Family man, Thomas Rhett, focuses on what matters most to him in the first record of a double album, ‘Country Again, Side A’.
Growing up surrounded by country singers and songwriters, you could say Thomas Rhett was always destined to be a success in the genre that helped raise him. “Music was always a part of my life, I was always in bands and I loved to play guitar and write songs.” His first four albums all charted in the top two on the country albums chart and early on in his career, back in 2013, he made history with his Dad as the pair between them had written half of the top ten singles on the country airplay charts. But as Rhett releases the first record of a double album he reveals how he almost never became a musician; “For a long time I think it was the last thing I wanted to do! When you grow up in a household where your Dad does whatever, whether that’s selling medical insurance or is a doctor or a firefighter, I think you fight doing what your Dad did and that was me until I got to college.”
Car ride classics
For a long time, Rhett not only fought against being a musician but, like all kids, he rebelled against his parents taste in music too. “It’s funny because when you’re a kid and your parents are trying to play you music, you think it’s uncool because your friends probably won’t think it’s cool. I can vividly remember being in the car on the way to school listening to Johnny Cash and a bunch of bluegrass records, Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones – those were favourites of my Dad’s and I liked them, but at 14 I was more into the N-Sync’s and the Britney Spears of the world that my friends were listening to.” It took Rhett going off to college and discovering he didn’t care much for school to realise his true calling and it didn’t take long for those around him in the industry to take notice.
At age 20 Thomas Rhett signed his first publishing deal and he found himself writing a lot with Dad, Rhett Akins who was well established within the Nashville music scene. Rhett also found himself having his songs cut by the likes of Jason Aldean and Lee Brice and he soon began to think about his place in the industry. “For a long time I thought I only wanted to write songs until I started wondering, what would it be like to hear my voice singing these songs on the radio.” Rhett signed a record deal at 21 and his debut album rose to number 2 on the country album charts. This latest record boasts some notable songwriters, from Matt Dragstrem to Ashley Gorley, Jesse Frasure to Josh Thompson and of course Rhett Akins. On every record since that very first, Rhett has included three or four co-writes with his Dad on each album but this latest record features more collaborations than ever with him. “Of the 20 or so songs that I wrote, I probably wrote 12 or 13 songs with my Dad. My Dad and I have had a lot of success together over the years but we’ve never worked hand in hand on a project before like we did with this one. That was partly down to the fact my Dad opened for me on the road back in 2019 so we saw each other for like 70 days in a row so we’d wake up and write songs all day.”
Since that first record, ‘It Goes Like This’ came out back in 2013, the shape of Rhett’s family has changed significantly – he’s now married with three beautiful children – and at different stages he has addressed that with the odd song or two, such as in the song ‘Life Changes’. However ‘Country Again, Side A’ has family at it’s very heart and not just because of his Dad’s influence; the record comes after Rhett was forced to spend more time at home with his family and less time on the road. “This year has made me slow down a lot and made me realise what it means to be a good Dad, a good Husband and friend, a good son and brother and a lot of these songs are very nostalgic. They came from a deep part of my heart that’s never been portrayed before.” Even when it came to selecting the songs, and how he should present them, he turned to his nearest and dearest for advice! “I did it in two parts because I know my attention span is not great. I talked to my 16 year old brother and I said ‘Hey man, if I released 24 songs how many could you get through before you got bored?’ And he was like ‘I don’t know maybe 8, 9 or 10.’ I thought that was good feedback.”
From the heart
The centrepiece of ‘Side A’ comes in the form of two emotional and authentic songs Rhett wrote with his Dad. ‘Heaven Right Now’ saw, the Father and Son writing duo, team up with Josh Thompson and Laura Veltz for a song that will bring comfort to anyone who has ever lost anyone dear to them. “Lauren and I lost a good friend of ours almost nine years ago. I thought I’d processed it and grieved it, moved on and thought he’s in a better place but then I got to thinking, there’s so many places I’d drive by and think about him. Whether that was passing his Mum’s house, passing this restaurant he used to go to all the time and visualising his truck being sat there. I had this idea of ‘I wonder what he’s doing now whilst I’m doing what I’m doing’ it’s probably something a whole lot cooler!” The lyrics address his friend, and give him an update of what’s happening down here. We hear a tenderness to Rhett’s writing and a slight edge to his vocals that suggest it was quite an emotional track to record. Once again, Rhett demonstrates his faith and his love for his family as he tells his friend all about his children.
It’s his children that were the inspiration for the very pinnacle of this record and once again, Rhett enlisted the help of his father, Josh Thompson and Will Bundy. ‘To The Guys That Date My Girls’ is a glance into the future of what’s to come for Rhett and his daughters. Thomas recalls the process of writing that song fondly, “I was in Alabama and I had this idea in my phone, almost like a letter to the guys that are going to date my girls. We wrote this story; that first date when they come to take my daughter out to dinner, what would I say, am I going to have this macho man attitude or am I going to invite them in and have a cup of coffee.” He’s the sweetest guy so we think he’ll probably do the latter! “I loved it so much that I wrote all the lyrics out on a piece of paper and played it that night. I definitely got a few of the words wrong but I’ve never seen grown men cry at one of my concerts before, hugging their daughters. It’s a unique way to talk about how much you love your kids and how much somebody else loves your kids as well.” They’re a bit young to understand the concept now but Rhett hopes when they’re 15 or 16 years old they’re going to look back on that song and really enjoy it.
Learning to adapt
Although Covid scuppered Thomas Rhett’s tour plans it also opened the door for new opportunities and ways of working. Primarily he got that important family time he treasures so much, however it also forced him into adapting the way he writes and records music too. “I don’t know about you but I couldn’t stand it in the beginning, I was like there’s no way in the World that we can write music on the computer. When you start to work virtually you start to wonder ‘Can we actually have a connection? Are we able to take the emotion that we’ve built up in our hearts and convey it over a computer?’” But Rhett need not have feared as he quickly adapted to the new normal. “The very first time we did it, we wrote ‘Country Again’ and I thought ‘dang, maybe this can work’. So I started booking zoom write’s left and right and it was funny, it made me not talk as much. When I’m in a writing room, I will sing melodies over people and people will sing melodies over me or we’ll talk over each other whereas on zoom you can’t do that because it becomes chaos so it was nice to stop for a second and hear other people’s thoughts!”
As he sits in his home studio Rhett smiles as he looks around him “It forced me to do all this – use a microphone, play the piano better and track my own vocals. So it taught me skills I probably wouldn’t have otherwise learned if it hadn’t been thrust upon us all. I’m thankful for technology and thankful to be able to write over it.” He comes full circle on the album as he admits “Now I’m 30, all I listen to is the music that I thought was uncool at 9 and 10 years old. As time went by I got a deeper appreciation for my Dad, letting me hear the classics, all the things that music was built on and now those are the tracks and albums that I go back to on a daily basis.”
Using a combination of songs written out on the road with his father, before lockdown, and those he wrote over zoom, Rhett has managed to put together a double album that really showcases his true self. As always, we hear Thomas Rhett, the entertainer, but we see Thomas Rhett, the family man.
YOU CAN READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE LATEST ISSUE OF MAVERICK MAGAZINE AVAILABLE HERE!