Vetted songwriter and emerging artist Adams Sanders bet the house, and everything else, on his debut full-length album, What If I’m Right. Released May 21, the project is steeped in the sounds of his childhood, spending summers with his father in Music City. As a product of the ’90s, Sanders steps into his solo career with a fresh take on the reminiscent sounds of that genre-defining era of country music.
“That’s my bread and butter,” he beams to American Songwriter through the phone. “I have always enjoyed songs that had double meanings. You take a hook and flip it, and then can tell stories in a cool, unexpected way that makes them sound like hits.”
The Lake City, Florida native moved to Nashville in 2009, and spent the last 10 years on the roster with Big Yellow Dog where he made a name for himself as a co-writer of two No.1 hits in 2015—Cole Swindell’s “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey” and Dustin Lynch’s “Hell of a Night.” When Shenandoah cut his song “Then A Girl Walks In” to sing with Blake Shelton on their 2020 collaborative album, Every Road, the ’90s baby’s music dreams came full circle.
“That one was pretty surreal,” Sanders admits. “I remember telling my dad, I needed Shenandoah’s music to move to Nashville and chase my dreams, and now they need mine to further their music career. I think it’s my favorite cut simply for the nostalgia of it.”
This album is pivotal for Sanders and his journey from singer/songwriter to artist.
He describes his journey to this moment as “a process.” I was focusing on my brand, what I wanted to say as an artist,” Sanders explains. “I knew how to write commercial country songs, but needed to understand what I needed to say, that other people weren’t saying”
Over the years, he tested the market, employing social media to share clips of songs, and see what fans gravitate toward. Following his debut single in 2014, “Nothin’ To Do But Drink,” he continued to release songs as they came to him up through his 2018 self-titled EP.
When he hit 100 million streams across his digital platforms, Sanders decided it was time for a full-length. By relying on his audience, the artist feels he is capable of shifting the landscape of independent country music.
“For so long, anytime you were looked at as an independent artist, there was an asterisks next to your name, like not validated,” he explains. “Now, the conversation around independents are changing, and labels aren’t quite as an important, and that’s the way it should be. Through my conversations with Spotify, Amazon, Apple, they are rallying behind that. As I like to say, the proofs in the puddin’—people resonated with this music with no budget whatsoever. Fans decide, and it levels the playing field.”
Sanders co-wrote all 13-tracks on What If I’m Right. There are songs dating back to 2015, and some he recorded just days before heading into the studio to record.
His single “Bible Verses” employs the classic double-entendre to detail the right and wrong ways of dealing with a breakup. “Do What We Do”, written with Brice Long and Jesse Heimer, is an uptempo ode to the livestock farmers, and “Daddy Jesus and Earnhardt”—penned with Brock Berryhill, Cole Swindell, Taylor Phillips—rings like an anthem for NASCAR fans. “In Case You’re Listening” speaks directly to the listener. Crafted with Josh Mirenda, the Y2K-esque song sounds like a less vengeful version of Toby Keith’s “How Do You Like Me Now?”
“Country music is always evolving and changing,” says Sanders. He wrote, “Make Em Wanna Change” with Adam Craig and Dallas Wilson which exhibits his unique contribution to modern country music. “I hit something here that works well for me. It’s a perfect pendulum swing, with elements of what is relevant today without being too stuck in the past.”
The title track, penned with Lynn Hutton and Jacob Rice, captures the spirit of this project. He says, “I love ’90s songs, but I really love energy,” he says. “The bigger stage, lights, the bigger energy for me. So my thoughts were ‘Let’s take ’90s country and put it in an arena.'” He looked to The Band Camino for this energy and structure and ended up with a sound he described as “Camino Country.”
Lyrically, the titular song holds a dual meaning. It details a guy and girl taking a leap of faith in their love, leaning into their feelings without fear of what’s next. Leveraging everything he had to make his dreams a reality, the artist wonders, “What if my whole vision since I was 3 years old is about to come into fruition?
“There is a deeper undertone here,” says Sanders. “To fund this project I sold my whole catalog because I believe in my career that much. I’ve had opportunities and success, but probably not white-hot career yet. There’s probably people who would’ve been discouraged by now, but I’ve always felt confident in my timing, sharpening my sword. I felt like this project was God saying to me, ‘You were right all along.’”
Sanders continues, “I’m really blessed and excited to be in this position. I moved to Nashville to be on top of the country world, and I’ve accomplished half of that. My hope is that this project helps bring me all the way there.”
Listen to Adam Sanders’ debut LP What If I’m Right, here.