Nicolle Galyon’s Songwriting Journey: A Decade of 10 No. 1 Hits

Nicolle Galyon’s songs have become a mainstay on the country charts throughout the past decade. Since she moved to Nashville more than 20 years ago, the songwriter, artist, and label executive has seen success with Miranda Lambert (“Automatic”), Keith Urban (“We Were Us”), Kenny Chesney (“All the Pretty Girls”) Dan + Shay (“Tequila”), and Lee Brice (“Boy”), among others.

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Galyon, the sole female honored with a 2023 CMA Triple Play Award for writing three No. 1 songs within a 12-month period, recently notched her 10th No. 1 hit with Morgan Wallen’s “Thought You Should Know.” She’ll be recognized for her Wallen cut, which she wrote with Wallen and Lambert, as well as Dierks Bentley’s chart-topper “Gone” and Kelsea Ballerini’s “half of my hometown,” which features Chesney. While the in-demand songwriter receives her second Triple Play Award in four years on Wednesday (March 1), she admits that it took some time in Nashville before she saw herself as a songwriter.

[RELATED: Nicolle Galyon Takes the Spotlight in Nashville for One Night Only]

“I had to write 100 songs before I ever started co-writing,” she tells American Songwriter. “I don’t think that I would have ever called myself a songwriter until I had written songs [for] three to four years.”

Galyon relocated from Sterling, Kansas, to Music City to attend Belmont University, where she studied music business. She attended her first guitar pull around age 18 and says it was attending that show that she realized she was a songwriter. Galyon grew up writing poetry and short stories as well as for the local newspaper and the school yearbook. Trained in classical piano, she began to write songs in private following her first guitar pull.

She laughs as she recalls the first song she wrote. The title was “Naïve,” and she says there was no point to the song, and she wasn’t trying to tell a story. “Naïve” was the first of four songs she wrote in one weekend. While she says three of the songs weren’t good, one had potential.

“It was a song called ‘The House That Dad Built,’” she says. “My dad and his brothers actually had a company building houses and my dad built our house himself. It took five or six years, and I wrote the song about that. I learned instantly through those first four songs, which one of these songs is better. It was the one that was telling a true story.

“It wasn’t just writing about feelings or words that sounded hip and cool or imitating some other song,” she further explains. “It was just me writing about something that I had experienced. I think you can then see how that has turned into my long-term career, which is just trying to be as honest about my own life as possible.”

[RELATED: Nashville Veteran Songwriter Nicolle Galyon Celebrates Debut Album with an Opry Debut]

This honesty can be heard in Galyon’s debut album, firstborn, released in 2022. The 11-track project serves as the mother of two’s musical memoir for her children. It also was a fulfilling personal project for the songwriter.

Two of the album’s songs – “boy.” and “consequences.” – were previously released by Brice and Camila Cabello, respectively. It’s Galyon’s stripped-down renditions of these songs on firstborn that strike a chord.

“Those were two songs that over the years as I played them at writers’ rounds, they just felt different,” she explains. “They felt more me, and it seemed like people really connected to those songs in a different way than they did when the artists sang them. I felt like it was maybe the same words, but it was a different story with me retelling it. So that’s why ‘boy.’ and ‘consequences.’ made the record.”

Galyon wrote “boy.” with Jon Nite when she was 38 weeks pregnant with her son, Ford. It was her last writing session with Nite before maternity leave, and Galyon admits she was “tired and hungry and irritable.”

“We didn’t really set out to write a song in the Nashville way with an idea,” she admits. “It was like, ‘Let’s just write a letter to your son.’ We started with the word ‘boy’ talking to my son Ford and it wrote itself. That isn’t typical to write a song chronologically, line by line from start to finish. You usually write it more like an essay where you have a thesis, which is the hook, the end of the chorus and then you work backwards, and you fill in all the supporting verses. It felt divine in the way that it rolled out chronologically.”

Galyon says every line in the song so far has come true and she’s bracing herself for her son’s teenage years. “That song is his favorite,” she admits. “He’s a second born so he really embraces anything that he gets to hold just for himself. So that’s a really special thing between the two of us.”

Galyon says she wants to do more writing for herself. “I can’t unknow how special it was to write for firstborn. And now that I know that I owe it to myself to keep it going.”

When she’s not writing for herself and for other artists, Galyon also serves as the founder and CEO of the female-focused label and publishing house Songs & Daughters, which launched in 2019. Founding the label was a full-circle moment for Galyon, who moved to Nashville to be a manager or work at a label. Galyon says her experience as a songwriter and as a label executive go hand in hand.

“What I’ve learned most recently is that songwriting is a lot like marketing,” she says. “Marketing is showing people who you are and telling a story. In a sense, it’s taking a product, whether that’s an artist or a person or an album, and you’re showing who someone is, and you’re telling that story. Well, that’s what songwriting is too in so many different ways. It’s fun to be able to apply the same creative process that goes into telling a song story to an artist story. I’m loving getting to be a bridge in that way.”

This year marks a decade since Galyon’s first No. 1 hit with Urban and Lambert’s “We Were Us.” She penned the song with frequent collaborator Nite and Jimmy Robbins. Much like “Boy,” “We Were Us” was written when she was pregnant with her first child, daughter Charlie.

“It was largely inspired for me by my 10-year class reunion because I had literally just flown in from my 10-year class reunion and was pregnant with my daughter quietly,” she recalls. “I hadn’t announced it yet. I had a mix of nostalgia from my reunion but also feeling time [was] changing with me being pregnant. I felt like this giant turnover page.

“We were all just hustling so much, writing doubles, sometimes triples in a day,” she adds of her early years as a songwriter. “It was a numbers game in the beginning … the more songs you write you think, ‘Maybe I’ll get lucky sooner.’”

That hard work paid off and Galyon did get lucky with her first No. 1 song in December 2013. The success was followed by another hit with Lambert the following year with 2014 CMA Single of the Year and 2015 ACM Song of the Year “Automatic.” Galyon would go on to pen five songs on Lambert’s Grammy-winning Best Country Album Platinum.

“I think we become songwriters by listening to ourselves,” she says. “We have to get connected with ourselves and our own thoughts and our own stories and feelings and emotions. To become a really good co-writer for another artist you have to learn to listen to them. Not just listen to what they’re saying but listen to what they’re trying to say or maybe what they are afraid to say and help them be brave enough to say it sometimes.

“They need to know that you’re in there for as pure of reasons as possible,” she adds. “That you love writing, that you love what they do, that you’re a fan. It’s a lot easier for me to write with an artist that I’m truly a fan of. … I always advise, don’t waste your time writing with people that you’re not excited about. It won’t be as fulfilling, and you won’t do your best work if you’re not a true fan.”

(Photo by Claire Schaper / Courtesy OH Creative)

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