Shy Carter Felt Prejudice But Has A Whole Lotta Love

Shy Carter has known heartbreak. He has felt prejudice. He has endured the stares of those who didn’t understand him and overheard the snide remarks of people who probably have never understood themselves.

Videos by American Songwriter

But Shy Carter has also known love.

“There was a time when I felt bad about myself,” admits a rather reflective Carter during a recent interview with American Songwriter. “I felt like I didn’t even deserve love.”

He pauses. 

“But now, for me to receive all of this love? How can I not be happy? I have so many people in my life that truly love me.”

In the turbulent year of 2020, love is a good thing. And the accomplished songwriter, who has written with the likes of superstars including Meghan Trainor, Jason Derulo and Charlie Puth, has chosen to lean into that often elusive emotion via his current single, “Good Love,” his first as a country music solo artist.

“The song just comes up and gives you a big hug if you ask me,” chuckles Carter, who was signed by Warner Music Nashville at the beginning of 2020 before the pandemic took hold. “When it hits that chord and the melody rubs against it, it just makes you feel better. That’s what music should always do.”

Indeed, music has long been a steady foundation for Carter from his earliest days growing up in Memphis, Tennessee.

“My dad would sing ‘Sara Smile’ all the time, over and over again,” recalls Carter, taking a moment to sing the iconic “won’t you smile a while for me” lyric of the Hall & Oates classic. “And everywhere he would go, he would bring his guitar.”

As a little kid with piercing blue eyes, Carter admits he was always the energetic one, “bouncing off the walls” and playing his tambourine into his toy recorder all day long.  At the age of 10, Carter received a keyboard from his uncle, and the world began getting a glimpse into what this kid was capable of.

“That keyboard had these premade beats and I would write to those and make little raps,” remembers Carter, who also was a lead saxophone player in the jazz band. “That’s when I started writing songs.”

During his senior year of high school, Carter moved to Michigan. He didn’t have any friends, but what he did have was a growing love for the craft of songwriting. 

“I found a studio in town, and I would paint the guy’s fence or run sessions for him just to have the chance to record what I was working on,” he remembers.  “I couldn’t get enough of the recording process.”

In 2007, Carter signed a production deal with Nelly; in 2008, he took his first trip to Nashville and was blown away by the Zac Brown Band’s “Whatever It Is” playing on the radio as he pulled into town.

“I felt something when I heard it and thought to myself, ‘Now, that’s a song,’” Carter remembers. “I loved the way the guitar moved on it. I loved the way it was mixed. I loved the way it was produced. And the songwriting was impeccable.”

From that moment on, country music began calling his name.

“I was used to making the track on a drum machine when I was recording with Nelly and then just rap on them and put the hooks in as needed,” Carter recalls. “But when I first got to Nashville, I would walk in and there would be a piano and two guitars and that’s pretty much it.” 

He laughs before continuing: “You were forced to focus on the song.”

That focus would soon deliver a multitude of hits, as Carter began racking up songwriting credits on everything from Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue” to Billy Currington’s “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” and Kane Brown’s “Heaven.”

“I knew that if I could just find my way in those studios with those artists and those songwriters, I knew I had a good chance of making hits with them,” says Carter, who most recently snagged writing credits on hits such as Keith Urban’s mesmerizing “God Whispered Your Name” and Brown’s unifying “Worldwide Beautiful.”  “Obviously, it’s changed a lot since then, but I’m happy I got a chance to experience that and learn how to write a song without any crutch. You pick up a lot of things when you are in a room with people who have made hits.” 

But now that hit is going to be his very own.

“The melody is super strong and the groove is strong and the lyric is strong,” he says of “Good Love,” which he wrote alongside James Slater, Micah Carter and Carlo Colasacco. “That song fed off the heartache and pain everyone involved with the song had gone through at one time or another. Music is therapy. And it’s a song I felt in my soul.” 

It’s this feeling that Carter says he hopes to infuse into his music for years to come.

“Oh, I’m still learning about songwriting,” Carter admits. “I’ve come to learn that there needs to be structure to the song, but you still want to be innovative. I don’t ever want to lose that. I want to learn the rules until they are natural to me … and then throw them out the window.”

Photo Credit: Jess Williams

Leave a Reply

Songwriter U: The Importance of Finishing Songs