing. It reminds me that hopefully I know what I’m doing and it gives me confidence to keep going,” Gorley tells me of the accomplishment. “That was never a number I set out to get … I still feel like I haven’t arrived and I think that’s the key: knowing that I’m not there yet and never will be. That’s what keeps me grinding.”

Gorley knew he wanted to work in the music business as a child growing up in Kentucky. It took some time before he fell into songwriting though. He says his early love of music was inspired by watching MTV countdowns and DJing during high school and various parties. He always aimed to make a playlist that would make everyone in the room happy. Obsessed with the radio, R&B, and country and pop countdown shows, Gorley says he was fascinated by hearing a song and wondered why people were reacting to it. His early song creations included DJing and trying to blend songs together while making up new music underneath each track.

“My first form of writing was blending and rearranging and then DJing and loving music in that way,” he says. “I got some terrible gear: drum machines, samplers and keyboards and things like that and just figured that out. Then I got a guitar. The first year I moved to Nashville I went and bought one. Some guy taught me [how to play guitar] at a college party.”

Enamored by music, he attended Nashville’s Belmont University and was enthralled with publishing. Fittingly, his favorite classes were publishing and copyright. During his time as a student, Gorley interned for five different companies where he fell in love with the publishing side of the music business. The songwriter recalls internships where he was tasked with spending time in the tape room listening to demos and typing out the lyrics to each song.

“I got to hear all the demos that came in. I got to watch them over the course of a year to see which ones actually got pitched, which ones were liked, which ones were held by artists and producers, and which ones were recorded and put out,” he says. During the process, he saw several hits happen. Mentors at the time included the late Jeff Carlton during Gorley’s internship at Hamstein Music.

In his early songwriting years, Gorley remembers writing two or three songs a day. He traveled to Los Angeles after transitioning into becoming more interested in production in college. After hearing the finished tracks the producers made there, he decided to focus more on lyric and melody instead of production because those were his strengths and he could provide the topline easily regardless of genre. He’d spend his days in class, working and interning, and at night he’d beg the publishing company he interned at to allow him to write after hours in the building.

“I would do co-writes at night, get home at midnight and do it all over again,” he says. “I got a lot of practice writing a lot of terrible songs. I got so excited about those sessions, demoed hundreds, probably a thousand songs, and fell in love with that process. I wrote professionally for seven years before I had a top 40 hit.”

Gorley graduated in 1999 and credits his songwriting mentors for taking him under their wings. Revered tunesmiths like Kelley Lovelace, Chris DuBois and David Lee Murphy guided the young writer and taught him the importance of rewriting and not to settle. He took all the tips he learned from each and success slowly started to happen for him. In 2006, he had his first No. 1 with Carrie Underwood’s single “Don’t Forget to Remember Me.” Gorley penned the song with Lovelace and Morgane Stapleton.

“I watched American Idol in real time. I’m a big fan of that show. I loved the first two or three seasons and remember watching her and thinking, ‘I’ve gotta get a song with this girl. She’s amazing!’ And then we did it,” he says. “So then it was just like, ‘Okay, this can actually happen.’ I’ve never met her and she still recorded a song of mine … The lyric was very true and honest. A lot of those things happened to me when I was leaving for school and happened for Morgane and they connected with Carrie.”

Gorley says the success of “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” was his first realization that other people feel the way he does and that inspired him to keep writing. Between 2007-2008 he had three singles on the chart at the same time with Trace Adkins’ “You’re Gonna Miss This,” Brad Paisley and Keith Urban’s duet “Start a Band” and Darius Rucker’s “It Won’t Be Like This For Long.”

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

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You Sing I Write Featured On Medium

It’s always strange to be on the other side of an interview. I’m so used to interviewing people, when the tables are turned it’s a little unsettling! I’m super grateful to Donna Block at Medium for wanting to highlight me and my journey into country music earlier this year. You can read the full feature at Medium and I’ve included an excerpt below.

Growing up in Jersey. Which artists and songs were your favorites to listen to?

I grew up on oldies and pop music. I remember loving Elvis Presley and the Beatles as a kid since my parents were always tuned into New York station WCBS-FM 101.1. It was around the seventh grade when I discovered other music existed and quickly fell in love with the Backstreet Boys and every other boy band that existed at the time. From that I started listening to more singer-songwriters like John MayerJason Mraz and bands like Switchfoot. I eventually had a punk/rock phase and loved acts like the All-American RejectsGood Charlotte and later Jersey’s own the Gaslight Anthem.

Country music. How did you decide to become a journalist in the industry?

When I started my blog in 2007 I was mostly covering indie, rock and pop artists. It wasn’t until I attended the 2009 CMA Fest in Nashville with some friends that my passion for country music began. I covered the festival for Marie Claire, and attended my first press conference. Darius Rucker was the first artist to come through and I didn’t realize how aggressive you had to be to get your question in. As other journalists yelled to get their questions answered, I sat there with my hand raised. The last question was asked and Darius was being ushered off the stage by his publicist, but then he stopped and looked right at me. He said, “You have been so patient this whole time. What is your question?” I fell in love with country music in that very moment and dreamed of moving to Nashville ever since.

Brett Eldredge took time off to put together his upcoming project. You said he shared how the song “Where the Heart Is” is the mission statement for the album. How has the song helped you get through these tough times?

At a time like a pandemic with so much job loss, you start to question your purpose in life. Brett’s song couldn’t have been released at a more perfect moment for me. My dream since high school was to be a music journalist and to work at a music magazine, and in a way my job defined who I was. His song is a reminder to find where your heart is and keep chasing that dream no matter the obstacles.

Music heals. What message do you want to share with artists and fans alike as we move towards our new normal?

I think the fact that so many artists are still releasing new music throughout the pandemic is so inspiring. So many of us are trying to stay positive in the midst of so much uncertainty and knowing that a new album is dropping from your favorite artist or band is something to look forward to. The country community hasn’t slowed down one bit on releases and for that I’m so grateful! As long as we have music, I’d like to think everything is going to be OK.

For more of my interview, visit Medium.

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Songwriting Session with Kent Blazy

JIM MCGUIRE SR.

Editor’s note: After interviewing Kent Blazy, the songwriter was named a 2020 Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee.

Kent Blazy grew up writing poetry in Lexington, Kentucky, and by the time he was in high school his work was featured in the school newspaper. It wasn’t until later on when he got a guitar that he realized he could put those poems to music, and he began writing songs.

“It started from there and I never looked back,” Blazy, who recently released the 13-track album Authentic, told me over the phone.  

Some of the bands Blazy was in would play his songs and at the urging of several songwriters he respected, he decided to move to Nashville in 1980. While Blazy admits he thought it would take several years to become an established songwriter, he got lucky and had his first Top 5 song within a year and a half of relocating to Music City.

“I had written [‘Headed for a Heartache’] with a guy that I had been writing for his publishing company for a little while, and he played softball with Gary Morris [who] was on Warner Bros. Records,” Blazy says. “While they were playing softball, he pitched the song to Gary and Gary ended up cutting it. It’s still one of my favorite songs and the guy I wrote it with [James Allen Dowell], I’m still friends with. That opened some doors and let me do some other things that might not have happened if I hadn’t had that song.”

Morris released “Headed for a Heartache” in 1981 and while Blazy had many other songs cut by country acts in town, he didn’t see chart success until he began working with Garth Brooks in the late 1980s. In 1989, both Blazy and Brooks garnered their first No. 1 with “If Tomorrow Never Comes.”

“I think I was the only person who had had a Top 10 record that would write with Garth at the very beginning. We’ve had a string of [hits] because he’s a very loyal person and we have a good chemistry writing together,” Blazy says.

The pair met while Brooks was singing demos in Nashville. Blazy started using him as a demo singer and Brooks eventually told him that he also wrote songs, so they got together to write one day at Blazy’s home. Blazy vividly describes the day Brooks came in for their first writing session, saying he was “wearing these big, long dusters and a big cowboy hat and he looked like he was 8-feet tall.”

“He walked into my living room and I was sitting on the couch and he looked down at me. He said, ‘I’ve got this song idea I’ve run by 25 writers and nobody likes it.’ I looked up at him and I said, ‘Well, gee, thanks.’ He said, ‘Don’t you want to hear it?’ And I said, ‘OK, play it for me,’” Blazy recalls. “He played me what he had, and I said, ‘Well, the problem with the song is you’re killing somebody off in the first two lines of the song. It’s like killing the star of the movie off in the first three minutes, there’s really nowhere to go.’”

Brooks then asked Blazy what he would do with the song and they began reworking the original. At the end of the day they had a song they were both proud of and went into Blazy’s studio to record a stripped-down demo with an acoustic guitar and Brooks’ vocals.

“I still remember that day. I thought, ‘This guy’s 25-years-old going on 60.’ He’s such an old soul and has such knowledge on how songs should be written,” Blazy praises. “He’s such an amazing writer. He’s very underrated. He deserves every award that he gets because he’s fantastic.”

While both Blazy and Brooks thought they had a hit on their hands, none of the labels in Nashville were interested. One evening Brooks was performing at the Bluebird Café and he sang “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” In that moment, his entire career shifted.

“Someone from Capitol Records who’d passed on the song for the third time approached Brooks and said, ‘Hey, we missed something. Why don’t you come back in?’” Blazy explains. “And he went back in and got a record deal and our song was the second single and his first No. 1. That’s just the magic of Nashville.”

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

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Songwriting Session with Hillary Lindsey

EMMA MCINTYRE/ACMA2018/GETTY IMAGES FOR ACM

Hillary Lindsey was born into a musical family in Washington, Georgia. Her father was a drummer and some of Lindsey’s earliest memories include her grandfather playing an old pump organ while she helped by pushing the pedals as he played. Around the age of 10 she wrote her first song about a friend’s parents getting divorced.

“One of my best friends, I found out that her parents were getting a divorce, and she didn’t know about it,” she tells me over the phone. “I overheard my mom and dad talking about it. It really devastated me thinking about what that was going to do to her. I wish I remembered the song, but I wrote a song about that. As I got older, it turned into me having a crush on a boy that didn’t like me. Then I would write songs for my girlfriends who also had crushes on boys that didn’t like them. That’s how the writing started.”

From a young age, Lindsey entered the town’s singing competition. One year she debuted a song she wrote on piano, and a family friend urged Nashville session player Buddy Blackmon to take a trip to Georgia to listen to her songs. Loving what he heard, Blackmon suggested Lindsey attend Belmont University once she graduated high school. Belmont was the only school she applied to and after getting in, Lindsey majored in music business with the goal to be an artist.

Lindsey admits that it wasn’t until attending Belmont in 1994 that she realized a career as a songwriter was possible. She began writing songs in her dorm room and playing writers nights at local venues like the now defunct Jack’s Guitar Bar on Nolensville Road that frequently boasted appearances from Patty Griffin and Keith Urban’s former band The Ranch.

“I would sit on my bedroom floor with one of those old cassette tape recorders and just record my ideas,” she says. “I would hide [the tapes] in my panty drawer because I didn’t want anybody listening to them. One of my roommates snuck one out without me knowing [when] she was interning at MCA. She came home one day [and said], ‘Hey, don’t be mad at me. I took one of your tapes out of your underwear drawer and played it for some people. They liked it.’”

Unbeknownst to Lindsey, her tape was passed around in the industry and Pat Finch at Famous Music Publishing loved what he heard and invited her to lunch. During their lunch meeting he offered her a publishing deal. She accepted and never returned to Belmont. Her first year signed to Famous Music was a learning experience in itself as she began co-writing every day, which at first was foreign to her. Pretty soon she found her tribe of writers and mentors that included Tia Sillers, Tony Lane, Brett James, Troy Verges, Angelo and Gordie Sampson. Shannon Brown recorded her song “I Won’t Lie” and released it as a single in 1998, and Lindsey also garnered countless album cuts that year. “It happened fairly fast,” she says of getting her songs placed with country acts. “Mainly a lot of album cuts, but back then that was amazing because records were selling.”

Around the same time, Lindsey continued to pursue an artist career. She recalls a well-attended showcase at South By Southwest where she met Los Angeles-based lawyer Seth Lichtenstein who offered to represent her. Lindsey started to travel to L.A. to shop for labels and was offered two record deals. She ultimately signed with John Polk at Epic Records out of Los Angeles, but the deal lasted just three months. When Polk transitioned to a job promotion in New York he decided to leave the label, which resulted in Lindsey and two other artists being dropped.

Lindsey returned to Nashville after several months of co-writing in Los Angeles and had lost the will to create. After a month, she slowly began writing again and when Martina McBride recorded and released “Blessed” as a single in 2001, Lindsey’s luck started to change. “Blessed” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in March 2002 and Lindsay began to focus on her songwriting more while still toying with the idea of an artist career.

“The writing thing started taking off. Once I started writing more and meeting artists and understanding what that [artist] life meant, I realized I really was not cut out for that,” she says of the decision to pursue songwriting full-time. “The writing life is definitely the life for me.”

Lindsey has seen much success writing for Carrie Underwood, having penned 11 No. 1 songs for the American Idol alum. Underwood’s 2005 debut single “Jesus Take the Wheel” marked a turning point in Lindsey’s career as she had decided to leave Famous Music after being signed as a staff writer there for six years. She wanted to own her publishing and went independent. With enough money saved up for one year of expenses, Lindsey was determined to make things work on her own as she had already developed great relationships with the writers, artists and A&R staff in Nashville.

“I would just pitch my own songs. Within that first year it was something crazy like I had five Faith Hill cuts, a LeAnn Rimes cut, a Tim McGraw cut, a Keith Urban cut,” she recalls. “It was like, ‘Holy moly, are you kidding me? Why did I not do this sooner?’ Well, then the record came out. None of my Faith Hill songs made the record. I lost the Tim cut. I lost the Keith cut and they were cuts, not holds.”

The only song that did stick was a song called “Painless” that Lee Ann Womack recorded and featured on her 2005 critically acclaimed album There’s More Where That Came From. It never was released as a single and while earlier in the year Lindsey thought she hit the jackpot going independent, she was wrong and money was running out.

American Idol was around then. I don’t remember this conversation, but my dad very vividly does. He said that I called and said, ‘I think this girl’s gonna win American Idol and if she does, if I could just have one song with her maybe this would change things.’ Then she won and ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’ was her first single and the dry spell stopped.”

For more of my interview with the Academy of Country Music’s 2020 Songwriter of the Year, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

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You Sing I Write Celebrates 13 Years

Interviewing AJ McLean of the Backstreet Boys at the 2019 ACM Awards for Billboard.

On this very day 13 years ago I launched You Sing I Write. A few months out of college, I was struggling with a day job that didn’t involve writing and knew I needed a creative outlet. After weeks of brainstorming blog ideas with friends and family, my cousin’s husband suggested You Sing, I Write and I immediately loved the idea.

I launched my music blog in 2007 in hopes that it’d help keep up my writing skills while I dreamed of getting a full-time job interviewing bands and attending concerts along the way. I’m living proof that if you work hard and dream big even the impossible (like interviewing a Backstreet Boy and moving to Nashville) can come true. While I haven’t written here as frequently over the past year since getting my dream job writing about music full-time in February 2019 at Billboard and now covering the country radio industry for Country Insider, I hope in the coming months to amp up YSIW’s content.

I want to use YSIW to look back on some of my favorite interviews and live reviews over the years as well as write about up-and-coming artists I love. Since we’re all still in lockdown due to Covid-19, I’m hoping what once started as a creative outlet will serve as a time capsule and online portfolio for my clips while continuing to discover new music.

Each year, on Oct. 21, I love to look back on my very first post for You Sing I Write. It’s a reminder of where I came from but also a look at how much I’ve accomplished. Thanks for being such a huge support over the years and for the endless comments, messages, tweets and the sharing of my work. It truly means the world. Here’s to another 13 years!

I’m not a groupie…a music lover’s tale of getting that interview.

Despite popular belief, I am not a groupie. I’m a journalist. Sure, I hang around tour buses to get an interview with a band. But, that’s my job. Music has always been a passion of mine. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I thought I could make a career out of it — music reporting that is. I still remember the concert. I was a correspondent at my college paper at the time, The Daily Targum at Rutgers University, when I covered the Gavin DeGraw concert on campus. Tickets sold out in record number, being that his song, “I Don’t Want To Be” was the theme song to a new hit TV show on the WB, “One Tree Hill.” His single began getting radio air time and popularity ensued.

I was standing in the front row, notebook in one hand, camera in the other when it hit me — I could do this for the rest of my life! I’ve always loved going to concerts and trying to meet the band. I did it for fun, but I could actually make a living out of it. Soon afterwards I began writing for my college paper’s entertainment section and while I’ve always enjoyed writing, music writing became my passion. I’d cover concerts on campus, in NYC, at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ, a short drive from campus. You name the concert, I was there.

I was lucky enough to intern at Jane magazine as well as MTV News Online during my last year of college and learned more about the magazine/music industry and am confident that this is the field I want to go into. Since my current job isn’t a writing job I’ve decided to blog a bit on what I love — music. I’ll be going to some concerts and hopefully getting interviews as well as doing album reviews. In the meantime, I figure I’ll post past interviews with some bands I’ve covered and will hopefully get those up on the blog soon. If anyone knows of any good concerts or suggestions for this blog please let me know!

-Annie

Categories
Songwriting Session

Songwriting Session with Blair Daly

photo courtesy Spidey Smith

Blair Daly never intended to write country music when he first moved to Nashville in the early 1990s. Instead, the Louisiana native had his heart set on rock music. A chameleon when it comes to songwriting, Daly has penned hits for artists in countless genres including country, pop, rock and alt-rock. He continues to be a mainstay in the Nashville songwriting community, having signed a new publishing deal with Concord Music earlier this year.

During an in-depth three-hour interview at his studio in Nashville, Daly explains how writing for multiple genres of music keeps songwriting from feeling like a job. A lover of all types of music, Daly tries his best to keep his calendar balanced with a mix of rock, country and pop co-writes.

“To me, writing rock songs makes me better at writing country songs and writing country songs makes me better at the other,” he explains, settling into a desk chair at his studio. “[You’re] exercising all the muscles and it keeps you fresh.”

Daly has penned songs for a wide range of artists. His studio’s walls are covered in plaques from songs he’s written for Kip Moore, Kelly Clarkson, the Backstreet Boys, Carrie Underwood, Halestorm and Little Big Town. Just a glimpse at his catalog, other acts who have recorded his music include Rascal Flatts, Uncle Kracker, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Veil Brides and Sixx:A.M. While he’s found success in the country genre, it was rock music that laid the groundwork for his lifelong passion of music.

Daly grew up in a small town in Louisiana playing in rock bands. His high school only had two bands so he found himself alternating between both and playing whatever instrument was needed. The songwriter admits that he never thought about writing songs until it came time to decide what he would be doing after high school. He wanted to move to Los Angeles to be in a rock band and play famous venues on the Sunset Strip like the Whiskey a Go Go. His parents vetoed the idea and suggested looking into colleges in Nashville instead.

“In 1990, Nashville was still mostly country music and I was like, ‘What? Nashville! Country music?’ I grew up on rock and hard rock in the ’80s when rock was king,” he explains. “When I started investigating Nashville and coming up here to look at schools, I started running into people who wrote songs for a living. I never knew it was a real job until right before I moved here.”

Daly attended Middle Tennessee State University for a while — until he found his first “legit out” going on the road with a family member of his, Will Rambeaux, who was pursuing an artist career. His experience qualified as an internship and he got credit for helping with radio promotion. Soon, he began co-writing with his cousin. Daly realized that he could potentially make a living as a songwriter if he worked hard at it so he and Rambeaux continued writing songs throughout the ’90s, eventually amassing several hits with John Michael Montgomery.

“He really, really encouraged me to write and sing and play live and he pushed me out of my comfort zone way more than I ever would have,” Daly says of his cousin. “At the time, he was writing for a company in town called Wrensong that Ree Guyer had and still has. He was writing there and I was hopping from one thing to another to pay the bills and writing when I had a day off, or at night, or on the weekends.”

Daly says he and Rambeaux hit a sweet spot and started writing some cool songs with another friend, Troy Verges. Rambeaux took them both under his wing, helping on co-writes. Eventually his cousin’s publisher took interest in him and Daly signed with Wrensong Publishing around 1995. By 1997, he had his first single on the radio with Montgomery’s “How Was I to Know.”

The songwriter vividly recalls penning “How Was I to Know” with his cousin at his old house in Sylvan Park that he and Verges were renting at the time. He had several ideas and melodies prepared and played one of them on his tape recorder for Rambeaux.

“I played it for him and he was like, ‘Yeah, this is something. This is definitely something,’ and he picked that title to go with that melody and we wrote it,” Daly recalls with a smile. “I don’t remember us really having to wrestle it down or anything. I think it was a pretty natural write and I do remember being in that old dingy rent house in Sylvan Park writing it. Most of that time period was kind of blurry but three dudes living in a rent house and then all of a sudden you get publishing deals and you’re getting a draw. It’s like, ‘Wait, I don’t have to go to a day job? I can go and buy beer and write songs and play guitar all day?’”

The song’s success surprised Daly, who thought he was writing a rock song that he could envision Aerosmith, Def Leppard or Bon Jovi singing but his publisher saw otherwise. She felt he was creating country songs and Guyer suggested Daly sing them because she also saw an artist career in his future. While Daly wasn’t keen on being in the spotlight, he continued to sing the songs he wrote, pitching himself as an artist as well. His career soon shifted, though, when Montgomery cut his song.

“John Michael was killing it at the time. He had, ‘I Love the Way You Love Me,’ ‘I Swear,’ ‘I Could Love You Like That’ and all those big massive ballads, and I had the next one in mind and that was when it all changed,” Daly reflects.

Daly was invited to the Atlantic Records office to hear his song recorded by Montgomery and says it was an out of body experience listening to the country singer’s take on “How Was I to Know.” While Daly’s demo wasn’t country, once Montgomery’s baritone was heard on the track alongside steel guitar, all of a sudden his rock song transformed into a country ballad.

“It was very, very surreal and that’s when it was like, ‘Okay, this is what I want to do.’ It was released as a single several months later and then a few months after, it got to number one,” he says, still in disbelief. “[My] first cut was a single and it went to number one and that’s when it was like, ‘All right, I think we’ll hold off on this artist thing and let’s see how this pans out.’ A huge weight was lifted.”

For more of my interview with Blair Daly, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

Categories
Songwriting Session

Songwriting Session with Josh Thompson

photo courtesy Big Machine Music

Josh Thompson penned his first song at the age of 21, just six months after he got his first guitar, and he hasn’t been able to stop since. The 40-year-old tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone that he’s always writing something.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of songs and some of my favorite writers, people like Merle Haggard and George Jones, were extremely vulnerable,” Thompson explains. “They could allow themselves to be almost the bad guy and that gave them a redeeming quality. When I started to write songs and was playing them and noticed in small increments that there were some people that were getting moved by some of the things I was writing, I was gearing up more and more at that point to be like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to go to Nashville and see what it looks like and try to make a living writing songs.’”

The Wisconsin native visited Nashville for the first time when he was 24. He loved everything about the city and after spending some time downtown on Broadway he admits that he thought Music City was a never ending party. Naturally, he moved there the next year. Seven months after he relocated Thompson had a publishing deal and when looking back on his early career, he realizes things happened rather quickly. He later proved the old adage of Nashville being a 10 year town true as it took him 12 long years to see his first No. 1 hit with Jason Aldean’s “Any Ol’ Bar Stool.”

“It took about seven months, which is fast, to get my first publishing deal. That’s how I started meeting [and writing with] people. Some had publishing deals, some didn’t, some had cuts, some didn’t, some had hits,” he explains. “It was writing with people and learning how to co-write, and then just plugging different people in.”

Becoming a full-time songwriter wasn’t easy though. Thompson had a day job as a concrete finisher, which allowed him to pay his bills and make enough money to get by so he could spend his free time writing songs. He soon garnered a record deal with Columbia Nashville after being recognized for a song he wrote in 2008 that Jason Michael Carroll cut called “Growing Up Is Getting Old.” The song became the title track to Carroll’s sophomore album, released in 2009.

Thompson says “Growing Up Is Getting Old” was an important song that helped to kick start his songwriting career. While it didn’t do anything on the charts, “Growing Up Is Getting Old” marked his professional start as a songwriter as it was his first major cut.

The following year he’d release his debut album, Way Out Here. He co-wrote each of the project’s 10 tracks, including Top 20 singles “Beer On the Table” and “Way Out Here.” The latter hit No. 15 on the country charts and was Thompson’s biggest hit as a solo artist.

Thompson co-wrote “Way Out Here” with David Lee Murphy and Casey Beathard. While he doesn’t recall how the song came to be as he penned it nearly a decade ago, he says he remembers the feeling he had once the song was finished.

“You know when you’ve got something really good and when you’ve got something that’s great, and that was one of those songs,” he recalls. “We were all very content that this was, and could be, something great. That’s a feeling you don’t get a whole lot but when you do, you’re very blessed to have it.”

For more of my interview with Josh Thompson and the hits he’s written including Jason Aldean’s “Drowns the Whiskey” and “Any Ol’ Bar Stool,” and Blake Shelton’s “I’ll Name the Dogs,” visit Sounds Like Nashville.

Categories
Features Interviews

Sister Hazel Share the Story Behind “In Two” from Upcoming EP ‘Wind’

Sister Hazel will release their second of four EPs on Friday (Sept. 7). Titled Wind, the seven-track EP is part of the compilation series Elements.

One of the standout songs on the project is a soaring ballad called “In Two.” Written by Sister Hazel guitarist Ryan Newell and Todd Wright, Newell tells the story behind the song that he wrote for his wife on their wedding day.

“‘In Two’ is a very special song for me,” he explains. “I co-wrote it with Todd Wright, who lives up in Virginia where I live. It’s a love song. It was written for my wife. Todd actually played it in my wedding. The song is really dear to me because of that. I never really thought it was going to make a record. I thought it was just gonna be for that moment.”

Newell says as he and the band were picking out songs for their EP, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to feature “In Two” on the project. While his bandmates had forgotten about the song, when he played it for them they all agreed that it should be included on the release.

The delicate three-minute track features Andrew Copeland on vocals with backup harmonies from Wright’s daughter. An obvious choice for a wedding song, “In Two” strikes a chord. “I’ll never let you go / No matter what darkness comes in / I will shelter you / Nothin’s breaking us in two / Hold onto me, I’ll hold onto you,” he sings on the chorus.

“Drew sang it. He sang a beautiful version of it and it came out great,” Newell continues. “It doesn’t have too much production on it. We wanted to keep it as simple as possible. There’s a really cool string arrangement and there’s some baritone acoustic on it. It’s basically a vocal-driven song and it makes my wife very, very happy.”

“In Two” will be available on Sept. 7 as part of Sister Hazel’s new EP, Wind.