David Adam Byrnes left his home in central Arkansas in 2008 at the age of 19 years old and ambitiously moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in an attempt to, like millions of folks before him, deliver his brand of country music to the great Music City, and secure a budding career as a music artist.
His first taste of success came with the release of his single “Sweet Distraction” that hit #62 on Billboard and Top 20 on Music Row, which was the highest debut from a new act that year.
This year he released the single “Neon Town,” the title track to the new album, in April. It made its way to #1 faster than any of his previous releases. “Neon Town” is the come-full-circle thesis on his adventures from small town roots to mainstream cultured and back to his provenance. David Adam Byrnes has earned himself a music business education that just can’t be bought.
The quarantine started with you charting back-to-back #1 songs on Texas Radio. How have you been able to connect to radio stations and fans during the pandemic to promote your new album Neon Town?
We tied in all of our Facebook lives with radio stations so that def helped to stay in with them to promote the new single and did a lot of radio call ins. Just trying to stay in touch the best way we can since we haven’t been able to go in person as much, if at all. Writing wise, I wasn’t sure how I’d like having to write not being in person but it actually didn’t seem to hurt my creativity at all. In fact, not being able to get out made me spend more time writing than I have since I left Nashville since I had been so busy traveling.
How we write songs during the quarantine. Reflecting on the positive side, what aspects of Zoom writing went well?
Everyone has had to adapt during the quarantine.
Which new local places have you had a chance to explore with your dog Woody?
Well I can’t take all the credit. Woody is my girlfriend Laing’s dog but he’s def become my “little buddy” as I call him but we’ve done a lot of walks around the neighborhood and parks nearby. We mostly go over to Laing’s family’s horse farm and let him run around. He’s a pretty old pup so we try not to push it too far but he’s def with me anytime I run any kind of errands.
You posted how seven years ago you had lost your first record and publishing deal. Before you were back to touring full time the following year, you wrote songs that are still on your set lists. How has that experience helped you through the past seven months?
It def prepped me for having to just take whatever circumstances are thrown at you and to just figure out a plan and roll with it, no matter how tough or unconventional it may be. In the music business, things rarely go as planned and at this point I think I’ve gotten very used to it. There was without a doubt a bit of a freakout moment but you just have to regroup, get your composure, and cowboy up.
Returning to the stage at the Mule Barn Sports Bar & Grill in late May. Can you describe what it felt like to play live music after three months?
Relieving, emotional, and just plain fun would be the best way I can describe it. There were so many times during the quarantine that I promised I would never take another show for granted and we without a doubt made that show the best night we could not only for us but for the folks that were hungry to see live music again. I think it was good for the soul for everyone in the building. Mule Barn had also become my Texas “second home” since I lived so close to it so with it being the first venue show back, it just made it all that much sweeter to see so many friends for the first time.
“Beer Bucket List, the first single off the new record. A song about taking chances, chasing a dream, a new job — getting out of your comfort zone. How did attending a Randy Rogers-Wade Bowen show in Nashville impact the final co-write with Michael White?
At that time I was pretty frustrated with Nashville and where I was in my career. For so many years I was told I needed to get with the times, traditional country couldn’t sell, and so on. Wade made a comment about him and Randy not having “hits” on mainstream radio yet they were selling out venues in Nashville playing country music the way they wanted to. The lightbulb just went off and it really hit me that life in the music business didn’t only start or stop with the gatekeepers on music row. It started the idea of me maybe wanting to move toward the Texas scene. Ironically we started writing “Beer Bucket List” that morning and I can’t say a single thing, moment, or sentence that made the message of what the song needed to say hit me but I remember I marinated on it then entire next day and drive home to Arkansas for Thanksgiving. I was taking a shower that evening and the chorus to the song just hit me out of nowhere. I wrote it down and recorded the new melody, brought it to Michael, and the rest was history.
Congrats on winning the Arkansas Country Music Awards 2020 Male Vocalist of the Year! Growing up in Arkansas, who were your male vocalist role models?
I appreciate that. That’s the first time I’ve ever won an award like that so it meant a lot to win for the first time from my home state. George Strait was always my hero. Most of my childhood, all I wanted to do was be George..heck I still do. I’m just old enough now to realize I’ll never be that cool lol. But I grew up on a lot of the 90’s country. I was a huge fan of guys like Tracy Lawrence, Mark Chesnutt, and Daryle Singletary to name a few. As I got into high school, country really started making the push toward more pop and 80’s rock and that’s when I really gravitated to Joe Nichols but I started digging backwards into the guys that made those guys I loved as a kid. I realized that my voice was more on the baritone side so I really started digging into Keith Whitley and that lead me to Merle Haggard and George Jones. I didn’t stop there though, I wanted to know who made those guys and it turned me on to guys like Lefty Frizzell.
Seeing “Neon Town” atop the Texas Regional Radio charts in early August. It was the third single from the album and third in a row to top the charts. What are the unique challenges of releasing an independent album on which you own every song?
The biggest challenge is funding. The reality of it is, if you put out music you have to market and promote it. All of that cost money and a lot of it. With folks like musicians being out of work because of the quarantine and venues not being open I knew I just had to take the risk and give this record the best shot I could. Spending that much money is scary but in all honesty, this has been the best and easiest release I’ve ever had. In my previous experiences, I had labels putting out the music and the plans behind doing so just were very poorly done. I was able to make the moves I thought needed to be made and so far it seems like it’s paid off. Obviously, I would love to be able to hit more of the masses like major label could but I’m able to push songs I 100% believe in compared to having to settle for songs that someone sitting at a desk and doesn’t get out in the trenches thinks is “commercial”.
Aaron Watson was instrumental in your move from Nashville to Fort Worth, Texas. Which song of Aaron’s is your favorite to cover and why?
I think a lot of folks have kind of misunderstood the Aaron connection. Trent Willmon made a call and got me on an opening slot for Cody Johnson not too long after we finished recording the album and that one show lead to about two months straight of me opening up for other Texas acts. Every single one of the shows I had someone from the camp rather that be a band member, crew member, or the artist themselves come up and basically ask why I was still in Nashville and encourage me to consider moving to Texas because of my style. The last show before I made that decision was opening for Aaron. I can’t recall if Aaron actually said it to me that night but we had met numerous times before and had the conversation about Texas. Something about that night just was the icing on the cake on my decision. As far as my favorite song of Aaron’s, I’ve got to say it’s “July In Cheyenne”. Every year when I was a little kid, our summer vacation was to go to Cheyenne during Frontier Days to visit family and go to see George Strait perform and go to the rodeo and events around Frontier Days. That was around the time the movie “8 Seconds” came out so I became a big fan of Lane Frost and it really started my love for the Rodeo. All these years later to hear that song, even though the song is about Lane’s death, it just takes me back to those memories I have as a 6 year old kid and all the other years we spent time there.
You had moved to Nashville in 2008 and saw your first single, “Sweet Distraction”, chart on Billboard and Top 20 on Music Row. Favorite memory from playing at the Key West Songwriters Festival that same year?
I sure did. You know you wait your whole life and dream of that moment. I got to travel this entire country for the first time, hear my song on the radio in places I had never been. It was unreal!! As far as Key West, there are a lot of memories but I think the one that stood out the most was when we were watching a round with Paul Overstreet and Keith Stegall. The third writer in the round had lost their voice or didn’t show (I can’t remember exactly the reason). My publisher knew them and just said “David go up there and join their round”. It takes a lot to make me nervous or for a performance in intimidate me. That one def did it but it was so obvious that they had a lot of respect for me after it was all said and done.
Opening for Cody Johnson also influenced your move to Texas. Which up-and-coming Texas artists are also “old school”?
He really did. We’ve already mentioned a lot of the guys I would put in this answer but I’ll say that being in Texas I have gotten the chance to meet and even play with some other great guys that play country music the way I like to hear it sound. With guys like Randall King, Tristan Miraz, Curtis Grimes, and Wynn Williams… Good traditional country is in good hands. One guy I always loved and wish he would have had a bigger career was Kevin Denney. He is hands down one of my favorite singers.
Your Instagram meme post re: weatherman saying “dress for the 90s today” and the gang dressed as 90s country singers. Which 90s artists have influenced your playing style?
I def think I get my idea of song selection and the melody from George Strait. As far as the content of the lyric I really started paying attention to what the words said when I dug into Keith Whitley and Merle Haggard. As far as really trying to craft a lyric and really come up with a creative lyric that is out of the box and clever I have to give credit there to Eric Church and Trent Tomlinson on their very first records. Those were the two that when I heard them the first time that I realized there’s a difference in just putting words to a melody and truly truly WRITING a song. Being in the room with guys like Josh Thompson, Justin Wilson, and Michael White really helped me get to the point of writing those types of songs myself. As for performing. I love the simplicity of the stage from artist like George Strait, Alan Jackson, and a lot of the 90’s guys that yea, they had a good set of lights on stage and the changed but you didn’t have to overload of production to keep the listener interested. At the same time, you have to entertain. Seeing the energy you got from someone like Garth but the personality of someone like Neal McCoy and Daryl Worley really had an affect on me as far as knowing I can’t just stand behind the mic like a statue and sing the whole show.
A very young David wearing a cowboy hat and boots and playing the guitar. Arkansas country music natives include Conway Twitty, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Matt Stell, Justin Moore, Joe Nichols, and Collin Raye. Which female artists from your home state are on your playlist?
You know, I don’t know if I actually know of any female artist from my home state that have gone on to have any big hits or anything. I will say there is a young up and comer that I’ve taken under my wing a little bit named Bree Ogden who I think can have a great career ahead of her. But I will say, I did love artists like Lee Ann Womack, Terri Clark, Suzy Bogguss, and Mindy McCready. Those ladies had beautiful voices and just put out some really great songs that were so well written.
More than a million streams for the new album, Neon Town, which debuted on the iTunes Country Chart at number five. Within the social distance constraints, how has it been to play an album release tour?
Very interesting lol. You know you go back home to kick off the tour in Little Rock and it’s normally a sold out crowd, people shoulder to shoulder, up at the front of the stage, and roaring. Instead you have everyone having to be seated the whole show with a much smaller percentage of people in the crowd. I’d lie if I said it didn’t feel odd but the reality of it is, I was on such a high of finally getting the record out and playing them on stage knowing it was out… I was just so happy to be there and be on a stage. Knowing the first dates of the album release were back home just made it all even more special. Those were the folks that were supporting me before anyone anywhere else even knew my name. It was a very emotional night.
Your advice for new artists seeking a music business education?
Just read my story and do the absolute opposite of everything haha. But on the serious note: Just be yourself and be authentic. Maybe you don’t now who or what that is yet and that’s ok. That’s the journey and the beauty of it but the second you start chasing or worrying about what is or isn’t going to sell, you just open yourself up for failures. You def have to learn the craft of what a great song.