Oh man, no. It definitely took some time. You’re always learning. I’ve learned so much, especially from co-writing. I love the creating process. When I started, I didn’t know who the heck I was. I was writing songs, but I wasn’t writing from my heart. I was just writing songs and writing songs, because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. I remember when I first connected with a song, and the feeling of “I just wrote that because I lived it and I experienced that and I really mean that and I’m not afraid to say that.” I’m opening up and really being who I am and figuring out who I am by writing a hundred songs until I really connect. If I were to release an album when I first started songwriting, it just would have not been me. And I’m so glad that I took a while, and I had to learn that patience. It’s good to have to wait, and really spend time developing who you are as a songwriter. I think that patience is definitely key in learning about songwriting.
What was the first song you ever wrote?
[Laughs.] Oh man, it was a song I wrote with a buddy in college. His house looked like the Animal House. We didn’t know what we were doing. We recorded it in a college studio up in Illinois. We had no idea what we were doing, and we had a student that probably didn’t know what they were doing in the studio, we were just kind of learning. But it was cool because I didn’t even think about songwriting at that point. I didn’t even know that I was songwriting. But you do have to start somewhere, and just open your mind. I grew up listening to songs because I listened to the singers, and once I really grasped the fact that you can make the songs yourself, I came to Nashville and I saw people sitting on stage at these little writers’ nights playing songs that they wrote, and I was like “whoa, so this is something that you actually can do for a living?” I was like, “why can’t I do that? Why can’t I try that?” So I locked myself in a room, and that whole summer I spent my time writing a bunch of really bad songs and trying to learn melodies on the guitar. I started whittling down over 300 songs into twelve songs for a record.
What’s the last song you wrote?
I was writing on the bus two weeks ago with a guy named Jeremy Spillman—he’s a guy that I love to write with as well. He and I wrote the Trace Adkins song with Colbie Caillat that just came out. He and I wrote that a little while ago, and he still comes out and writes with me. We just write songs and write songs. We wrote four songs on the bus in like three days. I’ve learned how hard it is to go out and play these shows and also do your songwriting as well. You gotta really be focused, you’ve got to really bring your A game. We probably got two out of the four that were really good, but it was definitely worth going down the road, and instead of watching a movie, why don’t we write a song?
What sort of things inspire you to write?
Oh man. I’m a story guy. My first song was “Raymond.” It was about my grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. I wrote it with a guy named Brian Christler—and I told him about what my grandmother was going through and how torn up I was about that, and I had no idea that we were going to write a song called “Raymond,” but it just came out and it was real. I love to write story songs, I just love it. I just like getting down there and start singing, man. Give me a groove. I don’t care how it starts, just as long as I feel it, and I really get in there and I’m not writing a song just to write a song, because there are plenty of songs out there. You gotta find something that will connect with people. I think if you really go in there saying, “what I’m doing is important. I want this to be the best that it can.” And if it’s through vibing with it and you’re connecting with it, that’s when it’s going to be real, and chase it. Chase that inspiration, whether it’s a melody, or a title, or a story or whatever it is. As long as you respect it, and give it all you got as an artist and as a writer and as a singer, that’s a big deal for me.
What’s your songwriting process like?
I think my process is there is no process. I think the process is always different. My mind is always all over the place when it comes to writing songs. I think a lot of songwriting is spent laughing and goofing off. Some of the craziest stuff is said in songwriting rooms. I mean, you’re really opening up creatively and saying the craziest stuff because you’re reaching for stuff out of nowhere, you know? It’s just like saying the dumbest stuff and the funniest stuff—we try not to take it too serious all the time and have fun with it. I think even when you’re writing a serious song you’re still going to goof off a little bit. When I was writing “Don’t Ya” somebody said something funny, I don’t even remember what it was, and we laughed for like an hour. We still got it worked out, and when it comes down to it, we got the song written.
What’s a song on Bring You Back you’re particularly proud of?
I would definitely have to say the song called “One Mississippi,” because of the journey I’ve gone on with the song. I wrote that song with Tom Douglas probably three or four years ago. I started my radio tours and I’d be singing a few songs in a conference room, just me and that song. I was working on my record probably for two years, and that song has stuck with me the whole time. It’s just been something that has stuck with the fans. It’s always been one of my most popular songs. I’m so proud of the song because it’s been a wild ride to get to that point, and this song was with me from the beginning, and it stays strong through all of it. It’s a special song.