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Interview: Mitchell Tenpenny discusses his ‘Midtown Diaries’ EP, new Christmas music and working with Chris Young

The singer-songwriter opens up about his new music.

Mitchell Tenpenny
Credit: Matthew Berinato

Mitchell Tenpenny is a Country singer-songwriter on the verge of hitting the big time.

His current collaboration with Chris Young, ‘At The End of a Bar’, is soaring up the charts and his latest EP ‘Midtown Diaries‘ has been garnering plenty of critical acclaim. With a Christmas album on the way later this month, Tenpenny isn’t resting on his laurels as he works hard to further expand his fast-growing fanbase.

I spoke to Mitchell recently about ‘Midtown Diaries’, to find out what it was like to work with Chris Young, and to discuss his upcoming Christmas album…

Before we get into the ‘Midtown Diaries’ EP, the world has gone a bit crazy since we last spoke hasn’t it?

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Oh man! I’ve been good, bad and everything in between. At first I got a little down, a little sad… a little depressed honestly. I didn’t expect to be off this long, nobody did. I found out a lot about myself during that time and grew a lot to be honest but I also found out how much I truly love what I do. When it was taken away, I realised that I live for this. I don’t just love it, I live for it, and I didn’t realise that until this happened. It was tough man but I’m glad to be back on the road, thank God, and it’s just been a blessing. We’re soaking it in and we’re not taking it for granted that’s for sure.

I felt so disappointed for you because the last time we spoke, you were preparing to come over for C2C and  felt like that was going to be a big moment for you. To have it all swept away must have been tough?

It was a massive disappointment for us. It was the first time we were coming overseas anywhere to play music. We found out on the plane that we had to land and fly back immediately. Since then we didn’t play for over a year. It was crazy man. We want to get back as soon as possible, we’re trying to trust me, but it was nuts. It was one of the weirdest things that’s ever happened to me in my life (laughs).

I was at The O2 the night everything was cancelled and it was so depressing. I just went to a bar and drank with friends…

(laughs) We landed in London and we had to get our bags and get a plane ticket to head back. We tore up the bar in London airport for sure. We were all very, very sad.

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Something good came out of this time though because ‘Midtown Diaries’ is a really strong collection of songs. This project feels like it’s the next level for you. How did you pull it together?

It was tough because I had to pick from so many songs. I had so many songs that we had written and trying to come up with eight songs that felt different enough, or that told a different story (was tough). I wanted people to be able to find their song on the record. I wanted a heartbreak song, I wanted a happy song, I wanted a love song, I wanted just that weird song… I wanted something where someone could find their song and that was tough to pick through. A lot of these songs are older, even ‘Truth About You’ is over three years old, so I was looking back on songs and trying to pick songs that I still feel like today. I’ve got a lot of songs I’ve written years ago that I love the songs but I might necessarily not be in that place anymore. It was fun figuring out what songs still related to me and what I what I wanted to say, and what I wanted to sing to make you believe it. I’ve had a lot of life change in the last few years. I’ve grown a lot so it was it was hard at first but a good challenge to pick the eight songs that we ended up picking.

I’m a big fan of ‘A Girl’s Love’. For me, when you lean into that funk and soul side of what you do, it really establishes you as very unique to everyone else out. Tell me about putting that song together…

I didn’t have a song with that kind of groove. I wrote that with Brad Tursi from Old Dominion and Jordan Schmidt, who produces with me and we’ve written a million songs together, ‘Drunk Me’ being one. Brad is a guitar player too and I just started riffing on this thing and Jordan started putting this beat behind it. It just felt so fun. Before we even had the title ‘A Girl’s Love’ or writing that song, it started with a groove for me. I love that funk groove, that kind of bluesy riff funky groove. I fell in love with that and then we wrote the lyrics to it. That song has always been a favorite of mine because it’s something that I haven’t done yet on any record or anything I’ve put out. I love that stuff. It’s just not necessarily Country so it’s a little scary sometimes do that but it’s also what I grew up loving to play. I’m glad you said that because that was my song on the record for me, just to have fun and do what I love to do, which is play guitar. I appreciate you saying that, thank you.

The days of being tied to genre seem to be disappearing, which is giving artists like yourself the freedom to be able to push boundaries and step outside of the sound that you’re known for. I feel like this song needs to have its moment…

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I totally agree. I’ve been very blessed with the freedom to venture around every corner and outside of the box when it comes to Country music for me. We’ve already started on the next record and there’s some things in there that are going to be pushing boundaries and I can’t wait, honestly.

The EP ends with ‘She Hates Me Too’, which is a really clever lyric. I don’t think I’ve heard a song written from that perspective before. What was that one like to write?

I was at a bar with another musician friend of mine. We both dated the same girl at different times. We’re friends and we’re all good, but we were just having a beer and I came up with this scene in my head of what if she was over there and we’re watching her do the same thing that she did to us to somebody else. We don’t know each other. I’m just walking up to you and the only thing that we have in common is that girl and she broke our heart and she hates me too. It was just one of those things where I made up a story in the moment that I hadn’t heard before. I thought it was unique and I ran with it. I thought it was a lot of fun and I just made it up in a bar.

I think you’re a very clever songwriter and you take your lyrics to places that I don’t hear from other artists. This EP has definitely got me excited for what’s coming next and I have no idea what to expect…

Thank you. I’m excited too. Like you said, people are allowing me to push some boundaries and I’m gonna do that. I just wanted to be different. When you say that, that’s the biggest compliment in the world, thank you! I wanted it to be different and I wanted it to be something you’ve never heard before. There’s only seven notes and there’s only so many chords you can play but I want to be able to say it a little different. That’s always the goal and that’s obviously the goal moving forward and what we’ve already started with on this next record. I’m always trying to push my limits to better myself so thank you. When you say that, it truly does mean the world.

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There’s nothing worse than getting an album and every song sounds the same is there?

Absolutely. I’ve had records that I’ve thought the same thing when I listen to them. That’s not what I want to hear. When I’m making a record, I try to think of what I would want to hear. Hopefully I get it right or I don’t know, maybe I get it wrong but that’s that’s the goal for sure.

Mitchell Tenpenny - Midtown Diaries EP
Credit: Sony Music

I spoke to Chris Young earlier in the year around his ‘Famous Friends’ album. You feature on ‘At The End of a Bar’ and that song seems to be doing big things for you. What was it like to be part of that?

Thank you. I’m such a huge fan of Chris’s voice anyway, and we’ve become buddies the last couple of years. It was a big snow apocalypse, is what we called it that day in Nashville, and I called Chris during quarantine. I said, ‘I still want to write, if there’s any way we can today?’ Everyone else was cancelling but I said, ‘buddy, I got a four wheel drive so let’s go!’ We showed up and we just started talking. Our other co-writer Chris De Stefano (was there) and Chris was telling him, ‘you should’ve seen me and Mitchell the other day at the end of the bar talking. We had a bit of a session like you got to do sometimes with your buddies’ and I said ‘what did you just say? At the end of the bar? Think about everything that starts at the end of the bar’. Chris (and my) friendship started when we met at a bar.

The song fell out in about an hour. I wanted Chris to sing it because I just wanted to selfishly have a song with Chris’ voice on it but I sung the demo. I really tried to go for that demo because I wanted to impress Chris. He called me the next day and said, ‘man, do you mind if I put a vocal on it?’ I was like, ‘yes, please put your vocal on it’. The next day he sent me one with both of our vocals on it and then the next week he said he was gonna put it out on his record. His record was done and then the next week it’s gonna be a single. It was just a crazy thing for me to be on the song with him. It’s been a minute since we really had a shot at radio so it’s awesome to to get a song that I wrote back on radio but also with Chris Young, and to have a Chris Young cut. It’s opening a lot of doors for me. It’s a huge blessing and I’m very honoured to be a part of it. It’s changing my life in good ways.

I would never in a million years have thought about putting your voices together but it works. Could there be a side project with the two of you in the future?

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Oh well thank you so much brother. I appreciate that. We might have to! I’ll let him know. That’d be a lot of fun!

I’ll mention it to him too. I’m always moaning at him for not having expanded his Christmas album, which he’s been telling me he’s going to do for years. Speaking of Christmas music, you’ve put out a bit in the past. Is there anything coming this year?

Yes. There’s a full there’s a lot of Christmas coming this year. I love Christmas music. I love doing Christmas songs. I’ve done seven in the last two years so we’re gonna add to that this year. I think you’ll dig what we did on this. We push the boundaries. I did some classics and then I wrote two more. I think you’ll dig them, they’re pretty fun.

Now that you’re back on the road touring, what has that been like?

We’ve been touring like crazy for the past four months and we just started our headline tour. It’s been a great but unfortunately we’re seeing a rise again in COVID cases so some stuff is getting cancelled. I’m just praying that this doesn’t happen again. All we can do is take it one day at a time and be safe. As far as us touring, we’ve been going for a minute.

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Was it strange to be playing to crowds again after so much time off?

It was weird. We had to relearn. It’s like riding a bicycle, I guess, but I forgot so many lyrics to my songs (laughs). Even the band, all my guys have been with me forever and my brother plays bass with me and sings harmonies, it took about a month to get back in the groove of it, and to get back on the bus life and living on the road and what that looks like every day and how to take care of yourself on the road. It was definitely a relearning process.

Have the audiences been hungry for the return of live music or have they been a little more subdued?

They’re crazy. They’re awesome. Everyone’s just had pent up anger and animosity, and they’re just letting it loose. I love it. It’s been really cool doing the bigger festivals. We did one big festival where there’s 30,000 people out there. It’s just crazy to see, as far as the eye can see head-to-head people just having a good time. I think they’re soaking it in because they know at any given moment, it can be taken away from them. Our tour, where it’s just our fans, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing shows no doubt. They’re singing every word. They’re enjoying it. The connection is… I don’t know how to explain it but it’s different. I’m just having the most fun I’ve ever had. That’s all I can say, man. It’s awesome.

Mitchell Tenpenny’s ‘Midtown Diaries’ EP is out now and his Christmas album ‘Naughty List’ is released on 29th October 2021. Watch the video for ‘Truth About You’ below:

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