Your dad, Paul, is a two-time Grammy winner, having written not only for himself, but for a number of fellow country acts including Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All,” Blake Shelton’s “Some Beach,” George Jones’ “Same Ole Me,” and Randy Travis’ “Forever And Ever, Amen.” How have his songs inspired your own songwriting?
I learned a lot from the storytelling aspect of how he writes. I’d watch a movie or read some books, and early on when I started writing, just kind of write stories and then I started writing more stuff that I’d actually gone through. My dad’s process was that he had kind of a hard life growing up so he had all these really healing, wholesome songs that he would write, especially for his artist project. He wrote about how he wished his life was versus how it actually was. I think that was really healing for him. Overall, I would just say that he’s just an incredible storyteller and that he has the ability to make you step out of reality and kind of check out and really dive into a song when you listen to it.
You first learned how to play the mandolin, then drums, piano, and guitar. How has playing multiple instruments improved your musical skills?
Drums help with timing and tempo and feel. It helps knowing how to play piano and bass guitar, which I play all those, but it helps being able to play those so you can come up with different parts on different songs like bass lines going into a song that are really cool or guitar riffs or piano parts. Each instrument changes the emotion and the tone of the song so depending on what you want to go for and capture, it really helps to have a diverse knowledge of multiple instruments.
You wrote your very first song, “Death Row,” while you recuperated from a high school football injury. The song was a Johnny Cash-type tune about a love triangle gone wrong. Which other country artists have influenced you to choose a career in music?
I always loved James Taylor’s storytelling. I loved Elvis. Elvis was one of my favorite artists growing up. The Beatles were up there as well. I just loved the experimental approach to music that The Beatles took. You look back on it and a lot of people have taken little bits of what they did when they were the first ones to do it on radio and it’s kind of inspired the evolution of music in a cool way. There’s just a lot of artists like that who I really gravitate to, but always first and foremost, the storytellers and the lyrics behind something and the reason why people write music and then the experimental stuff has always been changing how things sound, which I think is really cool, so marrying those two things is really awesome.
At that point, I was pretty much auditioning for whatever was going on. I had just moved out to California and hadn’t had a lot of experience in the acting world, so a lot of that was just timing. The right thing kind of came up and I was fortunate enough to be able to work on it. It was a really popular show and music was involved and music was something that I had been born into, so it was a no-brainer. It was always the stuff that involved music that I screen tested for or had multiple auditions for.
Raised on a farm outside of Nashville. “When I’m all used up, and I’m old and grey, when the well runs dry, and my mind just ain’t the same, won’t you set me free, where the tall pines stand, where I was born to be, back in my homeland.” You wrote your debut song, “Homeland,” about your hometown (which was nicknamed Music City after the radio station WSM launched the Grand Ole Opry broadcast in 1925). Where are some of your favorite off-the-beaten-track places to write songs in and around Nashville?
I wrote “Homeland” when I was in Los Angeles and getting pretty homesick for my small hometown outside of Nashville. It was this really small country town and it was a little bit newly built and it still felt like there was a lot going on even though there probably wasn’t. I went back there one year for Thanksgiving at my parents’ place and driving back, I’d see the old baseball field where I used to play, the old road where my dad and I used to take his old ’76 pickup down to the dump and he’d let me drive when I was like 7. That truck was sitting in the backyard and pretty much hadn’t been used in 10 or 15 years and just driving back down these old country roads we used to go down and seeing this old bank we used to go to that was run down and burnt down and hadn’t been fixed since. It was almost like a ghost town of what it used to be, but all those memories are still there. So that’s kind of where that song came from. It was like once the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles wears off, you kind of see behind the curtain something special about your hometown.
I usually write by myself at the farm or I write in town with writers at their studios. It just kind of depends on where the producer’s studio setup is. My favorite place to go in Nashville is the Titans games!
Released in 2017, “Hold On” was recently certified platinum. You wrote the song about continuing to unconditionally love someone regardless of the circumstances. Being able to share a personal story on an emotional level is a big part of what makes country music so relatable. The song has become a TikTok’s go-to ‘sad song’ with more than half a million videos including it. What are some of your favorite go-to ‘sad songs’ to cover?
“I’m kinda into feet and Star Wars so figured this was the best option for #myelf! #coldfeet #fordonchord #elfontheshelf #starwars” What’s the backstory to “Cold Feet?”
If you have a significant other or girlfriend ever put their cold feet on you, it’s quite shocking, but someone you love enough to where you don’t mind that. Basically just a fun, silly way to be like “You know what, babe, I’ll let you put your cold feet on me any day because I love you that much.” It’s just being playful and having a little sense of humor about a romantic situation.
We started writing and I kept kind of singing these visuals that have to do with water. I said “I have this title idea that might work that’s called ‘Water Into Wine.’’ Water is the source of life and to take that and whether you have a substance problem with alcohol or you make stupid decisions when you’re drunk or you do things that you regret that isn’t you, how you can kind of turn a good situation into a bad situation by your habits. It’s almost a little bit of an apology that “I’m sorry I have these issues that can turn something great into something messy.” It’s a little bit of a helpless ask for patience on the other side.
What message do you hope fans take away from your new single?
The message is that sometimes I am a mess and having somebody who sticks with you through the mess and regardless of if they are perfect, or if they’re not perfect, when they do fall short, you need somebody who’s there who has patience. People need people to help them out of stuff sometimes.
Meditating. #workinprogress Musical yoga. How else have you been taking care of yourself during the pandemic quarantine?
I kind of have a lot of stress, a decent bit of anxiety here and there, especially with everything going on, and sometimes feel stuck and trapped to where I don’t want to do anything. You get into a rhythm of “I guess I’m just staying home and working here and doing nothing” and you feel a little bit caged and trapped. So to help with the stress and anxiety and just to get out, I’ve been taking long walks, I’ve been doing acupuncture, trying to eat healthy, taking vitamins and supplements to make sure my hormones and everything is in balance and my chemistry is right because you can easily start to spiral if you don’t keep yourself in check. Talking to people, doing things out of kindness, just stuff to kind of lift your spirits. Playing music is one of those things and meditating when I can try to settle my mind.
Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas,” Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper,” Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December,” and Keith Whitley’s “A Christmas Letter,” are just a few classic holiday country songs. Which Christmas songs are your favorites?
“Hard Candy Christmas” is amazing. The Merle Haggard song, “If We Make It Through December” is also unbelievable. I think the all-time favorite is “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” I love original Christmas music. I love Nat King Cole, anything Nat King Cole does is great or Natalie Cole or Harry Connick Jr.