With a gruff John Mellencamp-esque voice and a bluesy country twang right out of the Stetson-sportin’ Gary Allan songbook, Nashville artist Robert Counts fully embraces red-blooded, blue collar rock in his new single “What Do I Know.” His lyrics even cop to a visual of a fine layer of brown dust on his boots and a blade of straw in the crook of his mouth when he sings the chorus: “But what do I know, I’m just a redneck /Sitting on a screened in, sipping on a long neck.” So it’s a little bit of a surprise to learn that he actually graduated from Lee University with a degree not in Agricultural Science but in Biochemistry.
But like many good songwriters, he’s writing as a persona, not particularly basing it on his own life but on those in his orbit. “With ‘What Do I Know,’ I wanted to shine a light on the sort of people I grew up around,” he says. “They build something for themselves… they find success by working hard and showing up every day.” This working class anthem doesn’t thumb its nose at those who live this more basic, less complicated life, but celebrates it. In fact, the “what do I know” chorus is a turn on the common phrase that townsfolk say when they don’t feel like taking ownership of their stances.
“Jake Mitchell, Michael Hardy and I had a co-write scheduled that day… we got together and kind of figured out that chord progression first,” he recalls about the creative origins of the song. “We then started talking about the whole ‘What do I know’ colloquialism… like how people will tend to give their whole-hearted opinion on a subject based on their own life experience and then pull back by saying ‘ah, but what do I know?!’ We just thought it’d be cool to write a song that uses that same device,” he laughs.
Circling that phrase, they thought about “things you’re taught about growing up – hunting, fishing, living off the land – things that your dad tells you and his granddad told him,” and inhabited that mindset. “We wanted to write from the perspective of a person who, much like ourselves, was raised in a rural part of the country and is reflecting on those timeless values of waking up early, working hard, being honest, planning ahead and being prepared,” he explains. “We felt like there was something kind of funny, but also uncomfortably honest, about laundry-listing some of the most elementary, but often forgotten, life principles and then throwing it all away with the humble-brag of ‘…but what do I know..?’”
A little bit of a departure from his more soulful-leaning self-titled EP that was released late last year, Counts turned up the amps and added a bit more rock to his twang. “I recorded this song in December of 2019 with producers, Dann Huff and Jimmy Ritchey at Castle Recording Studios in Franklin, TN,” he remembers. “I wanted to delve into a heavier side of what I do and what I love sonically. I wanted this track to have that country, swampy grit of a Hank Williams Jr. lyric, but then also hit like a Foo Fighters record in the chorus… and I really think we nailed that.”
Successfully marrying shit-kickin’ country with some badass dirty rock n’ roll in “What Do I Know,” the anthemic chorus he constructed really resonates with both downhome country boys as well as city-dwelling frat guys who might not necessarily have a firm grasp of where they are headed in life… and that’s okay. “I want this song to encourage and instill a sense of pride in those folks that choose to live their lives by a simple and honest set of values. But I also want this song to challenge those folks that may be a little confused about where they’re at in their lives to maybe get back to the basics,” he explains. “I’m a guy that tends to overthink almost everything I set out to do, and this song, for me, was about getting back to those principles that were taught to me early in life that have yet to steer me wrong. More often than not, if you show up every day, work hard, and deal honestly with everyone, you’re gonna be alright.”
Pretty much on track with sage advice for the young and aimless with this song, Counts seems well positioned for a very promising start to his music career. If he continues his upwards trajectory with songs like this, it could signal the arrival of a new formidable voice in blue collar country rock.
But hey, what do I know?
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