With five No.1 singles under his belt and producer credits on two of the biggest country albums in 2021—Thomas Rhett’s Country Again: Side A and Morgan Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album—Matt Dragstrem’s breakthrough success was sealed on an upward trajectory when he signed to Big Machine Music.
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“My story is similar to a lot of Nashville songwriters,” Dragstrem tells American Songwriter. “Fall of 2005 at the Bluebird Cafe, I saw country music Hall of Famer Jeffery Steele playing his latest Rascal Flatts No. 1 [song]. It was an inspiring show and definitely sparked my interest of pursuing songwriting as a career path.”
A self-proclaimed “late bloomer,” Dragstrem did not start co-writing songs until his sophomore year at Belmont—starting with TV and film. It wasn’t until he graduated that the songwriter began to pursue his country/pop music career.
The Illinois native landed his first No.1 in 2014 with Florida Georgia Line’s “Sippin’ On Fire.” Justin Moore brought “You Look Like I Need A Drink” to the top of the charts in 2016, followed by Blake Shelton’s “I’ll Name The Dogs” in 2017. Dragstrem saw a double-header in 2020, beginning with Luke Bryan’s “One Margarita,” and then another Thomas Rhett cut, “Be A Light.”
“Be A Light”—featuring Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Chris Tomlin, and Keith Urban — is one he and TR wrote on his tour bus with Josh Thompson and Josh Miller.
“We wrote it about the world of social media climate at the time and how it’s worth it to be a ray of light among the noise of comments and criticism,” says Dragstrem. “We could never imagine the song would be so impactful. It was a timely song and I’m grateful to have been part of it. TR was the pioneer of having all these amazing artists on it. It turned out better than I ever could have imagined.”
In an ever-evolving pop/country landscape, Dragstrem says he never knows exactly what will resonate as a “hit.” Instead, he focuses on authenticity—delivering his truth in the hopes that others might find theirs within it. “For me,” he says, “if you are true to who you are and create what you feel is special there’s a good chance a lot of other people will feel the same too.”
While co-writing, Dragstrem learned how to fill in the gaps in the writers’ room. He has played the guitar most of his life, so he finds himself often functioning on the music side of the songwriting craft. But, through years of experience and success, Dragstrem enjoys each aspect of the creative process.
“I’m a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none,” he says. Depending on the collaboration, he says, “I try to insert myself in a way that might not be my co-writer’s individual strengths.”
The vetted songsmith warns against being “too precious.” He says, “The more I’m not needing a song to work out the more things work out.” This reverse psychology leads him to approach the process with an open mind, allowing inspiration to flow freely. He doesn’t “beat [himself] up” or “get too attached.”
Dragstrem’s songs have been recorded and released by A-List artists such as Tim McGraw, Maren Morris, Jon Pardi, Dan + Shay, Dierks Bentley, Lady A, Cole Swindell, and Brothers Osborne, along with G-Eazy and Charlie Puth—with whom he achieved a Top 40 hit. This track record speaks to Dragstrem’s trans-genre talent, making him a not-so-secret weapon in the evolving soundscape of Nashville.
“I’m thrilled to be part of the Big Machine crew,” Dragstrem says. “I’ve known Alex Heddle and Mike Molinar for many years. As far as goals go, I would love to explore the LA scene more and have more of a presence out there. I’m a little superstitious sharing my goals but let’s just say I have high hopes with this team and I’m very confident we can make it happen.”