Texan singer-songwriter Eric Paslay has written a string of hits for some of country music’s biggest stars, including Jake Owen, Lady Antebellum and Rascal Flatts.
He’s also found success in his own right; his debut album reached number 4 on the Billboard Country charts in 2014, whilst his single Friday Night was a top 5 hit on the Country Airplay chart in the same year. This summer, Eric released his EP The Work Tapes, which include five rough versions of some new material he’s been working on ahead of his second album.
I spoke to Eric ahead of his UK tour as part of the CMA Songwriters Series (alongside Randy Houser, Angaleena Presley and Michael Tyler) and his headline show at the Borderline in London as part of Country Music Week. Read on for more about his writing process, dealing with writer’s block, and why Tim McGraw is ‘the He-Man of country music‘…
Hi Eric! What can the audiences in the UK expect from your shows?
Just some great music, y’know? And good songs. I’ll probably just be grinning from ear to ear the whole show! I’m excited to be at all these cool venues in the UK and get to hang out with the fans I’ve yet to meet. I’ve met a few UK fans over in the States and they’re always wondering why I’m not in the UK yet, and I’m finally here. After years and years of dreaming we’re finally getting to do this.
What’s the response from your UK fans been like?
They were booing me! That’s good here, right? [laughs] No, I’m kidding! We’re thrilled to be here and I’m looking forward to all the fans. It really is cool to be here and get to share country music – I’m glad the UK loves country and we get to travel. Music’s the coolest passport ever.
You’re over here for the CMA Songwriters Series – of the artists you’re appearing alongside, is there anyone you’d particularly like to write with?
I love writing with everybody – I sound like a politician, but if someone’s there for the right reasons I love writing with them. We’ve been promised some songwriting time over at Abbey Road Studios which I’m super-excited about. I don’t know how that happened but I will definitely be there hoping that we get some great songs. I think I wrote with Angaleena years ago but it’ll be fun to write with them and some other UK writers. Collaborating as a songwriter is always cool because you have two, three, four different people that think of a title and you chase it and write it as good as you can, and hopefully you do it for the right reasons.
If you had to pick a favourite song of yours that you’ve written, which would it be?
It’s like Picasso, only paint with blue [laughs]. I’m grateful for the ones that people know, just because it’s proof that you should keep doing this. But I’m definitely excited for new music coming out and it’s always great to reveal the art you’ve been working on and seeing people dig it. Hopefully the whole world digs it and can enjoy it and have some great memories made by playing it. I think as a songwriter your job is to write good songs and hopefully you get lucky and catch some great ones. And hopefully as a singer I go in and record as well as I can and people love it and I play it for years to come. It’s always rewarding when people get to hear your music, but every song leads to the next. There’s a lot of songs that are better than hits that I have that people may never hear and that’s OK, but maybe they will some day.
You’ve just put out your new EP The Work Tapes, could you tell us a little about how that came about?
I’ve been going through making a new album – I just finished up the vocals for it – but my wife and I were listening through songs I’ve written. I don’t know if they call them work tapes everywhere, but she and I sit down and write a song together and record it and the melody that goes with it so we don’t forget what we wrote. It’s just a raw recording on a cell phone or a computer in the middle of the room and we push record and sing the song together.
If anyone says it’s real lo-fi and bad recording, well that’s the point – you’re absolutely right, they are! It’s a look behind the curtain at writing songs; this is the first honest recording of the song and you might hear my co-writers in the background singing harmonies. The main purpose was to make sure fans had music. It’s been a few years since my album came out and I’m working on one right now, but we thought let’s give them some music right now and hear what we work on and what songs sound like and how many great songs there can be that don’t always come out. I hope they enjoy it and it’ll tide them over for a little while.
You’ve just been out on tour with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, what was that like?
It was awesome. Tim is freaking amazing, Faith is amazing… My wife got to come out with me and thhe whole crew and band – every part of that experience was awesome. I gotta run faster and lift more weights now because Tim is in such stinking good health. He’s like the He-Man of country music! He just stands there and I can just tell he can crush me with his small eyelash. He’s so strong. He just looks at you and winks and your body breaks [laughs].
No, he was just fabulous just to get to hang with, and he’s encouraging. He puts out such great, great songs like Live Like You Were Dying and Humble And Kind. As a singer I strive to have a musical career like him where he’s able to put out rocking songs and ballads and everybody turns it up. If you can’t tell I’m still floating from being on that tour. Hopefully we’ll open up some more shows for them in the future. I might have to sneak into one of their road cases, tune the guitars or something…
You mentioned you’re working on a new album, when can we expect to hear that?
What’s next is new music in the new year and hopefully an album coming out in 2018. Hopefully I’ll get to hear some mixes while I’m over here too. The guy I’m producing the record with is going to send them over and hopefully we’ll see what they sound like – whether I’ve messed it all up or if they sound good the first go around. It’s always a fun creative process – does it need something else or is it ‘push meet on everything, thank you, just my voice and guitar’ll do’? So I’m working on that right now and just great songs – love songs, story songs, couple of heartbreakers that are love songs… a little bit of the heartbeat that makes a thing called music and hopefully everybody that has a heart and a soul will enjoy it.
Could you tell us a little bit more about your writing process?
I’ve written songs by myself but in Nashville we’re definitely guilty of co-writing a lot. It sounds weird when you schedule creativity, like ‘what are you doing on November 3rd at 10.30 AM? Well I’m writing with you!’ It sounds contrived but if you have the gift for writing songs it is a muscle. So you show up and you get to hang out and have a cup of coffee with someone you respect and whose music and writing you love, and you just see what finds you that day.
I’m definitely guilty of starting to play the guitar and piano and sing the melody and saying ‘if this was the soundtrack to a movie what would you expect them to say, or not to say?’ If it sounds sad you can make it sexy – those minor chords to me are usually sexy rather than sad. But usually it just kind of falls out of the sky. You gotta write what’s in the room. Occasionally you get your phone and write down a title you got or a melody you thought of while you were driving, but most of the time the most honest ones just kind of fall out of your mouth and hopefully you pushed record then and try to interpret it later.
Do you ever get writer’s block?
I think if you ever get afraid you’ll get blocked. I’ve never not had ideas but that’s why it’s good to have co-writers – you don’t have an idea but you get melodies and then they light the fire again. It’s like, ‘I’ve already said I love you thirteen hundred different ways so how else can I say it?’ Or ‘I miss you’. And they’re like, ‘Fun! Write I miss you songs, and then we’ll go back to love songs’.
But I think the greatest songs are about love – that’s what everybody’s looking for, even when they’re jaded to it. So if you have writer’s block hopefully you stop thinking so dang hard and write a song that you like singing. Just sing whoa-whoas for three minutes and then move on from there! But I’m sure some day in life I’ll feel like I have nothing to say and someone’ll say, ‘hey, you should sing that’. [sings] ‘I have nothing to say to you darling, so I’m not gonna write you a song’. [speaking] There’s no such thing as writer’s block. You got me thinking down that tunnel now so hopefully I’ll write a song for all those people that feel blocked. Blame it on the jadedness, blame it on anything but you.
So many things can get in the way of a heart being joyful and getting to use gifts for the right reasons. I think if you ever chase money or fame through music you’ll end up empty, and I try not to do that. You can get caught up in the game of ‘what will radio play?’ Radio plays what they’ll play but the most important thing is honesty and fun. That’s kind of my goal for this album and a goal for my career is just to be as honest as I can be in that time of my life, and hopefully people love it and turn it up.
Who are your favourite people to write with?
There’s so many talented people around the world. I can’t believe we’re getting to write a few songs at Abbey Road while I’m here and soak up some of those good vibes. There’s great writers in the States that I write with a lot, like Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Dylan Altman… the list goes on and on – Nicolle Galyon, Shane McAnally. There’s just so many great writers and it’s just always fun to see what you catch that day. The biggest thing is you just have to keep writing songs and writing songs and see what gets heard. I always say if one gets heard it’s a million miracles. The fact that a song gets heard – there’s so many things that have to align for that to happen. It really is a wild adventure and you realise you don’t have control over any of that. Some people might say you do, but you still have to have a lot of blessings, a little bit of luck and work your butt off to do that. I’ll just keep doing that and hope that other things line up [laughs]. We’re getting to write it still, y’know?
Catch Eric on tour in the UK on the following dates:
Wednesday 4th October 2017 – Sage Gateshead 2, Gateshead (part of CMA Songwriters Series with Randy Houser, Angaleena Presley and Michael Tyler)
Thursday 5th October 2017 – The Borderline, London (headline show with support from Temecula Road and Jillian Jacqueline)
Friday 6th October 2017 – St Luke’s, Glasgow (part of CMA Songwriters Series with Randy Houser, Angaleena Presley and Michael Tyler)
Saturday 7th October 2017 – St George’s Hall, Liverpool (part of CMA Songwriters Series with Randy Houser, Angaleena Presley and Michael Tyler)
Eric’s self-titled album, which features a bonus CD of The Work Tapes, is released in the UK on 13th October 2017.