Tyler Booth Looks Inward to Look Outward

When someone sits down to write a new song, much can go through their mind. Many, hoping to write a hit track that the world enjoys, think about that very fact. They wonder something like, How can I write the most popular song ever? But this aim is folly, of course. The real—and only—way to write something that resonates with people is to write something that resonates with a single person. Namely, yourself. For the Kentucky-born songwriter and performer Tyler Booth, who is experiencing a moment of late, that was his chosen route. Now, Booth is set to release his newest EP, Keep It Real, on Friday (September 15). It’s a record that is both of him and boundary-pushing. Just as it should be.

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“The EP,” Booth tells American Songwriter, “came from me sitting alone in my room, thinking about what’s the coolest music I could make. Really, all music comes from entertaining yourself. It’s cool for other people [to like it], but I was being a little selfish, writing something for myself.”

On the new record, Booth experimented with sounds, instruments and lyrics. He wanted to see how far he could take the various ideas he had for it while also making it digestible for listeners. And the fact that he now gets paid for something he grew up loving, something he’d likely do for free today if he had to, well, that’s the icing on the proverbial cake. Booth, who wrote the vast majority of his new EP, grew up around music. In eastern Kentucky where he’s from, most choose between it and playing basketball, but since Booth wasn’t a hooper, it was hooks and guitar riffs for him. As a kid, he loved band class. He played saxophone growing up, but always found himself sneaking away to write songs on a Spanish-style guitar.

“My dad had a rock band when I was growing up,” says Booth. “So, I got to know a lot of good rock music and see a lot of gigs. And see how that side of it worked. But I couldn’t ever really sing too high like a lot of rock singers did.”

Booth remembers hearing the low and slow voices of artists like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Their range seemed to fit his best. So, he soon fell for country songs and artists like Willie Nelson, too. Today, his father, who played in a band called Stitch Rivet, remains Booth’s “best friend.” He gives his son advice and pushes him when he needs it, too. As a kid, Booth would follow him around to gigs and sit in during rehearsals. He saw the grind of life as a musician up close. For Booth, it was mesmerizing.

“I never thought I would make a living playing music,” says the humble Booth. “Never thought I had the talent. I always liked to sing but I never saw myself as a singer. I thought I’d play drums or guitar and I was content with that.”

Today, though, Booth boasts the Platonic Ideal of a country voice. It’s rich, full, low and powerful. Like a shot of brown liquor. After the introduction to songwriting from his father, Booth enrolled in the music program at Morehead State. Ironically, though, he was kicked out of the school for skipping class to write songs. Writing music is hard, he says, but he never really saw it as work. So, he’d do it while his dorm mates went to classes.

“It’s something almost like a ritual,” he says. “It’s bigger than yourself.”

While considering country music today, it’s difficult not to bring up the out-of-nowhere success of artist Oliver Anthony, whose Appalachian sound and hit “Rich Men North of Richmond” has become a global phenomenon. As for Booth, he’s a fan of the “genuine” stuff. And Booth should know, he’s from the rural area, from a town of some 500 people in Campton, Kentucky. Booth is proud of where he comes from and, he says, he’s looking forward to exploring his roots with various songs and instrumentation, including playing more of the mandolin.

[RELATED: Oliver Anthony Covers Lynyrd Skynyrd with Shinedown, Papa Roach]

“I feel like East Kentucky is just who I am,” he says.

For Booth, country music is about the distillation of an idea and an expression. While there are many subgenres of the style, most, if not all, country songs can be played with a single voice and a single guitar. That old saying, three chords and the truth. Booth embodies that idea. So much so that he was recently invited to play the hallowed Grand Ole Opry. The famed Nashville, Tennessee-based radio show is one where all of his heroes have played. Now, just weeks ago, he was able to step into the circle and perform. In attendance? His father, wiping tears away from his eyes. But Booth’s dad wasn’t the only one feeling the heft of the evening.

“It was the most emotional night of my life,” Booth says. “Being there and getting to experience that—it was something else.”

For the burgeoning country star, faith is a major part of his success. Both in himself as an artist and in his religion. His newest single, “G.O.B. by the G.O.G.,” is a sign of that faith. The acronyms stand for “Good Ol’ Boy” and “Grace Of God.” He enjoys reading the Bible and finding wisdom in it, lines or ideas that relate to how he feels on a given day. Guidance. To each their own, Booth says, but the Good Book has become his “rock.” And he’ll lean on it as the next weeks and years unfold. Looking to the future, he is excited about all the songs he has waiting to share with listeners. Indeed, there is much to be done. But it’s all for the sake of the livelihood and community that music can uniquely create.

“I love how music brings people together,” Booth says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from. But if you’re out in the crowd and you’re nodding your head to the beat that everybody else is, then you’ve got something in common. And there’s something cool about that.”

Photo by Matthew Berinato / Courtesy Sony Music

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