Nashville Songwriter Series: Luke Laird

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(Celebrating the success of “A Little Bit Stronger” at a number one party are, from left, Luke Laird, Hillary Lindsey, Sara Evans and Hillary Scott. Photo: John Russell)

Among Nashville writers, Luke Laird is one of the most smokin’ hot on Music Row right now. Still in his early 30s, Laird, who has written several cuts by Carrie Underwood (including two number one singles), has also been recorded by Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Lee Ann Womack and others. He was also the co-writer with Craig Wiseman of last year’s “Hillbilly Bone” duet by Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins. Laird has hit it out of the park again with the number one Sara Evans single “A Little Bit Stronger,” written with Hillary Lindsey and Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott.

Laird isn’t exactly a traditional country writer, and is part of the new breed of writer that is changing the face of what is considered “country” music, having grown up in a generation that was bombarded by more musical choices and outlets than any generation before it. American Songwriter managed to get a few words from the busy tunesmith in between writing sessions.

You actually got a music business degree from Middle Tennessee State University, one of the rare universities that offers such a thing. In what ways has that helped you?

I think it helped me in the sense of learning some of the basics of the music business. Helped me to become familiar with the language of the music business. I especially liked the course in music publishing. Also, I feel that it helped me from a personal standpoint with confidence, just knowing that I stuck it out and got my degree.

Much of the songwriting you do – “new country,” if you will – doesn’t seem to owe a lot to past country masters. Who would you consider your influences, and what would people find if they ignored the production values and just stripped your songs away to a guitar/vocal?

I actually enjoy lots of past country artists and writers. One of my favorite all time writers is Bob McDill (Waylon Jennings, Alan Jackson). However, I also want to stay current and fresh. I’m not trying to do what’s already been done. I am influenced by many different genres. I look up to everyone from John Prine to Jay-Z. I feel like writers need to try to find their own voice and not just copy what’s already been done. I also feel like when stripping my songs down to just guitar/vocal, they still stand up. Most of my songs are written with me sitting down with a guitar in a room with my co-writers. When production is added, it is to try to enhance the listener’s experience.

You’re from the Lake Erie area, as are (hit songwriter) Bill Luther and Butter from Trailer Choir. But that region isn’t exactly known as a hotbed for songwriting talent, especially writers with a country bent. How does someone from that part of the country come up with something as Southern as “Hillbilly Bone?”

You’re right, northwestern Pennsylvania is not known to have a great music scene. Most of my live music experiences came from going to hear touring acts when they came to our county fair and traveling to Pittsburgh or Cleveland to concerts. If anyone spent any amount of time where I grew up, they would realize very quickly that being “country” has nothing to do with north or south. I grew up on the outskirts of a town with the population of 700. A rural community with strong family values. Recreation consisted of hunting, fishing and going out on the lake. I find myself pulling from those experiences when I write songs.

You worked with (R&B/pop singer) Ne-Yo, who’s no songwriting slouch himself, on a much talked-about song called “She Is.” But it doesn’t seem to have made it to his last album (The Libra Scale). What’s up with that? And what of Nashville were you able to take into that writing session? What did you bring home?

I’m still holding out hope that the song will be on his new album, coming out later this year. He really enjoyed the experience of me sitting down with my guitar and starting a song from scratch. He was used to writing lyrics and melody to a completed track. He is an extremely gifted talent. He taught me a lot about not over-thinking the writing process and being more open to what is happening in the moment.

You came to Nashville and went to college, but not everyone can do that. What would you advise a new writer in town to do in his or her first 90 days in Music City?

To new writers in town, I would say definitely visit the NSAI offices. They have plenty of information about what’s going on in town. Also, I would say pick up a Nashville Scene and see where the open mic and writer’s nights are. Even though I went to music business school, college does not teach someone how to become a great songwriter. I used to play every Monday at the Broken Spoke where I networked and listened to and learned from writers who were much more advanced than me. I would also advise all writers to take the time to write songs by themselves. This is all part of the learning process and development of one’s craft.

You’ve had cuts by some pretty great artists, but what single artist are you just dying to get a cut on more than anybody else?

I can honestly say I’m not dying to get a cut by one particular artist. Although, I think I can speak for all Nashville writers, a George Strait cut would be nice. Ha!


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  1. Great Article, Luke is a great songwriter and his songs are very refreshing.
    Would love to see you guys do a story featuring Josh Kear at some point.

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