Thomas Rhett is just about everything you want in a modern-day country star; a Grammy-nominated singer who, despite all his successes, still remains firmly rooted in family, home and his everyday surroundings.
His recent album, Where We Started, released at the beginning of this month, embodies this, as he sings about ‘Church Boots’, ‘Mama’s Front Door’ and ‘Anything Cold’ with alcohol. At the same time, it also melds traditional country with more modern inflections and includes a Katy Perry feature on the eponymous track.
Here, the Valdosta, Georgian-born tells us about his song-writing inspirations, his daughter’s honest appraisal of his work, and which country star you should be listening to right now.
What is it about country music that you first fell in love with?
Growing up with a Dad who writes and sings country music, it was inevitable I would fall in love with it. But honestly, it’s the storytelling that grabbed me from day one and still does to this day. When you hear a well-written country song, there’s nothing quite like it.
You’ve often spoken about the importance of family. What inspiration does family give to your song-writing?
My family is the most important thing to me in the world, and they are easily my biggest inspiration. I tend to write about things I know, things I have lived, or things I am currently living in real time, and my family are so tied up in those stories.
Whether I’m looking back on dating my wife when we were teenagers, or now being thirty-two and processing being a dad to four girls, I draw from all of it. And Lauren and the girls are also brutally honest with me about the songs they like – and the ones they don’t.
How have you managed to balance family life and life on tour? What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
We’re in a season of life where we have just learned to embrace the chaos in our house. With four girls, it’s really all we know at this point.
What’s your favourite thing to do to relax?
It’s hard to beat a day of fly-fishing, but really any type of exploring outdoors and disconnecting from your cell phone is an ideal day off.
What was the thinking behind releasing your ‘Country Again’ album project in two parts: part A and part B?
We’d written and recorded so many songs that felt cohesive and like they were part of the same project, but also felt like a lot of material for fans to try and absorb in one go. So, we decided to split it up and let them get to know the first set of songs for a bit, before following up with the second. I’m excited for fans to hear Side B when it’s ready.
Your track ‘Death Row’ was inspired by a performance you gave to inmates on death row in 2019. What was it about that experience that inspired you to write the track?
The entire experience was really crazy – it was the first time any of us had done anything like that, and we had no idea what to expect. We went in with one set of assumptions and left with a very different perspective on everything.
I started writing the song just as a way to process all the different thoughts and emotions that had been stirred up – not ever thinking I would release it. It’s literally a diary page from what happened that day and I’ve been really touched by how people have responded to it.
What advice would you give your younger self to prepare him for the career you’ve had so far?
I don’t know if there’s any advice to truly prepare for something like this, but if I could tell my younger self anything it would be not to play the comparison game – just focus on yourself and what you’re doing.
And take a moment to celebrate each piece of success and each victory, instead of constantly looking down the road to the next thing. It’s great to be ambitious, and you need to be to keep growing, but you also need to find moments to be content.
Which emerging country artist do you think people should start listening to?
Conner Smith and Parker McCollum, who are coming on my U.S. tour, are really killing it right now.
If you could only listen to one country track for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Man, I could listen to Chris Stapleton’s voice on repeat forever – he could sing anything and I’ll listen!
Have you performed to UK crowds before? If so, how have you found them, and how do they compare to American crowds?
I’ve been lucky enough to tour in the UK a few times and we absolutely love going there. The main difference, I think, is that neither of us – the fans or me – takes it for granted that we’re there.
We tour every year and fans in the US have a few opportunities to come see us each year, but fans in the UK might only get to see us once every several years, so there’s this collective determination to make it count. And I am always blown away by how well UK fans know my music; they sing along just as loudly to the deep album cuts as they do to the singles.
What can your fans expect from you later this year?
I’m going out on the road in the ‘States this summer, then my team and I are going to figure out how to hopefully get back to the U.K. in 2023.
Any fans of country? Check out whynow’s exclusive audio podcast, Strokes of Country.