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Interview: Thomas Rhett opens up about getting back to his roots for new album ‘Country Again: Side A’

Thomas Rhett is one of the biggest Country stars on the planet and his music has seen him find success across the globe, especially here in the UK.

With 17 number ones under his belt, millions of albums sold and sold-out tours in various parts of the world, Rhett has built a huge fanbase since the release of his debut album ‘It Goes Like This’ in 2013. His new album ‘Country Again: Side A’ (read our review) is the first half of an ambitious new double album that sees Rhett returning to his Country roots and moving away from the poppier influences of his more recent work.

I spoke to Thomas earlier this week to find out why he decided to revisit his roots at this stage of his career, talk about the emotive track ‘To The Guys That Date My Girls’, and to discuss the possibility of an acoustic tour in support of the record…

We last met in 2016 when you played an intimate acoustic showcase at Soho House right before you performed on the Main Stage at C2C. Since then you’ve become one of the biggest stars on the planet. That must have been a crazy few years?

Yeah, it’s been wild. I remember that so vividly too. We look forward so much to the day that we can get back over there and play some shows. It’s some of my greatest memories that I’ve ever had. The last few years have been an absolute whirlwind. ‘Country Again’) will be the second record we put out since we were last over there. I’m just really excited man. I feel super blessed to to be able to be vulnerable in music and have people relate to it. Every time I put a record out, it’s one of most exciting times and I really just hope that people really enjoy what we’ve been working on the last couple years.

I think ‘Country Again: Side A’ is the best body of work that you’ve put out there…

Thank you, man. Thank you!

Over your last few albums, you’ve become known for pushing the boundaries of what Country music is and you’ve incorporated lots of other genres into the mix. Why did you decide that now was the time to go back to your roots?

You know, I’ve always been one of those artists that wanted to be progressive in some form or fashion. Over the last few records that progression extended into more pop and soul and R&B-type fields with my Country twist on it. Somewhere in 2019, I just kind of started to shift a little bit. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was but I just wanted to get back in the room with writers and write with a guitar and go into the studio and record something much more raw and organic. These songs just started falling out of me. I hadn’t really written with just a guitar and writers in such a long time. I started writing with my dad a whole lot more on this record and started to tap into the writer that I was when I was 19 or 20 years old. I’ve lived a lot of life in the last 10 years. I’ve been married for eight years and I’ve got three kids to show for it. I think I just grew up quite a bit in the last decade and for sure, over the last couple years. 2020, as crazy as that year was, there was a lot of silver linings in that year for me. It allowed me to slow down and really look at what was in front of me as the most important stuff in my life; that was my wife and my kids. When I started to really pour into that, these are the songs that flowed out of that creative process. These songs you hear on ‘Side A’ are just a portion of what’s to come in the fall with ‘Side B’. I recorded 25 or 26 songs in the studio and I think it’s some of my best writing material that I’ve been a part of in a very long time.

Thomas Rhett
Credit: John Shearer

Putting out a double album is a brave thing to do because the material has to be really strong. Did you have any nerves about releasing your music in this way or did the inspiration you felt just make a natural path to this decision?

I’ve always wanted to do a double record but I was always terrified that maybe 20 songs was too much content. I have a 15-year-old brother who is super hip and into the TikTok world, He knows everything that’s cool and he always puts my cool factor in place. I was basically asking him, ‘if I put 25 songs on a record do you think you’d get bored?’ and he said, ‘absolutely’ (laughs). That was when I decided to take these 25 songs or 26 songs, or whatever it’s gonna end up being, and split them up to allow fans to hear ‘Side A’ and take it in for what it is. Once they’ve consumed that they know that the other side is coming in the fall. That was my concept around hoping that people could listen to both records but not be overwhelmed by 26 songs at them at the same time. I think it’s gonna be really special especially if you’re just in dire need of new music. We have a lot of great new music coming out this year with this record being the first part of that.

One of the things about ‘Side A’ that excites me is that these stories you’re telling come from a place of contentment and it feels like that’s something you haven’t always had previously. What was it like to write from a place of contentment?

It felt like the first time I was writing without an agenda. These ideas were in my phone and in my head. Me and my co-writers were just really on the same brainwave and it took a lot of the pressure off. For the first time, I was like, ‘this feels good to me’. I wasn’t trying to chase something radio-friendly. I wasn’t trying to chase something that was out of another genre. These are the songs that got me into writing songs in the first place; telling a story in three and a half minutes and evoking an emotion whether that was to make you happy, or make you sad, or make you want to dance or make you just want to drink a beer. Once me and the writers got on that page songs just kept flowing out of us like water. It was crazy that every day we would write, it was like a new song that I wanted to record. It just felt so peaceful man. I can’t describe when it happened. I just feel so centered today, maybe it was turning 30 I don’t really know, but I just feel centered and I feel at peace with where I’m at musically. That’s a really fun place to be in.

One of the songs that really stands out to me is ‘To The Guys That Date My Girls’. We know you’re a family man and there’s so much fatherly advice, and a little warning, in those lyrics. What was that song like to write?

It was a very interesting song to write because I wrote it from the perspective of that’s what I think I’m going to say in five years or 10 years, whenever that day comes. But I think you don’t really ever know. There was part of me writing that I was like ‘man, maybe I’m gonna be like the tough Dad, the guy that when someone comes over to my house and asks to take my daughters on a date, am I gonna grill this person with questions or am I gonna invite them in for coffee? Am I going to give them advice? What kind of Dad am I going to be when my kids start to date?’ I wrote this song with my Dad too, which is really special. It’s kind of just a rough draft letter to the people that are gonna come over to my house one day. The gist of it is that these kids are my world so treat them with respect and by the way if their mom doesn’t like you, then you don’t really have a chance. That might be the first heart you need to woo before you start trying to get after my kids hearts (laughs). We tried to put just the right amount of tough in there, but also the right amount of humour in there. The day we wrote that song in Alabama I played it in my concert and I watched hundreds of men just crying their eyes out. I knew that night, we had something really special because I think, as a dad of daughters, there’s just something different about having having girls. They make your heart melt. Obviously, I don’t have a boy so I don’t have anything to compare that to just yet, but when I look at my girls and I think about them turning 15 or 16, it kind of terrifies me in a way. This is my precursor to the day that they become teenagers and start dating.

At least you have it all down in song form now so you can just send it along to any potential suitors in advance…

Yeah, exactly (laughs) and we’ll be buds!

Thomas Rhett
Credit: John Shearer

‘Put It On Ice’ is the song that stands out as the most different on ‘Side A’. Why did you decide to collaborate with Hardy on that track?

Hardy, and I have been friends now for a couple years. I remember when he came to town, he had so much success with the Florida Georgia Line guys and then he wrote ‘God’s Country’ for Blake Shelton. He was the guy that everybody wanted to get in the room with. I remember when I wrote with Hardy for the first time, we wrote a track on my last record called ‘Sand’ and it was almost like every time me and Hardy wrote together, we came up with something that was super unique. Even though Hardy didn’t write ‘Put It On Ice’ with me, it felt like something that I would have written with Hardy. The song was written at two o’clock in the morning on the road. We didn’t even know what the song was about. I just had this title, ‘Put It On Ice’ on my phone for two years and I just started singing that line over and over again to this track. When we finally got done with it, it just felt like it was screaming for a feature and I’ve always wanted to do something with Hardy. I got to do a feature on his ‘Hixtape’ record that came out last year. I just wanted to have him on mine and when he put his vocal on it, man, it just turned the song around. It’s a song that I cannot wait to play live with Hardy one day because I think it’ll be just a big old party.

I feel like ‘Country Again: Side A’ would really lend itself to being performed acoustically so we can really appreciate the stories and the lyrics of these songs. Might that be how you tour this record?

If you follow me on Instagram, you actually saw a lot of these songs in their very rawest form. I teased a lot of the songs on my Instagram very early on in quarantine, because it felt like it was the only way to connect with people when we were all on lockdown. To be honest with you, as much as I love playing with my band, I’ve always felt more comfortable just me and a guitar. I get to determine the tempo. I get to determine how long or short the song lasts, and there’s a freedom in just being you and an instrument. I feel like there’s a connection when I just play with the acoustic that you don’t sometimes get with a full band. There was a lot of people on Instagram that were like, ‘hey, man, we love these recordings but we would love to hear acoustic versions of all these songs’ so I think that’s something we’re definitely going to look into doing. It’s my favourite way to play music for people, just me and a guitar. I feel like you really understand how the song was formed, where the idea came from and I think you feel so much of the emotion of how it’s written. I would love to see that happen on this record.

You’ve built a really special relationship with your UK fans and every time you come over here, the crowds get bigger and bigger. What’s it been like for you to have so much support over here?

It’s been incredible. I’ve said this in interviews before, but there’s something about going to the UK, it’s just a different sort of excitement. I know that when I get to play shows in the UK, I know that I’m going to get requested to play certain album cuts on old records that I don’t remember anymore. Every time I come over to the UK, I’m always digging through old catalogues wondering which songs are going to get requested. I feel like there’s such a lyric love about my fans in the UK. There’s something about sitting down with an acoustic guitar on a stool and just playing songs, we can do that here too but I don’t think it’s as appreciated. – maybe that’s maybe that’s the wrong word – but I feel like I can do and play songs that I love off of old records with a guitar and it almost goes ever better than big hits do. I love that so much because I’m a lyric person. Lyrics are the beginning and the end of the song for me. If the lyric doesn’t make me feel something or make me want to evoke an emotion, there’s no point recording the song anyway. As far as it goes for my fans in the UK, it’s just such a fun, free place to be musical and really show off your artistry. That’s something that I miss really bad.

Thomas Rhett’s new album ‘Country Again: Side A’ is out now. Watch the video for the title track below:

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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