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Hi Ernest! Thank you for taking the time to chat today! Country music has a great track record for producing some of the most emotionally vulnerable songs, and you new single epitomises this. I believe you drew inspiration for ‘Flower Shops’ from one of the greats, George Jones - how did the idea for the song come about?
I was on a sad song kick - well, I still am, and I might always be! It is the DNA of Country music. I went to the George Jones Essentials Playlist on Apple Music, and I picked Ben Burgess up at his house, we headed out to Mark Holman’s and we were listening to that playlist - just catching a vibe for the ride. ‘A Good Year for the Roses’ came on, and we were like, ‘Wow!’ We’d heard it before, but it just hit different that day. So Ben was like, ‘What if we write a title like, ‘It’s a good day for flower shops’? And I was like, ‘Hell yes!’ We started developing the main character, and by the time we got to Mark Holman’s the melodies were already pouring out. We had the song written in 45 minutes. It felt very honest for both of us, we’d both been in that guy’s shoes, and I think the sonics of it are really refreshing. It’s not like it’s never been done before, but it’s been a while since we’ve had some steel guitar in Country and I just think it’s a nice tip of the hat to our forefathers. I think it might be time to have something other than just party feel-good songs, because, let’s be honest, it’s been a sucky couple of years!
The list of hit songs you've written spans across genres, having penned tracks for the likes of Diplo, ZAYN and Florida Georgia Line. You originally leant more towards rap than Country. Equally, your recent releases in particular are testaments to all that’s great about Country music. Where do you stand in terms of the genre-fluidity versus the Country traditionalists debate?
I think modern generations grow up on multiple genres. You can stubbornly not listen to other genres, but if you’re born in 1990 or later, then you’re going to have grown up with a lot of different music. Now, with streaming platforms, you put on a playlist and you’re going to have Morgan Wallen, DaBaby, Drake, George Strait - it’s all coming at you in one go. For me, I stand where I’ve always stood. I know that I can be my most honest self with my version of Country music, which leans more towards the traditional. I’m not breaking down walls with my music. It’s more a case of ‘I’m comfortable here and I want to make stuff I want to listen to'.
I love the Locals Only project that you put out in 2019. The tropical Country atmosphere that you bring to that is so relaxing. What drew you to this sound in particular, and what's your favourite song off that record?
Well, that sound was another thing that happened organically. [My wife] Delaney’s dad has a house in St. Thomas and that’s where a lot of her art is inspired from too. The Virgin Islands are like a home away from home. I cut my teeth doing bar gigs in St. Thomas for years - Friday-Saturday shows for a meal and a couple hundred bucks. So that album was primarily written during the island phase, and it’s all about young love and me and Delaney’s journey, the bubblegum side of it. ‘Locals Only' is probably my favourite song on the album. If I had to pick a second, I’d say ‘Brain On Love’.
What would you say is the main way in which Flower Shops: The Album differs from Locals Only?
I think it’s more of a mature sound. The story on the new album is the guy from Locals Only writing a series of love songs, and then being an idiot and almost losing it. It’s still a love story, only the character has grown up and been through a lot more.
You feature on fellow Country singer HARDY's HIXTAPE Vol. 2, and a lot of people consider your track ‘Red Dirt Clouds’ to be one of the best on the project - it’s an anthem for small town living. What’s your favourite thing about ‘the Country’, and what’s your least favourite?
My favourite thing about the countryside is definitely the driving atmosphere. The cliche is so real - a two-lane road on a brisk Autumn day with the windows down, that’s what Country roads are made for. Then you’ve got bonfires at night, another cliche in a Country song, but when you’re at a bonfire nobody’s like ‘Oh, this is so cliche!’ - you’re having the best time ever! All of the cliches we write about in Country songs are literally the greatest things about ‘the Country’. How many different ways can we say, ‘This rocks!’ My least favourite would be how far away it is from anything else - which is also the great thing about it at the same time.
On your podcast, you sometimes talk about ‘redneck culture’, and I think there’s sometimes the stereotype of Country guys being macho and tough. Have you ever feared that being emotional and vulnerable through your songwriting might make people think you’re not ‘Country’ enough?
That’s a good question. The answer would probably be ‘no’. However, some things are more marketable than others. Nobody’s ever told me not to go anywhere as far as writing, but there are just some things that the public are going to consume more readily than others. That has shaped me as I’ve grown and experimented with a lot of different sounds, I think I’ve consciously started to stay in a more marketable lane. But I still crank rap instrumentals on my way to the studio and freestyle for fun, I’ve got to do that, no matter what! But if I’m going to sit down and spend six hours away from my family writing, I’m going to make it count.
Earlier this year, you made your Grand Ole Opry debut. What was that experience like?
It was just surreal. The last time I was backstage in that building, I was probably ten years old. I was with one of the basketball players that my dad coached, because the player’s dad was a steel guitar player in the Opry band. He knew that I had just gotten a banjo and was super into it. He took me backstage and in-between set changes I got to stand in the circle, and I was like, ‘Man, I want to do that when I grow up!’ Fast forward and I’m backstage getting ready to perform. It was probably twenty years later, so it was incredible. To got to play 'Flower Shops' and have my whole family there, and it was beautiful. It was a dream-come-true night for me.
How has becoming a father influenced your approach to songwriting - and to life?
In every way, he’s been the coolest thing. Obviously, having a baby is hard, and words can’t describe that. But he’s just a ball of joy. I love him and he’s made me grow up twenty years in about six weeks. All the maturing I hadn’t done yet, I had to do. He’s crawling now and he’s waving - it’s all happening so fast. It’s incredible. He doesn’t have a song yet, but lifestyle-wise, I’m not drinking anymore - and I thought nothing would get me to stop drinking! I’m in my podcast room right now, and my bottle of Jack hasn’t been touched since the last set - it’s just a prop now!
We previously featured Delaney, your wife, who’s a brilliant artist. One of the questions I asked her was that, given the fact that Delaney’s married to a Country artist and she works with other Country singers too, to what extent does she find that being surrounded by this musical energy has an influence on her artistic process? So I’d like to switch that around and ask you, to what extent do you find that being surround by Delaney’s artistic energy has an influence on your music?
She’s definitely my muse - not just musically, but visually too. Today, we were literally making a vision-board, cutting out all of the aesthetics we’re aiming for from old magazines. We always dream up the way everything looks every time the visual starts coming together for my albums. She’s a huge influence - it wouldn’t look like it matches the sound unless Delaney’s touch was on it. And the flamingo motif - that’s so her! It was her before it was me, and she’s like, ‘You stole my thing!’ And I’m like, ‘No, you influenced my thing, it different - it’s our thing now…!’ Her fingerprints are all over Flower Shops.
Finally, we ask all our interviews to name their favourite three songs that have a theme of mental health and wellbeing. What would be your choices?
1. Just Don’t Give a F*** - Eminem
2. Who Says I Can’t Get Stoned - John Mayer
3. Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable to Lunch Today) - Ella Fitzgerald
Bonus. Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain - Willie Nelson
Flower Shops: The Album is out now!
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