In this episode, PausePlay's host Zac Monson sat down with the musically talented Thomas Rhett. The country singer-songwriter discussed his family life, writing music with his dad, genre-bending, hearing his music on the radio for the first time, and much more!
I'm Zack Monson welcome to a very special edition of Stingray PausePlay here in the Universal Music Canada offices in Montreal with a guy who you know already, Thomas Rhett.
Thomas: What's up?
How are you man?
Thomas: I'm good. How are you?
Great to see you!
You’re looking shiny and alive and enjoying kind of spring. Oh, I guess spring to you here is not a really big deal because you’re probably in sunny places all the time, right?
Thomas: Well you would think yeah. Nashville, this is about as good as Nashville gets. That’s where I live, in Nashville Tennessee. And springtime right now means about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. So, it’s a little colder than Nashville.
Thomas: But, it feels great!
From songwriter to singer-songwriter
It’s nice today. You know, as one of the biggest stars in country right now you weren’t always in that spot.
Starting as a songwriter, kind of moving towards this artist, what kind of brought on that desire to go from songwriter to front man?
Thomas: Man I was I was in college and a little little little college in Nashville and um I was 19 years old, really trying to figure out what was I going to do with my life because all my friends were going to be doctors, lawyers, they were going sell real estate or insurance and I was like I don't know that I would be good at any of those things and so I started writing songs and and I've kind of been around the music business my whole life because my dad's saying country music in the nineties and still to this day is one of the most renowned songwriters in Nashville.
Thomas: and so, when I was 19, I started writing songs and um, and I got a developmental publishing deal which meant like we're going to pay you almost $0 but you still need write songs for us.
Yes so I'll never forget getting my first ever cut basically what that means as an artist records one of your songs and Jason Aldean recorded a song of mine called ‘I Ain't Ready to Quit’ and he put it on his ‘My Kinda Party’ album.
Which is a great album, yeah!
Thomas: A great album what's and I'll never forget the feeling of just being like man maybe I can write songs for a living if Jason will cut one of my songs he would cut one and so I started to get a few more cuts in town and and when I when I would hear the the records I would good man what would it sound like if it was if it was me singing them and me putting them on the radio and trying to do that thing and so I really worked hard for a couple years and uh by the grace of God signed a record deal with Big Machine Records in 2011 and it's kind of just been a crazy whirlwind since then so.
Hearing his music on the radio
And do you remember the first time you that you were… I mean like where were you, what were you doing when you first heard one of your own songs on the radio? Whether it was one you wrote or one you sang?
Thomas: Man, I was driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and I was in the car with one radio reps I was on this thing we call radio tour.
Love them, yeah!
Thomas: Which is where you basically drive around and and play songs for every radio station in the country and there was a programmer out towards that way that said they were going to play my song at like 2:30 or whatever in the afternoon so we were just like dialed in like waiting and waiting to listen, and one of the most insane experiences of my life and I often get asked like ‘does it ever get old hearing yourself on the radio?’ The answer is absolutely not!
Thomas: Every time I hear my song on the radio it really is um, you just remember how grateful and thankful you are to be able to just sing songs and and and doing for a living so.
Absolutely! It doesn't matter how many times our song is put in the radio, your next song might not, I mean look you’re Thomas Rhett, I’m going to say there’s a pretty good chance your songs are going to get played at this point Thomas!
Thomas: No but there's a chance for sure!
But you just never know!
Bringing his family on the road
And being Thomas Rhett, you must you know you're on the road all the time, you're playing shows constantly, and you've decided to kind of bring your family with you. What's that like and why was that such an important decision for you?
Thomas: Man, you know I got to travel a ton with my dad growing up and those are some of the best memories I have as a kid. Just getting out of school on a Thursday and hopping on a bus and going with dad to play in the middle of no-where county fairs in Nebraska and Kansas and I just had such a love for watching the stage get put up, for watching soundcheck and then watching watching dad go do his thing and so now that I get to do it it's really important to me to bring my family on the road because my dad did for us and I just feel like it keeps us closer. I don't miss quiet as much. You know people say that life goes so fast when you have kids and that is, and I didn't really believe it but now that I have them.
One hundred percent!
Thomas: If don't see him for a week they are saying completely different words and they look different!
Thomas: And so, I was like so y'all got to be with me. I'm not missing any of this stuff so.
His children love his music
And what do they love to listen to? Are they into country?
Thomas: Well, I was, when we get in the car if I if I play anything but my music my three-year-old freaks out!
So, it has to your music?
Thomas: it has to be my music! So, like I’m just really sick of my album already because it's all I've listened to…
Thomas: In the car for the last like six months. Every time I get in the car, she's like ‘play daddy song play daddy song!’ Um, but they listen to everything man like they they listen to a bunch of pop and clean hip-hop.
Yeah! Where you can find it yeah!
Thomas: The edited track versions of songs and um, but know they they love music, they love to dance, they love to sing, they play like little baby pianos and guitars
Thomas: And it's been really cool to to kind of just show them what I loved listening to growing up.
Absolutely, and it's kind of nice that they want to hear your music!
I mean that's some cute stuff man.
Thomas: Because if they didn’t, we’d have a problem.
Yeah you might not put it on the album right. They’re your testers!
Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20's question
So, we asked the last artist that we had in to ask you a question. The artist is Rob Thomas of matchbox 20.
Thomas: Oh my gosh! Are you serious?
Absolutely my friend!
Thomas: Dude, matchbox it's my jam!
Dude he is, have you met him?
Thomas: I've never met Rob.
He is one of the nicest, funniest people. Like I want to co-host a show with him. You have no idea, he’s the best!
So, the question is:
Rob: Hey guys, what's up? I'm Rob Thomas and this is my question for you. You know it's your last day on earth. Are you a) in a ball in the corner crying somewhere or are you b) living it up and going out making every bad decision you were scared to make before?
Thomas: I'm on a beach.
Thomas: I’m on a beach with my family.
Thomas: With no sunscreen but not getting burned.
I mean you might get burned.
Because I figure it’s the last day on earth it's probably has to do with the Sun. I'm just saying!
Thomas: Yeah okay exactly.
Okay, on the beach.
Thomas: On the beach somewhere man. Just being with people that I love. That’s what I’ll be doing on my last day.
That’s the right answer, I feel like. That's the correct answer yeah.
Center Point Road album
Obviously, we have to talk ‘Center Point Road’. Country is not my wheelhouse but man, this is a well written, well produced, well-crafted album. The whole thing!
Thomas: Thank you! I appreciate that!
Do you have a favorite moment from kind of creating this project?
Thomas: Um, it's always interesting going into the studio because I think being first and foremost a songwriter I even if I took a year off I would still write songs weekly like I, it's it's something like, when an idea pops into my head I have to… have to call some some my songwriting buddies and be like I have to we have to write this today. So, I usually write all my songs on the road because when I get home it's strictly family time for me like when I get back on Sunday I try not to go in and write Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. So, I've had a lot of great songwriter friends of mine who have been with me basically for a year or two on the road writing this whole record and so most weekends we come home with like six or seven you know new written songs and so by the time you go into the studio you're working with like a hundred and fifteen songs that you wrote that year.
Thomas: And your labels going well we need you to whittle this down to about 14. So, it's kind of like literally like leaving kids behind. You know?
Yeah, of course it is!
Thomas: Because you put so much work and time in those those songs when you get in the studio and you're on your last session and you're like all right we got three songs to cut but we have eight songs to pick from. Um, it's really cool how the session players and your producers really get to dive into those last few songs and really to be like man we've, we've got some of that on this record, we've got some of that, but we don't have this let's really dive in and like
really record this. And, and those are my favorite moments in the studio take taking a demo that you thought it would be that way forever and then completely doing something different worth of recording.
It's like I don't understand how it happens. I really don't understand how songs are written first of all.
You don't need to as long as it happens.
Thomas: You walk in… how do you walk into a room with an idea and you come out with something. Like it's really, it's really minds blowing!
Thomas: And the same with the studio. I mean I love being in the studio I love getting to create I love getting to take songs and turn them into something that you never thought they would be so.
The songs that don't get chosen
And what are you doing with the songs that you don't use? You putting them in a hole somewhere for you to pick from later? Or you trying to sell them off to somebody else? What do you do with those songs?
Thomas: I mean half and a half. I mean that there's songs that I definitely wish we could have recorded but just didn't fit the slot or whatever. Um, but I'm one of those artists that will that will definitely pick a song that I wrote five years ago and put it on a new record.
Thomas: The first song on this record is called ‘Up’ and it's a song I wrote three and a half years ago, and I wanted to record on the last one but it didn't work and so now we and we put it on this one. and so, songs that are meant to be heard will find their place at some point so.
Genre bending & country music
In 20, you know, 2019 Thomas Rhett is so far from 2012 Thomas Rhett…
Thomas: Oh yeah!
That musically you know it's, some of the songs in the new album could be Bruno Mars cuts.
Could be maroon 5 cuts.
With all this kind of genre bending and crossover what makes a country song a country song?
Thomas: To me it's all that story, man. Uh and I think country music ever since it was invented, has always been about telling a truthful story whether it actually happened to you or you know somebody had happened to. Um but I really choose to write songs that I've personally experienced because I feel like I can really dig back into my like fifteen-year-old self or eighteen year old self and figure out what was I going through then and is there a song idea around it. And so there's a lot of a lot of songs in this record that are stemmed from ideas that happen in high school or in college or being 10 years old on the football field or whatever it is and I love getting to write those songs that make you feel an emotion in three minutes whether you're crying at the end or you're jumping at the end or you're dancing or you're happy or you're sad but to me telling a truthful story is what the root of country music is to me!
Writing his song VHS
I think that the song that kind of stuck out the most for me as unexpected
Right! It's like 80s synth-pop…
Thomas: It is!
This album. So, how do you start writing a song like that? Are you starting at the same way that you would write a straight country song? Do you know that it's going to be an 80s synthy-pop song when you start it? How does that progression happen for you?
Thomas: Man, a lot of this. A lot of times songs just happened by accident. I remember when we wrote this song we were one of the few that I wrote in town in Nashville I was with um Amy Watch I don't know if you know she is but she wrote like ‘Thinking out loud’ for Ed Sheeran ‘Castle on the hill’ like a genius songwriter, Jesse Fraser, who's my producer and Ashley Gurley who I've written a ton of songs with and we tried like five or six different ideas that day and then usually when your brain is that fried that you're just like play something different like and then that's what he started playing was just 80s synth-pop and we just put a country lyric over the top of it and that's kind of what our mantra has been over the last two records just like I'm country to the core I love to write songs that tell a true story but at the same time I like to party man I like to jump around and yeah I like to dance and I mean I've seen Bruno Mars seven times in concert so it would.
Didn't you see him like 4 times in like 12 months?
Yeah that's crazy and I mean when you when you're when you're that they give a fan somebody it's hard not to just be like what would it feel like if we did something like no I mean for two years we covered 24-karat magic in our concert and it's so funny when people show up to a country show I think people know this about about us by now because we've been doing this kind of thing over two years.
Thomas: But every record I always want to try something a little bit different. Whether it's going more down like a Tom Petty Lane or going down like a 6/8 50s doo-wop lane. Like I just love taking things that I love and trying to make them unique to me, and VHS is that one on the record that when you hear you're going to go what what genre am I listening to but if that song doesn't make you feel good and happy then there’s something wrong with you.
Well yeah, so it's not country.
For me it's not country but man I felt good at the end of the song!
I was smiling the whole way through it so for me that's a success!
Making music with his father
Obviously, you come from a big musical family your dad being who he is. He's your writing partner.
He's opening your shows now.
Do you have a memory of the first time writing a song with your dad? I'm sure that you guys jammed as kids. I know you played drums in his shows but when you first sit down to actually write a song what was that like?
Thomas: There's a video of it actually. A home video, we shot on one of those 1990s camera. Um, me and dad sat down and wrote a song called ‘A piece of wood’ and it was about how a guitar is made.
Thomas: And it is god-awful but that was the first song me and dad ever wrote.
I’ll be the judge of that! When you say there’s a video, do you mean there's a VHS cassette or I can google that?
Thomas: You might be able to google it actually!
Yeah? Okay. There's my afternoon right there!
Thomas: Exactly um but no but that's that's where my love I feel like for songwriting began. Because when when you're that little you're just writing goofy songs about whatever.
Thomas: But growing up you start to learn how to craft a song and now me and Dad if mean that I've written I think four number ones together as a father and son and it's really really unique to get to work with your dad and it not be a a head-butting…
Thomas: … thing we're actually at great teammates and not only is a great great father but a great friend and a great co-writer so.
He must just be so proud of you man.
Thomas: He is!
He just must be glowing!
Thomas: He’s also just nervous. Like when we do award shows he’s just like please just do good like I don't know if I can handle it if something bad happens at this award show.
Thomas: And I’m like if you're nervous, you're going to make me that much more nervous. So…
His favorite song by his father
Yeah, right! Out of all the songs that he's written, can't be one of yours, can't be one of his, what's your favorite song that he's written for somebody else?
Thomas: Um, there's two and both were recorded by Blake Shelton. ‘Honey Bee’. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that song!
Oh, I love that song!
Thomas: It, it lyrically never going to change the world but it's, it is the epitome of just an amazing up-tempo country song to me and then another one he wrote for Blake Shelton called ‘I lived it’. It was Blake's like last single that he put out but when I first heard that song on the radio I didn't even know that dad wrote it I said I said that sounds like dad's life story in that song and when my dad really digs in and writes about his past it's just it's pretty dang pretty special. Yeah!
Favorite up-and-coming artists
And with the new generation of country who are the kind of up-and-coming artists that you love right now?
Thomas: I mean there's so many…
There's so many yeah!
Thomas: John Party is a good buddy of mine I've gotten to…
Who’s on the new album, right?
Thomas: Yeah. I've got to become really good buddies with Luke Combs, who’s absolutely killing it. Devon Dawson. I don’t know if you know who Devon Dawson is. Danielle Bradbery, Maren Morris and um...
Man, Maren Morris…
Thomas: Maren is absolutely on a new level!
Thomas: A new level! Yeah!
Thomas: Yeah, man. There's so many artists that I find…
You've worked with her a few times now. Right?
Thomas: Yeah, we collaborated on my last record and hopefully we had to do it again so.
Yeah! Man, Thomas I mean, again, I told you I'm not huge into country but I'm huge into you.
Thomas: I appreciate that!
I think you’ve got the correct attitude to music you're not sticking yourself in the old-school twang country box.
You're doing whatever you feel like.
And every time it's fantastic man!
Thomas: I appreciate you saying that.
I can't wait to hear even the next record however I’m sure you got a couple years in this one!
Thomas: Thank you so much.
Listen to Thomas Rhett on Stingray Music
You can hear Thomas on Stingray Music’s Hot Country, and of course, the Bro-country channel. Jump over to our mobile app and our webplayer, find the magnifying glass search icon, type in Thomas Rhett to find the 20 channels we play his music on.