Debut songs ascending to a No. 1 is a difficult feat to pull off in any musical genre. In the ultra-competitive country music scene, those songs are true unicorns.
You can consider what Easton Corbin pulled off in 2010 to be a double unicorn. His first two singles, “A Little More Country Than That” and “Roll With It,” each soared to No. 1. Both were included on his self-titled debut album, which reached the Top 10 on the Billboard album charts for all genres.
This week marks the tenth anniversary of the ascent to No. 1 by “A Little More Country Than That,” and Corbin sat down with American Songwriter for a ‘Behind the Mic’ performance (which you can watch in full) to talk about the milestone. “I guess time flies when you’re having a good time,” Corbin laughs. “It seems like just yesterday that they first played it for me. And then we put it out and I can clearly remember first hearing it on the radio.”
Corbin’s debut single featured him providing a bevy of signifiers of the country music lifestyle, only to reassure the listener of his bona fides by saying, “I’m a little more country than that.” It was a song (written by Rory Feek, Don Poythress and Wynn Varble) that touched a nerve with the artist and the themes he wanted to convey.
“As a kid who was just moving to Nashville from a small town in Florida, it was just like this song is me,” Corbin says about first hearing the demo. “It’s who I am, it’s how I grew up. I guess you could say that song made me feel at home. And I loved it so much. It just spoke to me. And that’s what’s really important to me, when I’m writing or choosing songs that I didn’t write. They have to speak to me, and that’s really what this song did. At the time as a new artist, I didn’t know what the song was going to do. I just knew I loved it.”
It turns out a lot of people loved it, and Corbin remembers first hearing the news about it hitting the top of the charts in the opening week of April in 2010. “It was funny: When that song went No. 1, I remember I was still on a radio tour. But I had a rare occasion at home on a day off. I remember them calling me and saying, ‘Hey, man, you’re going to No. 1 this week.’ I was blown away.”
But Corbin had more up his sleeve than one song. The Easton Corbin album is filled with a kind of quiet confidence that most new artists can’t muster. “I remember putting that record together,” he says. “Looking back on it, it’s such a well-rounded record to me. When I listen to it as a whole, there’s just so many different parts to it but yet it all goes together.”
Corbin attributes its grounded nature to the fact that he understood his strengths right from the jump. “My strong suit is I pretty much always have known who I am as an artist. I love traditional country music. That’s what’s always spoken to me and that’s what I do. And I think that’s what I do best. When I came to town, that was my goal. I didn’t waver from that.”
“A lot of times, there can be people that, depending on what the style or the sound is at that point, they go that direction. To me, it’s about being constant and being yourself and always being true to who you are and the sound that you love. Now I’m now saying you can’t evolve as an artist. But you still gotta be who you are.”
Early reviews of Corbin’s work are filled with the phrase “laid-back” describing his singing style. Even if it might mislead people about the effort he put in to develop that style, he takes it as a compliment. “It kind of reaffirms that you do what you do and hopefully you’re good at it. It’s something that I worked at all my life. As a kid, spending hours and hours at a time trying to sing like my heroes. And then it kind of turns into your own style when you blend that all together.”
Corbin’s style sounds as fresh as ever on his new single “Turn Up,” which came from a surprising bit of inspiration. “One of the co-writers, when we were bouncing back and forth ideas, he said he was watching the NBA Finals. And one of the players said that he was just ready to ‘turn up.’ And I’m like, ‘Ooh, that’s pretty good. I’d like to turn that into something.’ It’s just a fun song about turning off the serious and turning up a good time. I love the melody and it speaks to me, makes me feel good. A lot of times, when a song feels good to me and there’s something about it, my gut tells me, ‘That might be a hit.’”
As exciting as Easton Corbin’s present and future seems, this anniversary has caused him to reflect on that thrilling start to his recording career and all that has transpired since. “I remember as a new artist coming out with other new artists,” he says. “And a lot of those others, they’re not here on the scene anymore. For me to still be here and the fans still loving what I do, all I can say is I’m blessed.”