The 100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers limited series podcast gives music fans a front-row seat for conversations with songwriters behind some of the biggest hits of yesterday and today. You’ll learn the stories behind the songs from the people who wrote them. Each episode will focus on one writer: sometimes, they’ll just talk about one song, other times, they’ll talk about a number of hits.
New episodes will be released each Monday through November of 2020.
100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers special podcast series is produced in partnership with Beasley Media Group, XPERI (HD Radio), and BMI in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the first commercial radio broadcast.
There’s room for more than one Australian in Nashville: while Keith Urban is country’s biggest hitmaker from “Down Under,” songwriter Lindsay Rimes is making a big impact on the country charts as well. In this interview, he discusses hits that he’s co-written for Kane Brown, Lindsay Ell and Luke Bryan, among others. He also discusses working with Australian national treasure Kylie Minogue.
Let’s talk about writing “Cool Again.”
I got together with a couple of buddies, Matt McGinn and Josh Hoge. We were at a hotel in town here specifically to write for Kane. We were there for a couple of days. And the first day we got together, we were sitting in the room throwing ideas around; it was in December last year. So it was really cold and a bit depressing. And Matt threw out the idea of “Cool Again.” And we were started singing it. And we knew it was really hookey and we started singing it, pretty much how you hear it on the record now. But we had to dive in and figure out the story. We started throwing around the idea of a past relationship, reminiscing about how it was when it was warm and in summertime and it basically went from there.
You were writing with Kane in mind.
Well, Kane was in the room. He was there the whole time. He loved it. And then I started building the track for the rest of the day. I was messing around with the dobro and at the top and then chopping that up in the song. And I knew it was a really cool signature lick for the song. And so I really messed with that quite a bit to get it to sound really unique and special.
What does everybody contribute? Are you coming up with the chords, the melody, the lyrics? Is Kane telling you what he’s gone through, or thinking about somebody he used to date a few summers ago?
I personally like to start with a guitar; I’m a musician, so I can play guitar and piano and keys and and Matt and Josh are great writers. So we’re throwing around ideas and just making a lot of noise. I like to start off like that until we sort of shape the idea and the story for the song. And then I’ll jump in on the computer and start messing with the sound and the tempo and making a beat and stuff like that. But the chords are all pretty much formed while I’m on guitar with the guys; it just feels more organic that way. When you try and keep the song more open early on, I find that you don’t lock yourself in too much. Sometimes when I start a track too early, it sort of holds the song too tightly and it grows in a different way.
What about the lyrics? Obviously you want to write about something that somebody’s experienced, but you want it to be something that other people will relate to as well.
Totally. Like I said earlier, when we came up with the “Cool Again” hook, we knew it was really catchy and special. And so we started thinking, “Well, how can we make this story connect?” And, you know, reminiscing about a past love and how it was before… it just seemed like just seemed like the right way to go. And then we just started writing the story and telling the story and trying to make it as relatable as possible.
That’s the beauty of songwriting, you can take your brain to another place and you don’t have to write from personal experience all the time. You can just make up a story and and make it relatable.
Sure. This song sort of reminded me a little bit of a song that was sung by another great Australian, Olivia Newton-John, in the movie Grease, when they’re singing about summer nights and what happened over that summer.
That’s an interesting parallel. I didn’t think about that, I guess it’s something to do with our Australian blood. Down under, we love the sun.
So you write the song and then Kane and the record label take it and run. What did you think when you heard the remix with Nelly on it?
I was pretty excited, actually. Early on, as the first version was coming out, Nelly and Kane were sort of talking. I think even when we were in the studio recording the first version of “Cool Again,” Kane mentioned that Nelly and him were talking and they’d like to collab and I was pretty excited. And then one day, Kane sent me a text with Nelly on the song, just a very rough version of him rapping and singing. It was very close to how you hear it now. I got pretty excited. A lot of us grew up on Nelly. And I know he’s a big fan of country music. I was pretty stoked, actually, with the final version. It doesn’t sound far off from that first text message that I got from Kane. It was a real buzz sitting in the studio listening to Nelly’s vocal, you know, coming through my speakers.
I’m sure you’ve seen the video as well. Kane is on the beach and he’s like looking through his binoculars and: here comes Nelly!
He’s got such a great energy. He comes in with his jet ski, that’s just how he rolls, you know?
Talk about the other song that you did with Kane on the new EP Mixtape.
That’s a song called “Didn’t Know What Love Was.” That song started in my studio. I think it was the second day [of a writing session]. At the end of the first day, I came home and I started messing with an idea in my studio just because I wanted to have a track just kind of ready to go for the next day.
So I just started messing around with the guitar line at the start of that song, that guitar line, which is kind of like a “Bennie and the Jets” [by Elton John] kind of thing. I didn’t think it was gonna be for Kane, but I just thought, “Why not?”
And I threw it out in the room the next day and everyone started just jamming on the groove and we knew it felt good. And, you know, I kind of was a bit surprised because it’s a little left of center, it’s a little quirky and interesting. But I knew that we needed to write a more straightforward country chorus. So we started working on some more straightforward chorus. And so the verse vibe and the chorus vibe sort of blended together well, which was a bit of a challenge at first, because all we had was the verse guitars and the groove.
So you mentioned when you were writing it, you didn’t necessarily think it was for Kane. When you write songs, do you sort of have someone’s voice in mind or you just say, “Here’s a good song, let’s see who wants it?”
It varies, because a lot of the times you’re right in the room with buddies and you don’t have an artist in the room, so you’ll think, “Okay, let’s write for this person. I know they’re about to go in the studio.” But other times you just try and write the best song. Sometimes if you try and force a song in the direction for a particular artist, you might not do the song justice. So you’ve just got to play it by ear. And these decisions happen very quickly in the room. It’s not like we sit deliberating over it.
You know pretty quickly and instinctually whether a song’s feeling good for a particular artist or whether you’re just going to spend the day writing the best song you can.
Like you say, part of it is that there’s an obvious commercial aspect to it, in that you know X, Y and Z are on the studio. They we know they are looking for songs to finish the albums they’re working on. And then other times it’s just like, “There’s a song in my heart. I’m going to put it down and maybe somebody will want it.”
Totally. Exactly. And, you know, the more you do that, sometimes you realize some of the bigger artists, particularly the more successful artists who have had multiple hits, they want to try different things. So, sometimes you’ll write a song [and think] “This is perfect for this artist.” And you’ll pitch it and they’ll say, “I’ve done that. I want to try something different.”
So, you know, there’s something to be said for just sometimes writing a song and then pitching it. But, you know, if you tried to force it in a particular direction, it wouldn’t get cut by that artist.
Have you ever written a song and you specifically heard an artist’s voice in in your mind when you were writing it, and they didn’t want it, and somebody else cut the song and it worked perfectly?
Actually, yeah. A few years ago, I wrote a song with two artists, Seth Ennis and Morgan Evans. Morgan is a good buddy of mine and a fellow Aussie and Seth’s another artist. And we wrote this song called “Hooked.” And for whatever reason, Morgan and Seth didn’t end up cutting the song. And I thought it would be perfect for them. And then then Dylan Scott ended up hearing the song. “Hooked” ended up becoming a pretty big hit for him.
I want to talk about one other Kane song: “Heaven” was a bonus track on his first album.
He’d actually had his [2016 self-titled debut] record out, like you said. And he was writing for his bonus release, the deluxe version. And Sony Records put together a little writing camp, similar to the one that where we wrote “Cool Again.” We sat around and we split up into a couple of groups and I was in with Matt McGinn and Shy Carter. And Kane was upstairs with the other group writing a song. And it was just Matt and Shy and I; Matt had the opening line of the song for the chorus. I fell in love with that. I immediately knew we had to write it. And then so it all happened pretty quick. I started building a track and we we wrote the chorus and the first verse. Matt and I had to get back together in town two weeks later to write the second verse. And and at the time, we knew it was pretty special. But you never know because you think [it’s a bonus track on a deluxe version], you don’t think that it’s gonna be a single. But the label loved it and decided to put it out as a single.
That must have been exciting; you hadn’t had many country hits at that point.
Oh, absolutely. At that point I’d been in town three or four years. I’m pretty new, but I’d been coming for 10 years. We’re all chasing that number one song, and you never know where it’s going to come from. So to have that happen was it was magical. It’s a relief because we all want a hit. And then when that happens, it’s like a weight off your shoulders. And then it’s a realization that it’s back to work. You know, keep cranking the songs.
Getting any song cut puts you in the game. A number one single is a really big deal in Nashville. But then, as you say, you’ve got to follow it up, and show that it wasn’t just a one off thing.
Exactly. And that’s a self-imposed insecurity, I think, for all songwriters. Like we have some success and we want to follow it up. And and this internal dialog that, “What if I’m a hoax? What if I can’t do it again?” You know, it’s largely not true, but I think you need that in order to strive to have another hit. But you never know where it’s going to come from. That’s why you just got to get in everyday and and write and just write. But that’s what makes it mysterious and exciting.
To hear the whole interview, where Lindsay talks about Luke Bryan’s “Little Less Broken,” Lindsay Ell’s “Want Me Back,” Chase Rice’s “Lonely If You Are” and working with Kylie Minogue.