Singer-songwriter Griffen Palmer came to the attention of the world when he participated in NBC’s series ‘Songland’.
He won his episode of the show after his song ‘Second Guessing’ was chosen by Florida Georgia Line, who went on to record and release it. Now Palmer is stepping into the artist spotlight with the release of his debut album ‘Unlearn’ on Friday 28th April 2023 via Big Loud.
I spoke to Palmer to find out about his time on ‘Songland’, discuss the crafting of his debut record, and to find out his plan to take his music international…
Let’s start off with ‘Songland’. You won your episode of that show and your song ‘Second Guessing’ was recorded by Florida Georgia Line. What was that experience like?
That was super cool. Mostly because it was my first time on TV ever. Everything I experienced over that filming process was new to me and working with those songwriters, they’re people you look up to in Nashville but also just in songwriting in general. Working with Shane (McAnally) and pitching songs to Ryan Tedder was a dream.
The feedback you received on your episode was incredible. That must be really validating to hear your songwriting being praised by people of that calibre?
Yeah. When you’re going up to perform the song you’re just mostly focusing on doing a good job and not forgetting any words so I was really taken aback when they said all those comments. There’s even some stuff they said that didn’t make it on the episode and I just remember floating off set at that point. Even a lot of the crew who see that show being filmed week-in-week-out were like, ‘you know what? We see a lot of those (performances) and that’s pretty good feedback’. I felt really lucky to get that feedback.
With Florida Georgia Line having already recorded ‘Second Guessing’, did you have any reservations about putting your version out?
The song really did become a big part of my story of how I got here. I was really connected to that song because initially I wrote it for some friends of mine so I already had this personal connection to it. It just kind of made sense. The dominoes were just falling in a way where I just really wanted to include it with my first batch of music.
You’re releasing your album ‘Unlearn’ this week. You wrote a lot of it with Geoff Warburton, who you’ve been collaborating with for a while. Tell me a little bit about the creative process of this record and picking these 10 songs for it…
It’s been a bit of an interesting process that I don’t think is typical for a first album because we’ve had so long to work on it. I moved to Nashville four years ago but I knew Geoff before then when I was workinga restaurant job back home before I was doing this professionally. We really just had four plus years of creating songs and gathering different types of sounds and ideas. By the time it the record and the A&R process was here, we had to narrow down from hundreds of songs. The world was our oyster at that point and it was just about picking the songs that felt right or felt unique, or unique to me at least. It was overwhelming at first but I feel good about what we’ve done.
That must be really hard when you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of songs. How do you go through those and pick what makes sense for a record?
You really have to just take yourself a step back and listen to them as if you were listening to them for the first time. Some of them are ones you’ve written within the last few months that are fresh in your brain, and some of them are years old. Putting them up to each other objectively is kind of tricky but that’s where a great team around you comes in with Joey Moi, my producer, and my management who helped A&R the project. Everyone has their favourites so when I bring them to the table, it starts to make a bit more sense.
Ahead of the album release fans have heard ‘Second Guessing’, ’25 to Life’ and ‘Unlearn’, all of which show different sides to what you can do. Was it important for you to showcase that versatility?
I think it’s important through the lens of what does a new fan want to see? Do they want to see all these different aspects of you? But also, it’s just fun as an artist to try different things, especially when it’s your first project. You don’t really know how everything’s gonna go or how everything is going to be perceived so it’s a chance for you to just try something different and try something new and go from there.
One of the pieces of feedback you received on ‘Songland’ was that you have an ability to give a song a title that means something totally different when you listen to it. That’s evident on the track ‘Put Me Through Hello’. Where does your songwriting style come from?
Sometimes a song is written like a puzzle, where you know what it wants to look like at the end but it’s just about figuring out how to navigate all the pieces together to get to the final point where you want it to be. For a song like ‘Put Me Through Hello’ I had that idea and that hook twist all at the same time so I knew where I wanted to go with that. Then it’s about creating this narrative and this story, and this feeling, that matches up with that. There’s also songs like ‘Unlearn’, which is obviously a very personal song and very true to my life and my upbringing, which you don’t have to write in the same way. You can never really approach a song the same way every time. You have to have an idea and then follow it, and use whatever tools you have in your toolbox to make the song work at the end of the day.
This record is very consistent. It’s quite clear that you and Geoff have a really creative partnership. How do the two of you work together and what does he bring to the table?
Geoff’s obviously an incredible songwriter in his own right. Before I was ever doing this, he had already had multiple pop number ones and a Grammy nomination. He brings this maturity to the room where he can take all my crazy out of the box ideas and keep me on track a little bit. We’re just so comfortable with each other because we were friends before we were ever collaborators. A lot of this record we wrote during the pandemic and we were staying at the same house during the stay at home order. It was a really comfortable situation where we could just wake up every day and write a song with no pressure because at the end of the day, we were still going to be friends and hang out. I wasn’t worried that I had to have a great day every day and neither was he, and that makes a great environment for songwriting. We like to say in Nashville, or as songwriters, it takes daring to suck to write a good song. You have to have 100 bad ideas before you have a good idea, and when you have someone like that in the room, who you just trust completely, it makes it really easy to have those 100 bad ideas to get to the good one.
What was it like moving from Canada to Nashville to chase your dreams?
It was a bit overwhelming at first, because I really knew nobody here. Big Loud was really great about that and they said, ‘in your first year here, just figure out where your favourite coffee shop is, make some friends and try to make Nashville feel like home’. My first focus as a songwriter was not even the songwriting, it was just become comfortable in the environment I was in and they made it so easy to do that. Once you kind of develop your crew in town, the people you like writing with and hanging out with and stuff like that, everything just gets so much easier.
There’s a perception from fans of the genre that Nashville is a buzzing community where everyone is trying to make it as a singer or a songwriter. How have you found it?
Like any town there are different aspects of it, but more so than anywhere I’ve ever been it really is a music town. It’s hard to go anywhere without finding people who want to be an artist or want to be a songwriter. Every place you go to eat food, or get a drink or whatever, there’s people chasing their dream. It’s a very exciting place to be if you’re someone like me, who lives and breathes all that kind of stuff because it’s constantly around you. There’s always a reminder that you’re in the right place and that things can happen here. The energy is great in this town.
Does being in that environment make you strive to work harder or is there a competitive edge?
For me more personally, it’s more inspiring than anything. I feel like if you get caught up in competitiveness, it can get really overwhelming. The fact that you can just go out for lunch somewhere and you hear a song that stops you in your tracks by someone who’s relatively unknown, or is just playing for tips out in a bar, it does remind you that you gotta keep working and that could be you. Your song can do that to someone. If you go into it with that energy that it’s possible, it’s not like there’s a huge mountain you have to overcome. If you keep doing the work and keep writing songs, you’re in the right place and everything else just has to line up for you.
Do you have plans to take your music outside of North America?
Yeah, I hope to. I love traveling. A lot of why I think this career is so enticing to me is the idea of the unknown and the adventure, seeing where it can take me and not knowing where I’ll end up. I really hope to go to Europe and tour everywhere that will ever want to listen to my music. That’s a really exciting idea for me.
I think your music would do well here so you definitely should prioritise coming to the UK…
All right, I’m gonna get everybody on it. Telling the team, it’s time to go to the UK!
What else is in your plans this side of Christmas?
The next fun part is playing this music live for people. Right now I’m on tour with Lily Rose. We still have a couple more weekends of that coming up and then some festival dates coming up this summer… CMA Fest in Nashville and then hopefully we can get on tour in the fall. I hope this next stage of my year is just sharing this music with everyone and then just going wherever they want to hear me play it (laughs).
What’s the one thing you want fans to take away from this record?
As an introductory project, I hope they just learn a little bit about me and they latch on to some of the different nuances of this music compared to other music. As an artist that’s getting ready to put out a lot more music, you just hope to connect with people and that they like what you’re doing. I would just hope that they see a little bit of me and relate to it and relate to the stories of the songs, and get excited for more music.
Griffen Palmer will release his debut album ‘Unlearn’ on Friday 28th April 2023 via Big Loud. Watch the video for the title track below: