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Interview: Adam Doleac on Famous EP, Neon Fools video, songwriting and life on tour

The rising country star released his latest EP in April.

Adam Doleac
Credit: Matthew Berinato

Before Adam Doleac switched to country music, he seemed destined for a very different career.

A star baseball player who played for Southern Miss in the 2009 College World Series, he began writing songs after borrowing his roommate’s guitar. Two years later he moved to Nashville, crafting hits for artists including Darius Rucker, Kane Brown and Gabby Barrett. In 2019 he was signed by Sony Music Nashville and released his debut major label EP, Famous, in April this year. He’s also toured alongside the likes of Scotty McCreery and Ryan Hurd.

I recently spoke to Adam about the EP, his new video for the song Neon Fools, how he approaches songwriting for himself compared to other artists, what he’s learned from life on the road – and who he’d like to cover one of his songs…

How would you describe your music?

Well I would kinda describe it as a lot of things combined. I’ve always been a music lover. I grew up playing drums since I was literally two years old, and I grew up listening to my dad’s records. He played drums as well so I grew up on a lot of the Eagles and Bob Seeger’s greatest hits record, which I knew top to bottom – it’s one of my favourite records. And I grew up with a lot of that influence.

Really all of my influences musically were not really country. They were John Mayer and Gavin DeGraw and Amos Levy, all those guys. And that what I fell in love with with country was the songwriting and the storytelling. The first time I heard Chris Stapleton with just a guitar and singing, I just really loved it. So it’s just combining that. Nobody’s a blank slate, I don’t think. You just combine your influences and try to make it unique to yourself.

When I first started, from the first time I sang, people would always come up after the show and they’d say, “You have a really unique voice, and it doesn’t really sound like anybody else.” So that’s what I’m trying to do – take all of this and learn how to write songs and use that instrument, my voice, as best as I can and make it unique. And so when it comes on the radio people know who it is.

You released your EP Famous in April. Was it a challenge to narrow it down to just six songs?

Yes. It always is. I write pretty much a song a day, so I’ve probably got a well of about 400 or 500 songs sitting there. It was a lot more difficult because of this quarantine going on. What I use a lot to pick songs is if I have a new song that I like I will put it into the show. And I’ll play it and I’ll just watch the fans. That’s kind of what happened with Famous – people just really loved Famous, so we put it out. That’s the meter that I use. But that’s gone away. So it made it even harder to pick songs. But I’ve got a great team around me. We all listen to these things hundreds of times before we put them out, and I think it came together really nice. It was nice to get songs from before I had signed a record deal and then a couple of songs from after the record deal and get them all packaged in one. I’m just at the point now where I feel like every song that gets released, people get to know me a little better and I love that part of it.

You’ve also just released a video for Neon Fools which is one of the tracks on the EP. Can you tell us a bit more about the song and the video?

Yeah. So the song Neon Fools, I relate to it a lot. I think it’s just a song about, you go out and you see somebody or this thing gets put in front of you where you know it might not last forever but it just feels right right now and you just wanna do it and you’ll worry about whatever happens tomorrow. And I think that’s a lot of people that are going out on a Friday or Saturday and I’ve certainly been there – we all have. And that song, I just fell in love with because it sounds… I don’t wanna insult myself but I love songs that are more cooler than I am, you know? The song just sounds really slick and cool and I just love listening to it. And it was honestly a song that I loved so much, I was gonna put it out regardless but I didn’t know how people would react. But man, people are loving that song. It has made its way all around the world and I get messages about it all the time, which is really cool.

And for the video we just basically tried to put a vibe to it. I call it a vibe video. Obviously we’re not able to do a lot with a full cast or have a lot of people right now because of the quarantine and the state of the world. It was just a piano and me and a bunch of neon lights and I thought it turned out really great. It was one of the only videos that I got a cut back and had no edits. I said, “yep, looks great, let’s go with it”, and I love it.

Were there any songs on the EP that were particularly easy or difficult to write?

I think the writing is never the difficult part. I mean sometimes it is obviously. But it’s like we were talking about earlier, the picking of the songs is the hardest part and what you wanna say. They all kind of have to go together. There’s a lot of songs that I may love but they just didn’t fit on that EP that I’ll get to later. I always say putting out an EP or a record is like making a mix tape for your girlfriend in eighth grade – it’s all gotta flow just right. And those songs just really came together top to bottom – like I said some old ones, some new ones. And then I’m glad to got to re-record a song called Mom And Daddy’s Money. I love that song and luckily Sony did too, so we put that on the EP. I’m really happy that got on there.

I wanted to ask you about Mom And Daddy’s Money as you’ve just put out Mother’s Day and Father’s Day fan videos for that song. How did it come about?

I actually wrote that song a few years ago. It was my buddy Pete Goode and AJ Babcock – they were writing with me one day and it was Pete’s title. He had this title Mom And Daddy’s Money and I loved it. I’m a big title person and I love the sound of the title. And that one was one that took most of the day to write, because when you hear the title most people giggle. They think it’s funny, they think it’s about Mom and Daddy’s actual money and really it’s just about having great parents and they’ll do anything for you. It’s one of those songs that I think in 20 years you can still go listen to and it’s still gonna be just as good and you’ll hear it the same. It’s just a circle of life from being a kid to having your kids. It’s a special one for me and it’s probably the most personal song I’ve put out. So I’m just so happy it’s on there. Playing that at shows is always cool because I feel I’m always able to spot a mom and a daughter or a father and son or a family together, and then kind of sing it to them at the show. So that was a special day of writing.

Speaking of touring – what have you learnt from being on the road over the past few years?

I think you learn something from everybody. I’ve probably played shows with 75 per cent of the artists in country music, whether they were opening for me or I was opening for them. And I always try to look forward to any opportunity to play with someone new, because even if you don’t love their music per se or they’re not one of your favourites you can always learn something from their show. Even if it’s something of what not to do. But most of the time it’s something what to do. You can take little tidbits from Ryan’s show or Scotty’s show or Darius [Rucker], whoever it is and just add them to your show. It’s always a building process. And obviously in country music relationships are so important, so on the road is the only time we get to hang out. So getting to spend time with those guys and build those relationship and some of them become some of your best friends, and it’s always a blast to hang and play shows with your friends.

Do you have a favourite song to play live?

You know it kind of changes. You play them so much that they kind of cycle in and out of your favourites. Lately, and probably always my favourite song to sing is Whiskey’s Fine. I believe it’s on the last EP. But we normally end the show with that and that is just a song, say it’s a 45-minute set and the first 40 minutes of the show could have just gone terribly. They could have been a terrible show and then we’ll get to that song and just everything is OK. You just play that song and it just feels so good. I think that’s my favourite one to sing and I love ending the night with that.

You started as a songwriter and then moved into performing as an artist in your own right. Have you found any particular challenges around that?

Yeah. I mean there’s millions of challenges [laughs]. I always say that you get told no in the music industry 15 times a day probably. I mean it’s just non-stop, always, always, always. And it’s been a journey. I’ve been in Nashville for eight years. I always describe it as a lot of nos with little yeses attached. I remember the first time I ever played for a record label. I got passed on by the record label, but there was a publishing company that happened to also be at the show and they came up to me after the show and signed me to a publishing deal. That was the first deal I ever signed. Then I got my first song on SiriusXM Radio – just little things happen and it keeps building and building. There’s lots of challenges and there’s a couple of ways to look at it. You can get upset which I do, but you can also enjoy. I’m glad that it’s happened the way that it’s happened for me. I’ve had years of playing 200 shows a year on the road and just working my butt off, and every yes that you do get after all that is just a little bit better. So I’m happy it happened the way it did.

Do you approach writing for other artists differently compared to when you write for yourself? Or is it usually fairly similar?

So I don’t get a lot of opportunities to write just for other people. So the cuts I’ve had with Kane Brown and Darius Rucker and Hootie and the Blowfish, they just happened to hear a song that I had written for myself and really liked it, and asked me if I wanted it and I said, “no, take it” and they went and recorded it. The last time, I just got a cut on Gabby Barrett’s new record, and this is a good definition of how small Nashville is. So I had heard Gabby’s single I Hope over the weekend, and I had a write on Monday with my buddy Zach Kale. And I walked in and I said, “Hey, have you heard this song by this new artist Gabby Barrett?” and he just started laughing. And he goes, “Yeah, I wrote it”. So that’s just a lot of how Nashville works. So he goes, “We’re writing on Wednesday, me and Gabby, if you wanna jump in”. And so I did a couple of days later, and that was the situation where I actually got to sit down and write for Gabby and try to get a song for her. I’d had that title Hall Of Fame for a little while, but didn’t realise it needed a girl singer for that title, ‘if love had a hall of fame’. So we wrote that for her and she killed it and I’m happy it made on the record.

You were a baseball player in college – has there been anything from that experience you’ve applied to your music career at all?

Oh yeah. People ask me this all the time. I think there’s so much that you apply and that helps, actually. I played Division 1 baseball, we were top 25 in the country. Every day your schedule is very regimented – you have to handle your time, you’ve got practice, you’re balancing school and work and baseball. And then it’s a little bit different from a performance but when you’re playing you’ve got thousands of people yelling at you and you hit a home run, you kind of live off of it. The main thing I would say that came from it, moving to Nashville is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Without some type of work ethic… you almost have to enjoy being told no, because without that side of it I don’t know how you would ever do it unless you just got lucky. But I attribute a lot of that, st least to being as successful as I’ve been thus far in Nashville.

You’ve posted quite a few cover versions to Instagram during quarantine. Do you have a favourite song to cover? And who would you like to cover one of your songs?

My favourite song that I cover, right now, again those kind of change. I think probably Drops Of Jupiter by Train. Love that song. We kind of do a cool mashup of that song and Whiskey’s Fine, actually. Who would I like to cover one of my songs? I mean John Mayer’s probably one of my favourite artists so I think that would probably be the coolest – if I happened to hop on Instagram one day and saw he’d found one of my songs and sang it that would be pretty cool [laughs].

How have you been keeping busy during lockdown?

Well I’m from Mississippi so we’ve been spending time in Mississippi, then down in Florida and now back in Nashville. Trying to make the rounds a few weeks at a time so we don’t go too stir crazy staying in one place the whole time. Other than that I’ve still been writing every day. I’ve probably written more songs because of the COVID-19 than I would have if it had never happened. So lots of songs, lots of putting time in in the studio. I’ve actually had a studio in my house for a couple of years but never really used it and now I’ve been forced to learn how to do it and getting better at that side of things. So a lot of that. Spending some quality time with loved ones which I normally would never get which has been one upside of this whole thing. I think I’m better off than a lot of people. Half of my job, the touring side has gone away for this year unfortunately, but I’m still able to write every day and I still have a job which is fortunate. I know a lot of people have been laid off. I think we’re still inventing ways every day of what to do without going crazy but that’s how I’ve been.

Are there any plans for another EP or even an album in the future?

Yeah, I think there’s plans for all of that. I think we’re gonna put one or two songs out, probably the beginning of August, so one more kind of summer release. And then I think the whole year is just working towards an album, probably top of next year, middle of next year. It’ll be my first record under the Sony label which’ll be exciting. And until that I think we’ll probably put some songs out here and there, see what sticks, see what people like and put an album together that way.

And finally… when we can travel safely again, do you have any plans to come over to the UK?

You know we were working on that earlier this year. I’ve never been. It’s at the top of my bucket list. I can’t wait to come over there. So yeah, as soon as we’re able to start planning that again, absolutely. I will be there as soon as I can get there. I’ve heard from friends and everybody who’s been there that country music is pretty awesome over there and the fans are even better. And so it’s on my bucket list, on top of my bucket list, and I will be there as soon as I can.

Adam Doleac’s latest EP, Famous, is out now on Arista Nashville/Sony Music Nashville.

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