Justin Moore on ‘Stray Dog,’ Songwriting and Doing Things His Own Way

Justin Moore has left his stamp on country music by doing things his own way. For more than 15 years, the singer/songwriter has graced country airwaves and amassed 11 No. 1 hits.

Videos by American Songwriter

Despite this success, Moore is often overlooked at award shows. On his sixth studio album, Stray Dog, the Arkansas native not only embraces being an outsider but revels in it.

If I don’t fit in your box
That’s just too bad, man
I don’t apologize for who I ain’t or who I am
I don’t give a damn ’bout your give a damn
I’m a little more stray dog

Moore discusses his new album, his two-decade songwriting partnership with Jeremy Stover and the stories behind his songs with American Songwriter below.

American Songwriter: Tell us about writing the title track “Stray Dogs.”

Justin Moore: It’s somewhat autobiographical. My producer had the idea. … Country radio and much of the industry has been great to me throughout the course of my career. The fans have been awesome to me. Award shows have not. I don’t really shy away from talking about that. I feel like the more genuine and the more honest I am with my fans, the more success we have with them. We talk about it, whether it be in an interview or through our music like “Stray Dogs.”

AS: Is there one line in that song that best describes you?

JM: There’s a few lines in the song but my favorite is, I don’t bark I just bite. I’m not gonna warn you. I’m just gonna come after you.

AS: You’ve said, “I didn’t play the game to achieve things that weren’t going to make me happy.

JM: There’s a game that you play to have success in this business and I don’t play it. I just don’t. Speaking of biting, it’s probably bit me a little bit, but I can sleep at night.

AS: What is the most honest song on this project?

JM: “Stray Dogs” is up there. I think they all are honest though. I don’t record or write a song that I don’t feel is honest. “Get Rich or Drunk Trying,” I’m not out there looking for a sugar mama, obviously. There’s a little ridiculousness there.

“Better Slow” is a song … there’s a line about losing a pet. I wrote that song right around the time that my wife and I had to, as adults, put down our pet dog, which was difficult to say the least. It was the first time we had done that as adults. Our parents had done that and made those decisions growing up. I don’t think there’s a song I’ve ever written or recorded that I don’t believe is honest.

AS: You wrote seven tracks on the album with Jeremy Stover. Tell us about that writing relationship.

JM: He and I are like brothers. He and I have been working together for, golly, 20 years or something like that. He always says if he were an artist, he would be me. It’s a pretty tight relationship and we finish each other’s sentences.

He grew up in Georgia, I grew up in Arkansas, the same way [in] small towns. Musically, we have a lot of similarities as far as tendencies and how we write, and what we expect in the studio. It’s been a great relationship for a couple of decades now, which is kind of hard to believe.

AS: How did you two first meet?

JM: I think through a publisher. We met in Franklin … at a little breakfast place. I was looking for songs to record to go pitch to labels to try to get a record deal. Nobody would give me their best songs, which I understand now. Nobody had a clue who I was and I totally get it. The first two or three songs he played for me that he had written I was like, “This is exactly what I’m looking for.” We developed a relationship from that point on, and we’ve become like family.

AS: Do you remember the first song you wrote together? 

JM: One of the first songs I wrote when I moved to Nashville, Jeremy and I wrote together. We wrote two songs. One was called “A Long Way From Home,” which I still think is a really good song. It’s never been on an album. The second song was “Small Town USA.” That we wrote together so that was a good sign.

I really didn’t know what I wanted to say until I started writing songs. “Small Town USA” for example, I was 18 years old when I wrote that song on a $400 guitar. I went in that day to write with Jeremy and Brian Maher was the other co-writer and I go, “I miss home. I want to go home to Arkansas.” That’s where that idea came from. I learned through that song, “Okay, this is the story I can tell as an artist.” Just be honest with people. I keep going back to the honesty but it works. 

Is there a lyric that has changed in meaning for you in “Small Town USA?”

JM: The second verse talks about, I watch people leave and then come right back / I never wanted any part of that. I didn’t, but I did leave because I had to. But then I did go back so that one always cracks me up a little bit.

AS: Your humor is in your songs. Tell us about writing “Get Rich or Drunk Trying.”

JM: I had that title for five or six years. Typically what happens is you sit down in a room to write and you scroll through your phone and go, “I got this title,” and you know whether it’s worth a crap or not by the reaction of your co-writers. I threw this title out for like five years and they’d go “Eh.” One day I threw it out there and somebody goes, “Oh, that’s awesome! Let’s do that.” I didn’t know how to write it. I just knew it was a good title. I thought it would sell T-shirts, but it’s fun.

AS: “You, Me, And Whiskey” with Priscilla Block is the only song you didn’t write on the project. What was it about that song that you wanted to record it?

JM: I thought it was a really well-written song. It’s a little progressive sounding maybe for us. I had just met Priscilla maybe two, three, four months prior and I thought, “Man, she would be awesome on this if I could get her to do it.” She said yes, thankfully.

I thought it sounded like a hit record and I thought it was a really good idea. Typically anytime I record a song that I don’t write, I wish I had written it. This song, when I heard it I go, “Man, I wish I had wrote that.”

AS: Why did you choose to title the album Stray Dog?

JM: Again, it was pretty autobiographical. It was never my intention. But from the beginning of my career, I was labeled an outlaw or an outlier. Again, not by design. I’ve learned that the more honest I am with my fans … people text me on our text line or they tweet me where they go, “Why weren’t you at the ACMs or why weren’t you at the CMAs?” I’m like, “Hell, they didn’t invite me.” So there’s some of that thread running through that song and that is one of the reasons we named the album that. I think my fans relate to that honesty.

AS: Do you see yourself as an outlaw?

JM: Not really, I don’t. Again, I didn’t set out to be that or do that. Maybe moving to back home to Arkansas was unpopular.

AS: I’m sure moving home inspired your songs.

JM: I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you if I didn’t. Music is super important to me and I love playing. I love getting on stage. I will do it as long as I’m allowed to. But it’s not the most important thing in my life. God and my family are, and I need to get better at being great for both of them than I am. But that’s where the priorities lie for me. I don’t know that’s common in our industry all the time.

AS: What do you love most about songwriting?

JM: I love being creative. I don’t know that there’s another thing that can replace a thought popping in your head and then standing on stage in front of thousands of people and them singing it back to you. I mean, it’s pretty amazing. It’s magical, so to speak. That’s pretty special to see it go from absolutely nothing to a big record.

I go to the grocery store, meet and greet and hear somebody say, “This [song] changed my life, or it saved my life. Or got me through a difficult time.” [To] think that I was on stage and I had this thought pop in my head, it’s pretty amazing. Those moments to me never get old.

It speaks to the power of not only music but specifically country music. I had a couple at our show … the wife had lost two children in a house fire and told me that my music saved her life. I don’t say that boastfully. I say that in a humble way where I go, “I don’t even understand that.” … Those are the moments that I’m really, really blessed to be able to do this.”

Photo Credit: Cody Villalobos/Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Leave a Reply

Morgan Evans Faces Ups and Downs on New EP: “The Most Authentic Way to Represent This Time in My Life”