Exclusive: Mitchell Tenpenny Puts Fresh Spin on Goo Goo Dolls Classic “Iris”, Talks His Special Connection to the Song and Honoring the Original

When multi-platinum hitmaker Mitchell Tenpenny was working on his upcoming album, he knew he wanted the collection of songs to authentically reflect him like none of his previous work.

That desire drove him to record a cover of the Goo Goo Dolls hit, “Iris.” Tenpenny’s version of “Iris” is out now. But if fans have seen him live, they’ve likely already heard him sing the rock anthem. The Nashville native has ended his set with it for over 18 months.

“When we’re opening for people, when we were out with Jason Aldean and then Luke Bryan, when you’re trying to make new fans, I love the concept of, the last word you heard on my mouth was, ‘I just want you to know who I am,” he told American Songwriter, quoting the song’s lyrics.

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Mitchell Tenpenny Learned to Play Guitar on “Iris”

His connection to the song is more profound than clever lyric placement.  “Iris” is the song that made Tenpenny want to play music as a kid and is the first song he learned on guitar. As an adult, he loves melody-driven, cinematic songs and says “Iris” is so captivating that he can imagine being in a movie.  

Tenpenny approached the song much the same way as The Goo Goo Dolls. His masculine, gritty voice slices through the lyrics with the conviction of someone who understands the nuances of the beloved late-’90s rock smash. He didn’t plan to record it the day he did and gingerly approached the idea with his band, explaining it would be easy because everyone already knew it.

“We started recording it, and it’s not an easy song,” he said. “It’s very actually complicated and beautiful. We cut out a few parts, but we kept all the signature parts in there.”

Mitchell Tenpenny Wanted to Honor the Original Version of “Iris”

Part of honoring the original was studying singer John Rzeznik’s vocals. While Tenpenny typically stacks vocals and harmony parts, he noted that Rzeznik didn’t do that.

“There’s not harmonies on the original,” Tenpenny said. “He just sung his a** off, and I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ Let’s not overproduce this.”

So, they didn’t. Tenpenny kept the recording organic and even incorporated a string quartet toward the song’s end.

“I really wanted to capture the moment of that song and do it justice like they did,” he said. “It was so much fun because it just brought me back to remembering when I picked up a guitar for the first time. I was trying to learn those chords in a different tuning. It  just brought me back to having fun again, writing music, and it truly kind of set the pace for the rest of the record.”

Tenpenny’s third album will be released later this year. His hit songs include “Drunk Me,” “Truth About You” and “At The End Of A Bar.”

Photo by Zach Pigg

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