At only 22 years old, Thomas Rhett has already made major waves in country music. He released a self-titled EP late last month (via The Valory Music Co.), featuring the singles “Something To Do With My Hands” and “Beer With Jesus.” We recently chatted with this young gun about co-writing with Grammy winners, having a relative in the music industry (father Rhett Akins), and the thrill of pranking someone with a water-balloon launcher.
Your EP did great on iTunes. What was your reaction to its success?
I was just so excited to get more music out there. Before we had the EP out, the only thing we had available to buy was the single “Something To Do With My Hands,” and we would go play shows and we would see that the fans knew the words to the songs and after the shows, we would ask them, “How do y’all know this stuff?” They would say, “Man, we’ve been watching you on YouTube for six months.” And that just sucks; you want them to have something physical to have and to listen to in their trucks and on their iPods.
We finally put the EP out and it held the number one selling spot on iTunes for three or four days. I honestly couldn’t believe it. Out of all the music that was out there, we had the top selling one. I just feel completely blessed to have had success like that. Especially on just half of a record, pretty much. I’m just really glad fans have something to listen to now on their iPods.
You got to write with some pretty huge names and Grammy winners on your EP, especially the Warren Brothers and Josh Kear. How did you get hooked up with these writers?
I’ve been writing with the Warren Brothers for a long time, and I loved how loose the writing session is; it’s not a very structured writing session. Writing with those guys, you never know what’s going to happen. I mean, those guys wrote “Red Solo Cup.” The sky’s the limit, writing with those two guys. I wrote “Front Porch Junkies” on the EP with the Warren Brothers, and Josh Kear, and Mark Irwin, and being in the same room as four of those dudes who have had so much success as songwriters has been awesome. The Warren Brothers have come out with me on the road a few times to write and they’re just great people and I love to write with them.
What is your favorite song off of the EP?
There’s a song on there called “Make Me Wanna.” I love all kinds of music, and I think that is one of the most diverse tracks on the record. It’s definitely a country lyric but it almost sounds like a country Bee Gees track. I love playing it live and it’s one of those things a lot of people seem to enjoy off the EP. It’s got a ton of views on YouTube. It’s just a fun song to dance to and to sing to. It’s got a very memorable chorus; you can learn it easy.
I think “Make Me Wanna” is my favorite track on the EP. I love “Beer With Jesus.” It’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve written. I love playing that one too. It’s our single on the radio right now.
Is there talk of a full length album coming out soon?
We’re gonna put a full-length album out in mid-March. We’re gonna have eleven tracks on the record, and the other five will come out. It will be a full record.
How has having a father [Rhett Akins] in the industry helped your own career in music?
Well, I got to grow up around the music business so it’s always been a part of my life. I got to watch my dad be an artist and I got to watch him be a songwriter. The biggest benefit is I got to watch him fail and I got to watch him succeed. I watched him go be one of the best songwriters of our time. He’s had almost ten number ones in the last two years and those numbers are just ridiculous. I’m extremely proud of him. It’s great to not only have a dad who’s done it, but also a good buddy. We write well together and we get along really well so it works out pretty good.
What was it like having a cut on Jason Aldean’s My Kinda Party album?
It was awesome. That was my first cut ever as a songwriter and I tried writing pretty hardcore for eight or nine months and when I found out that was happening … Not only was it on the album of the year but it sold around three million copies. It was just an amazing project to be a part of. Since then, I’ve got a new one on his next record, Night Train, and the song is called “1994.” So it’s been pretty cool being able to write songs and have a superstar like Jason really dig what you’re doing and cut your songs.
How did you come up for the idea for “Beer with Jesus”?
I wrote that song with Lance Miller and Rick Huckaby. I was still in college, actually, when I wrote that song. I remember, we were in the writing room and we were just talking and saying stuff like, “What would you do if you had ten minutes to talk to Jesus? What kind of questions would you try to get out there?” And then “What if you could have a beer with Jesus?” It almost started out as somewhat of a joke. We started talking about it and were like, “That would be incredible.”
It took a long time to write the song; we wanted to really write it from the heart and write it very true. The response from fans has been everything from crying to “it changed my life” and one lady talked about people getting baptized after hearing that song. There’s been a ton of stuff that’s been really crazy to hear, of what the song is doing to people. That’s why we wrote it. We wrote it to get a reaction out of people and we wrote it to make people think. I think that’s exactly what it’s doing.
You’ve opened for some pretty big names in country music. Do you have any memorable experiences on tour?
Man, every day is a memorable experience. This year has been pretty awesome, from releasing my single to getting out on tour with Toby Keith. It’s crazy to be out here with such a superstar. We get to listen to his set. His set list is twenty-two songs and literally nineteen of them are songs that you have heard. I was born in ’90, so these songs are songs that I grew up listening to. Being out here has been awesome. But my favorite stuff is the stuff that happens after the show, like the pranks that go on. The other night, I forget where we were playing, but my band has a water-balloon launcher and we took water balloons and were launching them out at a parking lot and hitting people’s tailgates. There were actually some people who wanted to fight but we got out of there in time to avoid that kind of conflict.
Do you have any concert plans for the near future?
I’ll be getting on Chris Young’s “Liquid Neon” tour this fall.
You made your Opry debut earlier this year. Is playing the Opry any different for you than playing other venues?
Oh, a hundred percent. If I’m ever gonna mess up playing anywhere, it will be the Grand Ole Opry. My nerves are ridiculous. I get nervous before every show anyways, whether I’m playing for twenty people or twenty thousand people. But there’s just something about walking out on the stage at the Opry that really just makes my stomach drop. It’s an experience you can’t really describe. So many amazing, talented artists have played there and the legends have played there. It’s almost like their ghosts are hanging around watching you and seeing if you’re doing a good job. It’s where country music started. It’s where so many great people played. Yes, definitely. Playing the Grand Ole Opry is so much different than playing any other show due to the nerves and the people that have played there.
You went from being a songwriter to being a performing artist that was wanted by a lot of record labels. Which do you have a bigger passion for – songwriting or performing?
That’s an impossible question to answer. I love songwriting. There’s nothing more fun to me than waking up at 10 a.m. and going into town and writing with some good buddies. It’s just such a fun hang. And when you write a song that you know is gonna be a hit, there’s really no better feeling than that. But there’s no better feeling than walking on stage at nighttime with lights and seeing a packed crowd, especially singing your songs and getting loud and getting rowdy. Both of them are a blast, and I can’t honestly pick between the two.
Who are some other writers that you would love to co-write with?
I’ve always wanted to write with Rivers Rutherford. Rivers has been Songwriter of the Year many years in a row. We’ve always been friends and we’ve always hung out but we’ve never actually written together. I’d love to write with Rivers. Spreading out the different genres, if I ever got the chance to write with Adele, I think I’d freak out. I think Adele is one of the most amazing songwriters out there, even though she’s a pop kind of singer. I think she’d be a fantastic hang and an awesome co-write. There’s a ton of people, but those are probably the biggest two.