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Interview: Tebey on songwriting, Denim On Denim and UK fans

We spoke to the Canadian country star on his recent trip over to the UK

Credit: Tebey

Tebey has rapidly become one to watch among country fans.

Already a huge star in his native Canada, he’s won praise for his blend of musical styles and talents as a songwriter, with hits for the likes of Justin Moore, Pixie Lott and One Direction. He wowed UK audiences at Country Music Week last October and was one of the artists that many fans were eager to see performing as part of C2C; Country To Country earlier this month prior to the event’s postponement due to coronavirus.

While he was in the UK, I quickly caught up with Tebey to talk about his debut single Denim On Denim, how he approaches songwriting and what surprises him most about audiences here.

How would you describe your music?

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Oh, my goodness. Probably progressive country. I’ve been making records for quite a while now – had a good amount of success back home in Canada, where I’m from. I kind of wear two hats because I’ve got my songwriting that I’ve done for other people and have been able to write some hits for some other people, including some Brit acts as well. But yeah, it’s good to be here. I’m excited to grow the fan base over here in the UK.

You were last here for Country Music Week in October – how did you find that?

It was great! Yeah, it was fantastic. I loved being over here. I literally came for C2C last year, for the first time kind of on business – just meeting people, just trying to introduce myself to as many people in the country music industry in the UK as possible, and then here we are this year coming back for C2C and got some really awesome placements and stuff. So it’s slow and steady wins the race. It’s just growing the brand, growing the fan base here in the UK year after year.

Was there anything that surprised you about the audiences here in the UK?

They’re very attentive. Yeah, extremely attentive. I love it. But just in general what really surprised me was the fact that people are familiar with my songs. Which is crazy because I’m 4,000 miles from home. But it’s been really cool watching people discover the music, because typically over here there’s not a lot of country music radio. So they’re discovering the songs through social media or through Spotify or a streaming platform or word of mouth.

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Your debut single over here is Denim On Denim – can you tell us more about that?

Yeah, I mean Denim On Denim came out a little while ago in Canada. It did really well for us. I think it was recently certified platinum back home, something like 8 or 9 million streams now, which is pretty awesome. It’s just one of those records that I didn’t know what the response was gonna be because it’s quite progressive, but for whatever reason people are really connecting with this song. It’s been really fun to watch the reaction it’s gotten from people back home and hopefully we get a similar reaction over here in the UK.

You’ve also just released The Good Ones with Marie-Mai. Can you tell us a bit more about how that came about and what it was like working with her?

For sure. The Good Ones is a song that was originally not written as a ballad, but we started talking with my team and we were like, ‘maybe this song should be a ballad and we should find a female to sing with me’. And Marie-Mai’s name came up – she’s a massive pop star in the province of Quebec and French is her first language, but obviously she speaks English and we were looking for someone a little bit different. I feel like everyone’s kind of singing with the same people these days in the country genre, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to find someone outside of the genre. She came along and she was nice enough to sing with me and it was a big hit for us.

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Is there anyone else you’d like to collaborate with in future?

Oh my gosh! I mean I just love working with different people. I’d love to collaborate with an English artist at some point. I don’t know who that is or what genre it is but I’m all about collaborations. I’ve had a tremendous amount of success over here writing songs for artists like One Direction, and I had a number one with Pixie Lott and JLS. So it’s been fun working with other people and let’s see what happens in the future.

Does your approach change when you’re writing for other artists compared to when you write songs for yourself?

I mean it’s different if I’m writing a pop song as opposed to country, but I just try to write great songs. Because at the end of the day you never really know where that song’s gonna land. Some of the biggest songs I’ve ever had as a songwriter have just been written from the approach of, ‘I just wanna write something that’s awesome’. So I just try to write something that doesn’t suck to be honest with you, and see what happens [laughs].

Do you ever get writer’s block or anything like that when you’re writing songs?

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All the time. All the time. There’s times when I can’t write anything for three or four weeks. It’s weird. It’s because everything’s already been said, at the end of the day, right? You’re trying to find a unique way to say ‘I love you’ or find a melody that hasn’t been written. I mean people have been making music for thousands of years so everything’s already been done. So you’re really just trying to get lucky and catch lightning in a bottle as we say in Nashville. So I’m just trying to find a different way to say what’s already been said a million times. So yeah, I definitely get writers’ block.

You’re hopefully coming back over to the UK for Buckle & Boots later this year. What can people coming to see you there expect?

Man, just a lot of energy. I’m really excited. That’ll be my first official full band show. I’m flying my band and crew over from Canada and we’re gonna have a bunch of fun. I mean, I’ve been familiar with the festival for a while. Brett Kissel, fellow Canadian, played it last year, so I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about the festival. The fans in that part of the country are – I don’t want to say starving for live country music but they’re craving it, and I’m glad that we’re able to bring some over.

You also just wrapped your headlining tour in Canada. What did you learn from your previous tours that you put into that?

I’ve learned that it’s very nerve-wracking when your name is up on the marquee, and you’re the one who’s responsible for selling the tickets. I’ve been an opening act on many tours over the years but this was my first headlining tour. It was great. We had numerous sellouts on the tour so I was really proud of my team and everything we’ve been able to accomplish, but at the same time in the back of my mind I’ve got so much farther to go. I wanna be able to do the same in the UK. I’m really determined to break into the market over here. I have a tremendous amount of respect for people like The Shires, Ward Thomas, domestic English acts that have really been able to make a go of it, as you guys say. So I’m just excited to take what I’ve learned from getting to the headliner status in Canada and move that over to the UK.

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You’ve been working in the music industry for several years now – first as a songwriter and then as an artist. What is it that’s kept you going for this long?

Oh my gosh! Just love of the music. Anyone who says that their motivation doesn’t wane is a liar. I mean, it’s a tough business. I’m one of the few fortunate ones – I’m able to have success and make a pretty good living doing this, but there’s a lot of people that are not as fortunate, you know. It’s a really hard business. I think it’s important to give yourself a break every now and then because it can definitely consume you, especially all the BS that comes along with being in the music business. But I’ll go through times where I’m not feeling very motivated and have writer’s block or whatever, maybe, but then I’ll eventually get through it and write a great song.

You know, Denim On Denim is the prime example of that. It was kind of a really dark time, I was going through a lot of stuff and I was having a hard time writing songs. And you just gotta push through and eventually we got Denim On Denim and it became a really big hit for me and kind of changed the game.

What song do you wish you’d written?

Oh my goodness! Wow. That is… That is a tough one, my goodness. I mean, shoot, anything by The Beatles, let’s just toss that in there, you know? But I’m a huge Ed Sheeran fan. I mean, Shape Of You is a jam. I’d take that one. That’s one of the best songs I’ve heard in the last 10 years, easily. But yeah, I’ve got so many songwriting crushes. I just respect songwriters so much. Because it really is hard to write a hit song. If it was easy everyone would be doing it, you know?

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What do the next six months or so look like for you?

Yeah, coming back for Buckle & Boots, I mean that’s coming up real soon. Coming back for Country Music Week here in the UK in October. Hopefully being able to do a UK headlining tour here at some point very soon. I’m just, as I say I’m dedicated, I’m determined to break into the market, so I’m gonna come over here and do a tour and if I’m lucky people will show up.


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