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Interview: Ben Johnson opens up about Track45, writing for other artists and his 2021 goals

The singer, songwriter and producer chatted to us about his latest projects.

Ben Johnson
Credit: Turn Table Music

Ben Johnson is a singer, songwriter, producer and one third of sibling trio Track45 – alongside his sisters KK and Jenna.

The trio released their EP ‘Big Dreams’ earlier this year and Johnson has been enjoying plenty of success as a songwriter with number one smash ‘One Of Them Girls’ for Lee Brice and Dierks Bentley’s current single ‘Gone’.

I caught up with Ben recently to talk about Track 45, discuss his success as a songwriter and to find out what he wants to achieve this year…

Track 45 recently released their EP and the song I’m drawn to is ‘Come On In’, which you wrote with Gabrielle Mooney. I spoke to her last year when she released her version of the song. Why did you decide to put the Track45 version on this EP?

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We wrote that song about four years ago so it’s been a really long time. When we wrote it, Gabby was actually a pop artist and we were not even sure if we’d ever get to release songs. We put a lot of ourselves into it and she put some of herself into it as well. We finished it and we thought it was a great song, we hope someone gets to hear it one day. Fast forward four years, and we haven’t even really talked to her, and she had no idea we’re doing and we didn’t know she was doing it. At the same time, we hit up each other like, ‘hey, we’re gonna release this song’ and she was like, ‘oh, I’m releasing it too’. We went from maybe no one will hear it to hopefully everyone will hear it. It’s pretty funny how that happened. We love her version thing and we think it’s great. Hopefully, she loves ours as well.

The two versions are so different. I’m presuming you hadn’t heard each other’s before you recorded them?

No, I’d never heard hers. It’s funny, we really hadn’t talked at all in four years. I hadn’t heard hers until it was released and she hadn’t heard ours either. Thankfully they’re both good (laughs).

Ben Johnson
Credit: Turn Table Music

How did you decide on the five songs that you eventually put onto the ‘Big Dreams’ EP?

The four originals were songs that were really real to us and true stories from our lives, and songs that we just loved that we had written. The Dolly (Parton) cover, was a song we were really scared to do to be honest. It was a song that we felt like we had a responsibility almost to release. Last year, everyone had tough times and everybody went through a lot, including us. We had some really, really tough times last year and that was the song that got us through a lot, the Dolly version, we listened to it on repeat non-stop. It inspired us so much that we said, we feel such a connection to this song that we wanted to try to make it our own and release it on our project, and hopefully just put that message of hope and positivity out there. We set aside a week to produce it and then we ended up spending five weeks on it. We said, ‘it doesn’t matter how much time or money we put into it, if it’s not right, we’re not going to release it’. Thankfully at the end of five weeks, we played it for our team and everybody gave us the thumbs up and we felt confident that we hadn’t we hadn’t messed it up too much (laughs) wo we fortunately got to release it.

What is it like writing with your siblings? You obviously get on and are close. What’s the dynamic like?

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It’s funny, because we’ve been doing this for a long, long time. We started right before high school for me and KK was probably 10 years old. The only thing we ever did was write songs in high school with each other. We’d never co written with other people or anything. We just wrote. We’d sit in our basement with our little computer and our instruments and we tried to write songs. We’ve been doing it such a long time it’s like riding a bike to be honest. It’s loud and it’s confrontational but at the end it’s so much fun because you’re getting to create with people who you trust and who know you like no one else does, and they can call out your BS really quick (laughs). They can go like, ‘that’s a terrible idea!’ and you don’t get your feelings hurt. There’s nothing like it and it’s a lot of fun.

At the heart of what you do is your harmonies. Is it easy to figure out which harmony sits where when you’re putting the songs together?

It’s pretty natural. We started singing harmony really around the kitchen table when we were growing up, which sounds crazy and cheesy, but our family would just sing harmony. We’d sing songs and just all try to figure out the harmonies and it was almost like a challenge but we’d do that so often growing up. When we started singing together in a group out performing it was really, really natural, just falling into those places that we knew from just singing around the kitchen table.

Outside of the band you write for other artists and you produce. I read that you’d been working with Kylie Morgan, who briefly made it  to the UK last year. What has she been like to work with?

Oh, man! It is a joy and a privilege because we have been friends for about five years now. She actually just sent me a picture yesterday of the first day we ever met. She had nothing going on and I had nothing going on but we instantly just connected over writing songs. I wrote with her so often for the first three years of her career. I wrote the song that helped her get her deal with Shane McAnally. I was just involved from the songs standpoint for so long that when she was signed to Universal, and was about to release her first project, it was just a dream come true for her to trust me to help produce it with Shane. I feel very fortunate to be part of that.

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Ben Johnson
Credit: Turn Table Music

Looking through all the credits you’ve had so far, I see you’ve also been working with Ryan Griffin who is a talent I’m keeping an eye on. What’s that been like? I get the impression he’s pretty laid back…

Yeah, he’s a Florida boy so he’s real laid back with a southeast vibe. He’s great. I wrote a song called ‘Going Going Gone’ with him in summer 2018. It was a really fun write and we’ve written a lot of great songs over the years together. When you get in with them before they have anything going on and before they have deals, and then you get to see the songs you write with them, help them succeed and get record deals and all those things, it’s just a really gratifying experience to know that you were a small part of changing someone’s life like that. He’s a great guy.

What would you say so far has been your favourite song to be part of?

Maybe a tie between two. The song called ‘Believe’ by Justin Timberlake and Meek Mill was a very personal song to me. I wrote that chorus at a time when I really wanted to give up. I was really down on myself and I wrote that song to myself saying, I believe in you, you can do this. Every time I hear that song, I get chills. Two years from the day, I have a voice memo of saying, ‘I believe in you’ singing that chorus… that song was released to the day. You can’t make that kind of stuff up. That was a really, really special experience. A song called ‘Give Heaven Some Hell’ for Hardy is just a special song because you see how it’s impacted so many people’s lives. We get messages all the time from people saying how it’s brought comfort to them, and how it describes someone they loved, who they’ve lost, so perfectly and how it’s given them strength to go through some really hard times. That’s just incredible to get that kind of feedback from people. That’s a really special one as well.

Do you have a preference in terms of writing, producing or singing?

Well, I think the focus has always been the band. Everything else has honestly come from trying to make that dream work. It’s like, ‘oh, my gosh, how can we get people to recognise us? Well, maybe if we write hits for other people that will help us? Or maybe if I help produce this person, I’ll meet this person who might help us’. That’s always been the dream. That’s my favorite thing to do, to just be on stage singing with my sisters. There’s nothing like that. Can’t beat that.

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When are you going to be able Track45 over to the UK?

There’s no hard dates yet but we do have some summer dates in the US. We’re holding our breath that those work out. We did the virutal C2C last year. As soon as possible (we want to get over) I can tell you that.

What other plans do you have this year?

I’m a big goal setter. Every few weeks, I write down my goals. I checked off two of my goals this year already. I had the number one with Lee Brice. One of my goals was to have a number one country song. Another one of my goals was to be able to release a radio single with our band and we just did that. The week it was released, we were the most-added artist on Country radio, which is beyond even what I dreamed. I want to get a triple play this year, which would be three number ones in one year. We’ve got this Dierks Bentley song ‘Gone’ and the Hardy song ‘Give Heaven Some Hell’. My other goal is to have a pop hit so I’ve got some things in the works for that. Hopefully, if I can check off one of those, I’d be happy (laughs).

That Dierks Bentley song is a cracking song. It’s the best song he’s done in a while…

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Thank you so much. That’s a really crazy story on that song. That was a song we wrote in summer 2019, Niko Moon, Nicolle Galyon and I. We wrote it, sent it into our publishers and never heard anything. Literally nothing. We thought, ‘oh, well, there’s another song that we’ll never hear released’ and literally never thought of it again. A year and a month later, October 2020, I get a call from Christina Wiltshire, who works at Warner Chappell, and she said, ‘hey, I was going through some old songs and I found the song ‘Gone’ and I sent it to Dierks Bentley’s manager’. I was like, ‘oh, well, maybe Dierks will like it’ and she said, ‘oh, he likes it. He’s recording it next week and they’re making it the radio single in three weeks’. I was like, ‘are you kidding me?’ That’s so rare to see something like that happen. Props to Christina and props to Dirks for hearing the magic in that song because so many people had passed on it over the year. I’m so grateful that’s out with him and he absolutely crushes.

 It just goes to show that you never know where anything is going to end up…

It’s so surreal man. It’s like pinch yourself moments because Dierks growing up was always one of my favourite Country artists. I love bluegrass music. I had a whole phase of my life where I was so into bluegrass music. His ‘Up on the Ridge’ and all those albums where he literally was bluegrass… I had so much respect for him. He was one of the first Country shows I ever got to see. For one of my heroes to record one of my songs, much less make it a single, that doesn’t happen. That’s that’s not even real life. It’s crazy.

Track 45’s EP ‘Big Dreams’ is out now. Watch an acoustic performance of ‘Met Me Now’ below:

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