September/October 2015 Lyric Contest Spotlight: Winner Greg Stielstra

1st Place “Running Out Of Texas” written by Greg Stielstra
Interview by Caine O’Rear

Where did you get the idea for this song, and when did you write it? 

I drove my family to the beach for vacation last April. While watching the mile markers count down to Alabama, I said, “We’re running out of Tennessee.” I thought that idea would make a good song but it didn’t work well with Tennessee. On the other hand, if you were running out of Texas, well, then you’d really be doing something. I thought it would be fun to have the story unfold along a single highway moving north to south.  From there it was just a matter of assembling the puzzle.

I started writing the song in my head as I drove the next five hours, wrote some more on the beach in Panama City, Florida, and finished it when we returned home to Franklin, Tennessee. It distracted me throughout my vacation. When I’m chasing a song I can think of little else.

Do you primarily write “country” tunes? 

I like songs built around an idea, a deeper meaning or a story. For that reason, I tend to write country songs because the genre accommodates that approach compared to, say, a pop song that may rely more on a repeated hook.

Who are your favorite songwriters? 

I love a great song no matter who wrote it, but a few names that come to mind are Rivers Rutherford, Lori McKenna, Brett James, Casey Beathard, Travis Meadows, Andy Gullahorn, and Sean McConnell. I also like songs that incorporate humor and so I enjoy writers like Wynn Varble, Kacey Musgraves, and Brad Paisley.

How long have you been writing songs? 

I’ve been writing songs for only about three years, but have been writing creatively for 15. I wrote a couple of books that were published in 2005 and 2009.

What initially drew you to songwriting? 

I moved to Nashville 10 years ago for a marketing job and learned that many of my friends and neighbors –people like Scott Southworth, Tom Trabucco and Jim Hayden –were writers. I also found that writer’s rounds were my favorite way to spend an evening. Since I had a creative bent and came from a musical family, I wondered if I might be able to do it myself. I read books, took classes, studied the craft, joined NSAI and SESAC and began writing songs to satisfy my need for a creative outlet.

Do you have a favorite line from the song? 

I think it’s fun that the song’s bridge crosses a river. It also crosses so many other boundaries. It transitions from Texas to Mexico, from English to Spanish, from night to morning from “waning hope” to “gathering determination,” and it’s where the meaning of the phrase “running out of Texas” shifts from “diminishing chances” to “leaving in pursuit.”

Do you perform as well? 

I don’t perform as well as I write …yet.

I took up guitar two years ago and have played out a little. As my skills improve, I hope to get more chances to participate in writer’s rounds. I’m sure winning that beautiful Gibson guitar will help me achieve that goal.

What is one thing you’ve learned about songwriting that you wish you’d known when you got started?

I’ve learned that publishers tend to hear what they are listening for. If you don’t yet have cuts and hits, then publishers may be listening for reasons to dismiss your song –which they can always find. But once you have hits and cuts, a change occurs and they begin listening for reasons to like the song –which they can also find. That’s another boundary I hope this song will help me cross.

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