Granger Smith can recall three catastrophic moments in his life that left him wondering if he would ever write a song again.
The first time occurred in 1999, when an accident on the campus of his beloved Texas A&M University killed twelve students. The second time was after his father passed away in 2014. And the third time was just last year after the tragic death of his little boy.
“I haven’t written a song about River yet,” the native Texan says quietly during a recent interview with American Songwriter, reflecting on the loss of his son as a result of a drowning accident. “But one day, I will. And when I do, it will be a part of my healing, whether anyone hears it or not. But not now. Not yet.”
And that’s ok with Smith. He can wait. He has waited before.
But songwriting in general could not.
You see, Smith started writing for his 10th studio album at the beginning of 2019. He was nearly half done with the album when tragedy struck.
“The night of River’s passing, I was already packed for an early morning flight to the studio the next morning to start this album,” Smith remembers. “We were going to play CMA Fest and we were going to do the CMT Awards’ red carpet and then we were going to knock out 5 songs.”
He never got to knock out those five songs that week.
And for roughly 40 weeks after, he would not write another song.
That is, until one afternoon in March.
“Once the pandemic hit and all our touring stopped, I went back home, sat down and all of a sudden had a completely cleared calendar,” Smith recalls. “I picked up my guitar and got a cup of coffee and it felt really good. I mean, it was the kind of writing where I couldn’t stop it. Its only happened 2 or 3 times in my life. I was juggling three or four (songs) at a time. I’d finish one and be in the middle of the chorus of another and the bridge of another. I knew that moment would eventually lead to this album.”
Country Things, Vol. 1 is an absolute stunner of an album that balances beautifully between the complexity of life and the celebration that is life, while still preserving the authentic Granger Smith that country music fell in love with back in 2015 via his smash “Backroad Song.” And for Granger, it is this album that has brought him back to a place he had not been in a long, long time.
“I felt like I was writing what I used to write and what I used to think about 10 years ago,” says Smith, who also empties his creative juices into him and his family’s wildly popular YouTube series The Smiths. “In recent years, I’ve naturally catered towards our live show and the commercialism that entailed, and that’s not a bad thing. But it did take the deeper songwriter in me out of the game a bit. I got back to being more worried about the craft of the song than what people thought about it.”
The album also took a 180 degree turn when it came to it’s creative direction. With the loss of his son forever in his heart and the heaviness of a pandemic weighing on that already weakened heart, the whole scope of Smith’s personal and professional perspective changed.
“It became about appreciating the gratefulness in the day without being overweighed by the worries of tomorrow,” he says.
From there, Smith’s songwriting went into overdrive, resulting in 20 songs that had to be cut to 18 songs which had to be cut to 16 songs, and then split between a Vol. 1 (release date Sept. 25) and a Vol. 2 (release date TBD).
And while Country Things Vol. 1 includes a guest appearance from Smith’s alter ego Earl Dibbles Jr. on the crazy-catchy “Country & Ya Know It” and has a healthy dose of feel good songs such as “That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads” and the title track “Country Things,” there are also those songs whose emotional weight was often hard for Granger to carry.
“ ‘Heroes’ was a tough one,” Smith says of the track he actually started writing back in 2017. “I never thought much of it until COVID-19 hit. I was driving around and the song came in my head. I had written it in a completely different style and feel and melody and tempo and key. Everything was different except the lyrics.”
Well, most of the lyrics.
“I changed the second verse after River’s passing,” he says quietly about the song he ended up co-writing with John Pierce and Trent Willmon on. “I guess that is what that song was supposed to be all along.”
There is a pause, a slightly uncomfortable yet deserving silence for the man who has always lead with his heart, no matter how much that heart was hurting.
“I do believe that a spirit is put upon us, not just us songwriters, but all of us,” he says. “We all have different gifts. We can choose to access that gift and use it…or not. But when it comes on and you embrace that gift, it’s like drinking out of a hydrant.”
For the first time in twenty minutes, Smith laughs.
He starts to talk about his wife Amber and his children, and the two barns, one windmill and abundance of acres he is now the proud owner of, and the place he will someday build a new house on.
“Every turn you take on these paths, you find something new,” he says about his sprawling new piece of land.
Or perhaps, he’s talking songwriting again.
“When you actually dig deep inside yourself and you pull out words that you weren’t sure you would ever be able to say and people relate to it, that changes everything.”