Brock Gonyea understands it’s not the 1950s anymore. Yet, the 25-year-old artist believes there is still room for the traditional country and Rockabilly music that defined his rural upbringing in upstate New York.
“My great grandfather played fiddle, and after that, my grandfather and his brother learned to play country music, and then my father passed it to me,” Gonyea tells American Songwriter over the phone from his hometown, nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks. As Big Machine’s latest signee, and soon-to-be Nashville resident, the young artist has already identified the gaps in contemporary country that he plans to fill by reviving age-old traditions.
“For me, it’s about keeping the stories alive and honest,” says the artist, perpetuating wisdom beyond his years that establishes his retro-contemporary style with conviction. “I’d like to hear more authentic experiences from the country—not so much city life and parties. For people who grew up like me, it’s easier to relate to down-home roots and small-town growing up in the sticks vibe.”
Gonyea’s debut EP, Where My Heart Is, illustrates his rural upbringing with five vintage vignettes.
“‘All Night Long’,” Gonyea says, “fell from the country heavens.” Piecing together this EP, the artist gained access to Sony/Tree’s vaults and unearthed this unrecorded song by Mel Tillis and Webb Pierce from the 1940s. The idea of performing a song once performed by Pierce—one of his heroes and one of his grandfather’s favorite artists—captures the very spirit of this neo-traditionalist navigating a commercially country world. The emerging act comes by his vibrato honestly, and it lends itself well to this buoyant tune about another love-done-gone.
“It sometimes doesn’t feel like a heartbreak song because of the faster tempo and rockabilly melody,” he says. “I listen to Webb Pierce pretty consistently and have always loved the song ‘I Ain’t Never’. When I first heard the Webb recording of ‘All Night Long,’ I really paid attention to the arrangement and instrumentation. I slowly realized they must have been recorded at a similar time or even the same session,” the young artist marvels and adds, “Making ‘All Night Long’ a must for me to record.”
Though “All Night Long” is the only track without Gonyea’s songwriting credit, he feels connected to it through the ancestry of country music. Breathing new life into a decades-old artifact, the emerging artist hopes for a roots music reckoning—reminding modern country musicians of their origins.
He feels particularly proud of the second track, “My World Turns To Silver.” Formed in the Rockabilly fashion made iconic by the likes of Elvis and Johnny Cash, the glistening song depicts an idyllic person who Gonyea envisions himself with down the line—a woman who “walks into the room and turns it silver.” The artist says, “The idea of using all of the shiny references was sparked from Elvis Presley’s ‘When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again,’ particularly the line Gold plated tile for your every step across the floor. To me, it creates this incredible visual.”
The title track, “Where My Heart Is,” hit Gonyea like a “magic thunderbolt.” Inventorying all the spots in his hometown that host a lifetime of memories, the lyrics feel especially poignant as the young artist packs his bags for Music City. The chorus paints a portrait of life in Tupper Lake: chainsaws running, to guitars strumming. He penned this introductory collection in the same village where his grandfather and father and uncles —all lumberjacks by day—learned to play country music. In their spare time, Gonyea says, “threw parties and played country music classics all through the night, sometimes even into the next day.”
He continues, “Although I was never able to meet my uncle or my grandfather, the stories and cassette tapes (of their parties) I’ve been given really helped me find my niche in country music. I truly owe my writing style, love, and appreciation for traditional country music to my family and my upbringing.”
Producer Julian Raymond (Glen Campbell, Insane Clown Posse, Fastball, Cheap Trick) assembled a core band of Time Jumpers steelmaster and Musicians Hall of Famer Paul Franklin, acclaimed upright bassist and Mark Knopfler vet Glenn Whorf, Academy of Country Music Guitarist of the Year Tom Bukovac and Emmy-nominated arranger/keyboardist Tim Lauer. Together, they coalesced Gonyea’s retro-inspired soundscape through a modern lens. With reverence to their forerunners, they honored the traditional sounds with proper instruments like an upright bass, steel guitar, and fiddle.
However, embracing the luxuries brought about by the 21st century, Gonyea and his team of collaborators recorded the tracks with modern microphones for a more dynamic sound. Thrilled by the results, Gonyea says, “In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, recording techniques were in their infancy, and it was difficult to hear some of the instrumentation in a lot of those recordings. Although we are using some of the old equipment from that time, we are hearing that equipment so clearly. It was an incredible experience and a recording style I hope to continue to utilize in the future.”