Thomas Rhett’s career in country music has been a roller coaster of sounds and styles. He started out with a pretty solid country rock record and since then, has dabbled in just about everything from pop and R&B to hip-hop, EDM and soul.
Since day one, we’ve always leaned heavily towards Rhett’s more country material and still do. Coming out of college, I played the shit out of that first record. And while there has been shades of country in his more recent material, “Drink A Little Beer” and the unreleased “To The Guys That Date My Girls” immediately come to mind, for the most part, there’s a lot left to be desired. Obviously, whatever he’s doing now is working for him, but it’s just not my cup of tea these days.
However, in a recent episode* of Taylor Lewan and Will Compton’s Bussin’ With The Boyspodcast, Rhett went into detail about the start of his music career, some of his influences, and where he’s at now with his songwriting. But most importantly, he didn’t hold anything back.
He admitted that when he was 19-years-old, just starting out and trying to make a name for himself, he wanted to be Eric Church in every single way.
“As a new artist, when I was just starting out, I wanted to be Eric Church. Everything about me wanted to be Eric Church. I wanted to dress like Eric Church, I wanted to wear Ray Bans like Eric Church on stage, I wanted to write songs like Eric Church, and I tried it. My whole first record was a straight up country rock and roll record produced by Jay Joyce who produces all of Eric’s albums. And as I got into it, I was like “dang that didn’t work for me” and it’s because I was trying to be him, I wasn’t trying to be Thomas Rhett.”
Who could blame him? Eric Church is the man. But for Rhett, trying to be someone else was never going to make him the country music mega-superstar that he is today. And it sounds like he figured that out pretty early. You know how many Sam Hunt wannabes are still trying that copycat game? It just doesn’t work.
But it’s what he said afterwards that really confused me.
“First record in, two songs that died at 15 and I said ” if I’m going to make a living at this, I need a hit” so sometimes artists get to that point where they just don’t care if it doesn’t say anything, I need something that feels great on the radio, because I need people to know my name. And a lot of people would call that selling out, a lot of people would call that a cop-out, but you want to make a living or you don’t. And I’m not saying if I had kept on trying to do what I was doing it might not have worked, but I needed some traction.”
Died at 15? You know how many artists would kill to have a song even crack the Top 40 on country radio? Hell, you know how many women in country music would kill just to get on the radio at all? Rhett’s debut album It Goes Like This went platinum, and saw three #1 singles in addition to the first two that cracked the top 20. To act like you couldn’t make a living with that kind of success is utterly ridiculous. Even if every song he ever released in his entire career only cracked the top 15, he would still be wildly successful compared to just about everybody in the world trying to make a career out of music.
And to be honest, I would call this extremely poor advice to aspiring country music artists. Be true to yourself, be authentic, I’m 100% on board with that. Do whatever you can to get #1 singles on country radio because that’s the only way you can make a living out of this? That’s an ass-backwards approach.
He then went on to explain how his dad wrote his first two hits, and by hits Rhett means #1 singles, but how they still didn’t feel like him, he still wasn’t really being himself. It wasn’t until his second album, Tangled Up, that he really felt like he was coming into his own, admitting that this traditional country style was not in his DNA as an artist and a songwriter.
Fair enough. Maybe the debut album wasn’t truly you, but to downplay it like it wasn’t successful? C’mon man…
When he was asked if the country music landscape was going to shift back towards the traditional, he said that it has already has, and that even he will be getting back to his traditional country roots on his next record. He called it growing up and maturing, and maybe it is. After all, my tastes have changed a lot since I was 25.
“I think we’re already starting, even me, even though this last record did have a lot of crazy production on it just because that’s kinda who I am at the core… but next record, all the songs I’ve been writing for my next album have been way more singer/songwriter, way more back to my roots, just way more, I’m not even going to call it… it is way more country what I’m writing right now. I’m going to go to what I fell in love with in the first place.”
At the end of the day, it sounds an awful lot like he’s just admitting to riding the trend wave away from traditional country, and then back again as it continues to shift away from Florida Georgia Line, but either way, if he’s going back to traditional country, I won’t complain.
If songs like “To The Guys That Date My Girls” is any indication, we might be in for something good.
*UPDATE: The episode of the podcast has since been removed from Apple Podcasts and the Bussin’ With The Boys website.