For many artists, 2020 has been an exceptionally challenging year, but for Russell Dickerson, it has been full of extraordinary achievements. He was a 2020 ACM nominee for “New Male Artist of the Year.” His latest single “Love You Like I Used To” hit #1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, reached certified gold sales status, and has surpassed more than 130 million streams since its release in February. All this is certainly a good sign that Dickerson’s second album, Southern Symphony, will also likely to do well after its December 4 release.
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Dickerson’s overarching aim with Southern Symphony was “getting deeper into my story, getting deeper into who Russell Dickerson is,” he says, calling from his Nashville home. “That’s where the title track “Southern Symphony” comes in, [with] my childhood in Union City, Tennessee. The chorus is really digging into all the sounds of my childhood and what made me who I am. All those sounds combined together is a Southern symphony. Then the verses talk about things that I remember of growing up and where I come from.”
The rest of the tracks on Southern Symphony, Dickerson says, take the listener “from childhood to me and my wife dating to having a baby – all the way up until now. It really is kind of a top-to-bottom experience of my life.”
Dickerson says he wrote about half of the songs on this album while he was touring, which he feels was a crucial ingredient in capturing the right vibe. “The [co-]writers would come out and they would spend the weekend on my tour bus,” he says. (His co-writers on this album included such heavy hitters as Corey Crowder and Steven Lee Olsen.) “I love that about the songwriting process because I get to see the crowds every night, but the songwriters that I co-write with don’t get to see that as much, so I love bringing them out on the road and letting them experience what we’re shooting for when we write the songs.
“The goal is to have these songs be explosive live because I love the live show; I love the life performance aspect,” Dickerson continues. Also, he adds, “As a co-writer with me, I think you need to see my life to really understand the full spectrum of my artistry.”
That artistry quickly set Dickerson apart from the competition when he moved to Nashville to attend college. As for what it is, specifically, about his music that makes him stand out, he says, “I think it’s just my individuality. Everybody has that. Not everybody uses that as their weapon. I think a lot of people get caught up in what’s cool and what’s popular. It wasn’t until I started writing songs that sound like Russell Dickerson, and Russell Dickerson only, that it started working for me.”
Dickerson’s 2017 debut album, Yours, gave him immediate success: the title track was at #1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart for two weeks, earning double platinum sales status. That led to multiple ACM and CMT award nominations. His next three singles have all hit #1 on that chart, as well: “Blue Tacoma,” “Every Little Thing,” and “Love You Like I Used To.”
Dickerson seemed destined for a successful music career thanks to his family background. “Both of my parents are super musical,” he says. “My dad was the choir director at church. My mom played piano every Sunday and she taught piano lessons almost every single day out of our house.”
Being surrounded by music like this led Dickerson to pick up a guitar when he was sixteen years old. He quickly became skilled enough to lead his church youth group in worship songs. “That was a huge part of stepping toward being onstage,” he says. “It just clicked for me.”
Soon, Dickerson was driving from Union City to Nashville to see concerts, which further inspired him to pursue a music career. “I was like, ‘I want to do this so bad! I want to pack out these places and hear everybody sing at the top of their lungs the songs that they’ve just fallen in love with,” he says. “That was really what lit the fire underneath me to be a performer, an artist and a writer.”
Dickerson says he started getting really serious about his songwriting in 2008. “I would just write by myself, and then hop in with Belmont kids,” he says, referring to Belmont University in Nashville, where he attended college.
As Dickerson launched his career, he formed a crucial friendship with two other aspiring songwriters who’d recently graduated from Belmont: Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, who then went on to form Florida Georgia Line.
“[They] ended up coming to one of my first shows ever, and they were like, ‘Dude, love your vibe – we should write songs.’ So we started writing songs like crazy,” Dickerson says. “We probably wrote twenty songs in a few months. We were all just learning from each other. I learned from their strengths of songwriting and storytelling. I really think that was a huge foundation point of my songwriting.” Their friendship continues to this day: Hubbard and Kelley are featured on the song “It’s About Time” on Southern Symphony.
As he prepares to release Southern Symphony, Dickerson says he’s looking forward to showing fans how his songwriting has evolved even more since his last album. “It’s definitely excitement, for sure, knowing that these songs are next level,” he says.
But for now, Dickerson says goodbye so he can continue enjoying his time at home with his family. Even with all of his accomplishments, and his happiness about releasing Southern Symphony, it’s clear that Dickerson’s biggest joy in life is his two-month-old son. “Life is amazing in a different way now,” he says of fatherhood. “It makes it all worth it.”
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