Emily Landis: The Story Behind Gabby Barrett’s ‘The Good Ones’

Emily Landis: The Story Behind Gabby Barrett’s ‘The Good Ones’

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.

Country songwriters tend to be “behind-the-scenes” people who don’t have big viral moments. But over the summer, when Emily Landis heard Gabby Barrett’s “The Good Ones,” which she co-wrote, on the radio, she had the presence of mind to film her own reaction and post it to Instagram (it’s slightly NSFW, but it’s charming). It was the first time she ever heard a song that she worked on, on the radio. It certainly wasn’t the last, and based on that song and Eric Paslay’s “Off The Edge Of The Summer” — both of which we discussed — we’ll be hearing her work for a long time to come.

Let’s talk about Gabby Barrett’s “The Good Ones.”

So I actually looked in my old notebook from last year to find the exact date [that I wrote it]. It was February 20th of last year, 2019. I was supposed to write with Zach Kale and Jim McCormick that day. And Zach said, “Hey, I’m working with this new girl, Gabby Barrett. She was on American Idol. And if y’all are interested, she could totally jump in today and we could have more of a target [artist] for our day.”

And we thought, “Yeah, that’d be great. Let’s meet her.” And one year later, she’s like a big star. I mean, we wrote the song when she was fresh off the show. I don’t even know if she had moved to town yet, but the song kind of fell out of the sky and it was an incredible day.

 

I saw a video on your Instagram where you were performing “The Good Ones” next to… I think it’s your boyfriend? 

Yes, Johnny McGuire.

Was he the guy you had in mind when you were writing the song? 

Yes. As songwriters, we have these notes in our phone with song ideas and I get inspiration for love songs all the time from my boyfriend, Johnny. He’s just a great guy. And it’s like the first really healthy relationship I’ve ever been in. I knew that Gabby was dating her now-husband [Cade Foehner] from the show; they met on American Idol. And I was like, “Maybe this girl wants to write a love song.” I love love songs. In that video where I’m singing the song with Johnny, that’s at his mom’s elementary school. That was last Christmas, right before Christmas break. We got to come in and play for some of her elementary schoolers. And it was so great. I mean, you can’t really top playing for just kids who are happy to hear anything. It was amazing.

It’s got to be kind of weird. You’re sitting next to the guy who you wrote it about.

It’s so cute. And we met writing songs; we were set up to write songs together, like four years ago, back when he was in a band [Walker McGuire].

So it’s just a cool full circle: how the song I wrote about him is my first song that actually ended up doing anything [on the charts]. So I’m really grateful and it just makes me want to listen to my heart and write what’s real and just be honest.

Most of the time when people write a song like this, it could be about one person, but it could also be about a combination of people. Are there lines in this song that are specifically about him? 

Yeah, totally. You know, there’s the beginning of the second verse. “You’ll know him when you see him by the way he looks at me. You’d say he hung the moon. I’d say he hung the galaxy.” I think I said that weird “galaxy moon” line. And I was like, “Ya’ll, I don’t know, this is weird.” But to me, Johnny, like, hung the whole world. Some people just mean that [much] to you. And I don’t know, it’s just… looking for a little cool new ways to say those emotions. I think a lot of lines remind me of him. The phone call to his parents. He talks to his parents every day on phone. A lot of it’s real.

What was his take on the song when you played it for him? Do you play songs for him when you’re in the middle of writing them? 

It’s funny because we play a lot of songs for each other, but I don’t think I played this one for him. I think it was so directly about him that I didn’t want to. I thought that if something ever happened with it, he’ll hear it. And then I think he finally heard it when it came out. So it’s funny how that works that way, but I don’t think I shared this one.

So he heard it when it was on the radio. 

I think so [laughs]. Kind of crazy how that happens. He knows a lot of my other songs and I don’t know, it’s just funny how you never know which one is going to be one that people relate to. And maybe I just didn’t know how special that song was until other people realized it too.

Most people probably don’t talk to their current boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife, too much about their exes. But if you’re a songwriter, they could sort of derive some information from your songs that maybe you might not have shared.

No doubt!

Do you do you listen to his songs and think, “Who is that one about?” 

Kind of! Sometimes, he’ll play songs that are clearly love songs and I’ll be like, [sings] “This is about me isn’t it?” It’s so fun to date a songwriter and he’ll say something or I’ll say something or we’ll watch a show and something will happen where we’ll look at each other and I’ll be like: “Dibs on that hook!” I’ve texted him before: “Wait! Dibs on that thing that I joked could be a song!” Or we’ll just write them together, which has been really fun too. Especially daring quarantine.

So what was Gabby’s reaction to the song? 

Gabby wrote the song with us that day. She was in the room. I guess she liked it because it was a love song. And her first single, “I Hope,” is very much a revenge song: a “You cheated on me” kind of song. So she was into the idea. She’s so melodic and she got on the microphone and just sang pretty much what you hear on the radio. The demo was that perfect the day she sang it. I was blown away. I work with a lot of great singers and sometimes I’m just like, “Wow, you were born to do this.”

It seems like you wrote a lot of these lyrics. Did she ever say, “You’re writing about your boyfriend. That line doesn’t work for me. Could we change that line?” 

Yeah. That that makes me think of the Allegheny line. So we were messing with it. There’s this line, “He’s solid and he’s steady like the Allegheny run.” So we’re playing with “He’s solid and he’s steady like the Mississippi run.” I think Jim [McCormick] asked, “Gabby, what’s a river by your hometown?” And somehow we landed on Allegheny. I love those personal little details. My favorite songs have little lines that… I don’t even know what some of these cities are, or towns are. But these words just sound really good in songs. And the more specific you get, the more people relate to it somehow.

 

Talk about Eric Paslay’s “Off The Edge Of Summer.”

We wrote it two years ago on a Liz Rose music retreat in Orange Beach, Alabama. I remember, it was like we’re in like a bedroom. Me, Eric, Emily Shackelton and Mark Trussell. And we played with this idea. I had this title: “Edge of the Summer” I as like, “I don’t know what it is. It’s almost the end of summer.” And then I think Eric said, “Dancing off the edge of the summer.” I said, “Oh my God, that’s so much cooler.”

It feels like songs fall from the sky sometimes. And that’s how this song totally felt. And Mark Trussell was recording the demo. So Eric sang it right there.

It’s crazy now to think, two years later, the song comes out… I’m so blown away by how it turned out. I’m geeking out a little bit, because I used to listen to Eric Paisley when I was in high school like, “She Don’t Love You.” He’s a legend. And so I have to pinch myself that I write with him.

He’s one of those guys who started out as a writer for other people before he started making his own record. So that’s gotta be weird writing for or with a guy like that: his thing is that he’s a writer. 

Yeah. He wrote “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” then “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” All those great songs. And I think the cool thing about Eric is, you know you’re just going to write what everyone feels like writing that day and it’s gonna be great

I kind of feel like sometimes you write with an artist you’ll ask, “OK, what do they want to say?” But Eric is just like, “Let’s just do whatever is the best idea.” So it’s never really, “Are we writing for [this person]t?” It’s just, “Let’s write a great song. ”

Aa lot a lot of Nashville people started out writing for other people before they got the opportunity to make their own records. Is that what you’re looking to do?

I’ve never wanted to do the artist thing. I mean, I can sing, but… I write with a lot of great singers. I can sing to a point where I can write songs, but I’ve never wanted to be the one on stage. But if I’m in the audience and I hear somebody sing a song that I wrote… that’s like drugs. That’s an adrenaline high. I want that.

But in Nashville, you get to do writers rounds and stuff every once in a while. That kind of gives you that your fix of letting people hear you play your songs. So I think that’s all I’m ever gonna want. And I’m grateful just to do that. But to be able to be one of the names behind the songs, that’s always been my dream.

Have you been somewhere where you heard somebody listening to a song and they have no idea they’re standing next to one of the people who wrote it? 

Yeah: here’s a funny story. I was in a thrift store months ago with two of my friends, and I was trying on… I like to call it my lucky jacket because it’s a vintage red Budweiser jacket that I found at this thrift store for seven bucks. And while I was trying it on in the dressing room, the song came on the speakers and I was like, “What is this ironic world where I’m trying on a second hand jacket in a store and my song is playing?” Like, that is so cool. And I’m like, if anything, that’s like some sign that I want to stay. I want to always be this girl who’s trying on the jacket in the thrift store.

It seems to be a nice sort of balance: if you can write songs, and they are on the radio, and obviously you get paid decently for doing that. But you can still go to a store and not have everybody bothering you. You don’t need a bodyguard.

Exactly. That’s that’s the dream, right?

Rob Grimaldi: How He Works With Hip-Hop, K-Pop And Country Artists

Rob Grimaldi: How He Works With Hip-Hop, K-Pop And Country Artists

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.

Diversifying your skills is smart no matter what field you’re in. Rob Grimaldi is a producer/songwriter with a resume that includes work in hip-hop (with Queen Naija), K-Pop (Monsta X and Blackpink) and even country (Jimmie Allen). He spoke to us about working within all three of those genres.

How did you start working with Queen Naija? 

The Queen Naija story is a great one. It actually came as a vocal recording session, first and foremost. I had gotten connected with Queen through a friend, who said that a friend of his needed a vocal recorded and wanted a producer on the project. And I said, “Of course.” And I remember it was a super late night session the first time we met, and I hadn’t known Queen’s story ahead of time. So I was coming into it a little bit blind, but in a good way. And Queen came into the studio in New York, Engine Room, and she told me she had one other song out that was doing pretty well. She was interested in making more music. And that was the beginning of our relationship. It kind of stemmed from getting a song recorded to being able to help develop and and coach and eventually co-write and co-produce “Karma” and “Butterfly.” So it was a pretty fun journey for sure.

 

Talk about writing “Karma.”

She had come in that first night and mentioned to me, “Hey, you know, I’ve been in the studio a few times before. It’s still a new thing to me. I have this idea that I’ve been I’ve been messing around with.” And if you listen to Queen, her strength is her lyrics. Her lyric game is great. She’s super relatable. Her fans really pay attention to her story, being that she’s so prominent in the social world. And when she came in, she’s like, “I have this track that I’ve been writing to. It’s kind of rough. And I wrote the song to it that I really like.”

And she sang to me what turned out to be “Karma.” I’m thinking, “Damn, this is really, really good. I can see how people would really relate to this.” And the story was super personal to her, and that perspective is everything when it comes to new artists and especially records that work in the marketplace.

I thought, “OK, well, this this is an amazing start. Let’s just try cutting it.” And we went through it piece by piece and I was coaching her with the vocal and really making her dig because the story, again, was so real to her. It was an actual life thing, which makes it even more powerful. So when we started cutting it, she’s singing and I’m kind of just producing her vocals. It was just like, “OK, let’s try this here with the track or let’s repeat the chorus twice and add background [vocals].”  When we finished it, she was so thrilled about it. I remember, her manager was like, “Hey, we want you to hop on production on this and make sure it sounds right.” And it became this this whole ordeal of: how can I get this thing from 75 to 120? And it was all about going in and really working with the production for scene changes and twists and turns. I said, “Perfect, leave it with me for a week and I’ll have it finished.” And the rest is history. It was a wild ride.

And I think the moral of that story was: I didn’t want to take away from her message on the record because the writing was so good. That’s kind of what production is. Everything was just based around “Karma.” There was a story that I had to preserve and El Jefe, the other producer on it, did an amazing job of kind of getting this thing started in a direction where she just loved to write to it. And then my role on it was to just make sure the vocal was right, kind of coach on some melody things here in the vocal production, and then to just take the track and and amplify what he had originally done.

Is it weird to meet somebody who you don’t even know, and the first thing you do is to record an intimate song inspired by their lives?

Absolutely. I think you’re less you’re less surprised by that nowadays, because my job is to bring the best out of the songwriter or the artist to to allow them to feel comfortable to get as personal as possible.

So I think at that point, when you get a record like that where it was so specific to her but so global to everybody else, I think my job was just really to tell her it was OK to feel, and it was OK to dig into that emotion even in the recording. Like, I didn’t want her to be happy recording “Karma.” It just wouldn’t have delivered the message. So pushing her against her feelings, even as [it was] a new working relationship between me and her… sometimes it’s a little bit awkward. But she was such a great listener and so willing to kind of dig at that side that I think it made the process so much smoother and the vocal makes all the difference on a song like that. So I think we captured something really exciting for sure.

It’s like an actor in a movie: if you’re not going to perform the role, people are not going to buy into it.

Exactly.

 

After that, you worked on “Butterflies.”

So the timeline was: we finished “Karma.” That was before Queen had signed her label deal that she signed with Capitol, which was a really exciting moment for her. And that was a huge step in her career and in her manager’s as well. I know they were so thrilled about it.

So “Karma” came out, I think, in June of 2018. We had a bunch of records that they wanted to put on an EP through Capitol, “Butterfly” being one of them, “Mama’s Hand” being another, “Bad Boy” being another. So we kind of just had a meeting, the three of us together. And it was like, “Hey, we need these records done for Queen’s EP. How can you help?”

It was it was really just, how can I help finish things and take some pressure off of them? Just just knowing the label game and knowing what the label needs, how can I be an asset to them? So we went through the process. “Butterflies” was one of my favorites on the record. Again, it was another song that you heard it for the first time and you said in back of your head, “Yep. This one makes sense for Queen. This is a no brainer for her.” It was about her relationship, her new relationship that she was over the moon about. And it was just one of those sticky, sticky melodies where you were in the back of your head saying, “OK, cool.” Again, the bones are so strong here. Let’s make sure the production and make sure the track elevates the record and sends the message out.

It’s like the opposite of “Karma.” You wanted her to be happy in the studio when she’s singing that one. 

Absolutely. With a lot of this stuff, “Karma” included, the production almost came after the fact.

I love having the vocal recorded before I go “ham” on the production because the vocal plays such a big role in how I shape the tracks. But it’s also it’s also the feeling. Half the time, I’m doing production and getting the tracks to a certain place, recording the vocal and then going back in and changing a lot of what I had because the feeling changes.

“Butterflies” was the same. They had a track that was really cool and got the vibe across. We got the vocal done. Did all the vocal production and the backgrounds for Queen. The background vocals were a huge, huge piece of that EP. I think it kind of put a stamp on what she could do vocally. We tried to really kind of switch it up with some cool runs in the back, some cool ad libs and a lot of layering which was new to her, in the best way. I think she absolutely killed it. And she she’s a harmony queen. So she really enjoyed that process. And then, I just kind of came in and made sure those productions were solid.

You have a diverse “resume.” You’ve worked with Queen Naija, but you’ve also worked with Monsta X. 

Yeah, we’re kind of all over the map, man. I think it’s cool. I’m doing a bunch of country now as well. But I’m really excited about the Monsta X record.  People ask me, “How did you how did you do a Jimmie Allen and Tim McGraw record and then do a Queen Naija record?” It’s really it’s all about capturing the song and being able to then pivot sonically. A lot of it is studying and listening to a bunch of music. But at the root of it all, it’s if we can write a great song that makes sense for the artist, the production follows. If you know what you’re doing in those [genre] spaces [it works]. I think that takes practice. But as soon as you lock in and understand what works, it all comes back to the song.

 

Is there a language barrier when you work with a K-Pop group? 

Well, it depends. For the Monsta X record particularly, I wrote with two really good friends of mine, Joren [van der Voort] and Ben [Samama] and [“Got My Number”] just had an infectious chorus; that’s where the song started. And I remember we were in L.A. writing at Sound Factory and we were playing it on piano. And the second day were kind of vibing in this chorus. I said, “Okay, cool. This is something.” When you write so many songs a week, which is kind of what we’re in the business of doing these days, and you hear something that catches you right away, it’s inspiring, you make sure you get it right. In a lot of cases, you don’t get that feeling. So the Monsta X record was one of those where it was so hookey, especially in the chorus. I remember we all looked at each other. We were like, “Okay, let’s chase this.”

To answer your question about the language barrier and stuff like that, we have a Blackpink song coming out pretty soon as well [editor’s note: this interview was done during the summer before the song came out], which I’m really excited about. It was the same thing: write the best English song you can. And either they will take care of translating that to a different language or they’ll leave it be. The Monsta X record was was left in English and so is the Blackpink one. So sometimes you get you get lucky and sometimes either way it works. They’ll just translate it and it’s going to sound different to your ears. But in their space, it may work really well.

When you write a song like that, are you writing with a specific artist in mind? 

No, the “Got My Number” record was not written with any focus in that space at all. I remember we got up and it was kind of a reunion for us three, becuase we hadn’t written together in a while. I love to write with purpose every day. I think that’s the most important piece. If there’s a direct opportunity with an artist, that makes the most sense. It’s always, as a business person, smarter to do that. But I remember that day in particular. We literally were just trying to write the best song we could.

When you’re writing with the intent to give it to a group, are you thinking, “OK, there are multiple singers in this group. I need to come up with a spot for each of them to shine.”

Yeah. If we had Monsta X in the room, if it was a Blackpink situation or any other group, my approach would 1000 percent change knowing the dynamic of the group. I think in that case particularly, we had no target. It was more: “Let’s just work on the song,” because we thought the idea was cool. But yes, for sure, if I was in the room with with a group, and knowing who does what, I think having that research done ahead of time is so important because how you craft the melody and how you craft parts to each person’s strength is so important in making the song as powerful as it can be. I think knowing the group or listening to a bunch of their music and figuring out who does what best is so crucial, because I think the dynamic of the record can change pretty drastically with each personality doing the right thing.

 

You were mentioning the Jimmie Allen/Tim McGraw song. Going from some of the things that you’ve done to Jimmie Allen is certainly a stylistic leap. Talk about that song, and getting Tim McGraw involved. 

I consider Jimmie a good friend, and I have so much respect for his journey as an artist. We meet so many artists in this game; some of them have worked really hard to get there, some of them not as much. In Jimmie’s case, his effort and his persistence is so, so admirable. And I think that going in I was super excited to work with him because I also I knew his story. I knew what he was all about. I loved his music beforehand. Our first session was in L.A. We wrote something really “crossover,” which was super cool. And Jimmie is open all that. He loves being different, but still landing kind of in his space.

So I remember the first day we wrote something that was very crossover country-pop/urban. And when we came back after the session, I was like, “Yo, you trying to come back for a second day tomorrow?” He’s like, “Absolutely, let’s go.”

So he texted me that night and we set up the time for the next day. We were writing with another great friend of mine, Riley Biederer, who’s incredible. And I told Riley beforehand, I was like, “Riley, we got to do something for Jimmie’s record today because I’m not sure if we really landed that yesterday.”

I knew we had to, like, nail a country record. So Riley was like, “Let’s just do something [country] for his project.” [But] Jimmie came in with two pop ideas. And I said, “Dude, we got to do something for you today. Let’s just nail something that makes the most sense for your project.” We were working on a piano record. I sat down and just played. It was an idea I wrote prior to the session. And Riley is like the melody monster queen, and she’s one of my favorite people to write with. And I always know if I can if I can capture a great progression and emotion that she’s gonna bring it home.

And Jimmie’s instincts are insane as well. So it went really fast. That was a great day. And I remember Jimmie, after the session, called me and said “I think I love this song.” And it was it was kind of done when we left. We didn’t even do any edits. I felt really good. And he called me after was like, “I think I got to get [Tim] McGraw on this thing, I’ve been wanting to work with him for a while. And I think he’d really love it.”

And I didn’t think anything of it because people say that kind of stuff all the time. But it actually happened. And Tim added so much personality and sauce to it, and he’s obviously a legend in his space. And it was a dream of ours to work with someone like that, even if we didn’t get a chance to meet him. But I think the character he added to the record was so powerful. And for a song that was very personal to Jimmie in his journey, Tim was a really great addition there. 

Have you been in a situation where you’re at restaurant, at a club, at a store and you hear a song that you co-wrote on P.A. and you’re watching people dig it and they don’t know that you’re one of the people who made that song?

Yeah, I’ve had that happen a few times. One of my favorites was a “Karma” one in L.A. It was in an Uber. And I was leaving the studio and it popped on and the female driver was like freaking out and singing the whole song. And I was just in the back smiling because it was a new release. It was like the first week at radio in L.A. and it was really cool to see.

That’s the most exciting part for songwriters and producers: if that can change someone’s day in a positive way and whether it’s feeling emotional and getting in your feelings or feeling happy or any sort of emotion we can cause through a record, I think is the end goal, because it’s people use music as an outlet to heal and as an outlet to feel. And I think if you can be part of that, that’s always a winning formula for sure.

John Oates: The Stories Behind Hall And Oates’ Classics

John Oates: The Stories Behind Hall And Oates’ Classics

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.

“If someone would’ve told me back in ’72 that we would be selling out giant arenas and things like that in 2020, I really wouldn’t have believed it,” John Oates told us. “And there were moments throughout the ’90s and early 2000s where I certainly wouldn’t have believed it either.” After racking up hit after hit after hit in the ’70s and ’80s, Daryl Hall and John Oates didn’t know where they fit in, in the alternative-rock dominated early ’90s. But, of course, good songs never go out of style, and the duo, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, have recently headlined arenas. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, they would have played ampitheaters across this country in the summer of 2020. John Oates spoke to us about a lot of the hits that got them to this point.

Let’s start by talking about “She’s Gone” from 1973.

Well, that song came about in a very unusual way. I had met a gal. We had an encounter at about 3:00 a.m. in a 24 hour soul food restaurant in Greenwich Village. She was a very interesting girl and it was the middle of winter. And she was wearing a tutu and cowboy boots. And it was kind of fun, let’s just put it that way. I asked her out on New Year’s Eve. This was probably December when I first met her and I thought maybe we’d get together on New Year’s Eve. I was sitting in the apartment in New York and she never showed up. And so there I was: sitting by myself and I picked up my guitar and I wrote, “She’s gone. Oh, she’s gone.” Kind of this folky little lament. And I didn’t really think much of it, to be honest with you.

And a few days later, Daryl came back to the apartment. I played it for him and he said, “Hey, that’s cool.” He sat down at the piano and began to play the riff that you hear in the beginning of the song as the intro and the piano riff. And we literally wrote that song in about an hour and a half. We just blew blew through it, just kind of using everyday images and things that are very, very mundane, but kind of represented loss in a way. And then, of course, when it got into the hands of Arif Mardin, our producer at Atlantic Records, and with the amazing studio musicians and the arrangement that he created, the song really became… I called it “my perfect storm of creativity.” We had the raw material in the actual song itself. But the way it was produced and the players and the way they played it, and everything about it just really took it to another level.

 

Everybody knows that you and Daryl both love R&B. What did you think when you heard Tavares’ version?

Well, our song had been released prior to Tavares’ version. And it wasn’t a big hit. Our version did reasonably well, but it didn’t set the world on fire. And then Tavares did their version. And it became a number one R&B song. Considering Daryl and my roots and our Philadelphia upbringing and the kind of music that we listened to as kids, it didn’t surprise us at all that it became an R&B hit. Then, of course, Atlantic re-released it, and then years later they re-released it yet a third time, after we had success with “Sara Smile.”

They finally made it happen. That was back in the Ahmet Ertegun era; if a record label was really behind something, they would make it happen. I don’t think songs or artists get that many opportunities like that these days. 

I think it would be very unusual for a song to be released [as a single] three times in a space of about five years [today].

So talk about “Sara Smile,” because that was another one of your huge hits from that era. 

I have to give full credit to Darryl on that. It’s really kind of his song. He and I co-wrote the lyrics, but honestly, he was driving the bus on that one. It’s kind of a postcard to his girlfriend, Sara [Allen], who was a co-writer on a lot of our songs. The unique thing about “Sara Smile” was that it was never considered by either us, or the record company, to be a hit record. It was just an album track to us. And I believe we had released two or three singles from the “Silver Album” [1975’s Daryl Hall & John Oates] prior to “Sara Smile,” and they all went into the top 30 or top 20. But we didn’t really have a big hit. And then we were on tour in Europe and a DJ in Ohio at an R&B station began to play “Sara Smile,” just purely as an album track. And, as they used to say in the old days, the phones lit up. There was an amazing response. “Who’s that?” “Who’s singing?” “Where’d you get that song?” And the report made it’s way back to RCA Records. That was our new label at the time. And they said, “Hey, well, let’s give it a shot.” And they released it as a single and you know the rest.

 

Sara co-wrote “You Make My Dreams” with you guys. Tell me about that one.

That was a Darryl piano groove. Just a cool, simple piano groove. And I think it was kind of funny about that one, too… the story with that is: after we we wrote it, we played it for our manager at the time, and he kind of dismissed it, I remember, because of the lyrics and the verse. For some reason, he thought it was too “poetic.” I don’t think he quite  got it.

That song has an interesting history, because when it was released it went into the top five. But it wasn’t considered a huge smash. It wasn’t setting the world on fire. People weren’t gravitating to that song. And now, 30 years, 40 years later, that song is the gift that keeps giving. I mean, people just can’t get enough of it. It’s being used in movies, television commercials. People are dancing to it on the Internet. It’s just taken on a life of its own.

I feel like a lot of your songs are like that. I know a lot of people got into “I Can’t Go For That” because De La Soul sampled it in their 1989 song “Say No Go.” Talk about writing that song. 

That song was really not not a planned thing at all. We were in the studio recording at the end of a recording day. The band went home and it was just Daryl, myself and the engineer. We were probably doing some kind of work on the tracks or whatever. Quiet evening. And Daryl just went out to kill some time and sat at the keyboard. And he turned on the little drum machine that we used to use. And he hit the first preset, which was “Rock 1.” And he began to play the bass line with his left hand. It was like magic.

And then he said, “Hey, John, grab your guitar.” And he had an idea for this guitar part, which is the the plucky kind of syncopated guitar part that I play. And that was it. The only things on that song are me, Daryl and Charlie DeChant. Daryl put some little synths on it. It’s got my guitar part. We did the background vocals. Charlie played the sax solo. And we and we sang it. That was it.

When De La Soul incorporated it into their song. hip-hop was not brand new; it had been around maybe 10 years. But clearly, they didn’t have people checking for samples and maybe getting permission for stuff the way they have to do today. How did you first hear that they were using it? When did you first hear their song?

We had done a project with Nile Rogers for a movie called Earth Girls Are Easy [they covered the O’Jays’ “Love Train”]. Pretty silly movie. And we were doing a music video out in Long Island in a park. We had a bunch of kids in the audience of the music video. And during one of the breaks in the video, there was a girl in the front row and she came up, and she goes, “Have you heard this yet?” And she handed me a cassette. Handwritten on it, it said, “‘Say No Go,’ De La Soul.”

And we went back and listened to it and we were like, “Wow, what is this?” As you said, it was the early days of sampling. I wasn’t as aware of what was happening in the hip-hop world. And we thought it was really cool. There’s nothing wrong with sampling as long as the original composers get credit and get their due. I love when people sample and take things to another level. You know, we made our own song the way we wanted to make it. And they took a tour to a whole other place. And I think that’s really cool.

I just think back then, there weren’t even rules about sampling in hip-hop records. 

It was the Wild West. You know, you just took whatever you wanted. And to be honest with you, it’s really the same today. It’s not much different. The only difference is there are more people being a little more attentive to making sure that the writers get credited.

If someone asks to sample one of your songs, you could say, “I don’t like that. You can’t do it.”

Well, we can. If there’s a major sample going on, BMI will contact us and say, “Hey, listen, these guys want to do this. What do you think?” And for the most part, I think we pretty much greenlight most of the things unless it’s really offensive or something like that.

 

So for me and a lot of my generation, “Maneater” was a big deal: we’d heard your music on the radio all the time. But “Maneater” was the first time we really saw you; MTV played that video a lot. So talk about writing that song.

I was in a restaurant in Greenwich Village where we used to go for late-night hangouts, and it was a very hip ’80s place to gather with musicians and actors, models and the groovy ’80s Wall Street tycoons. Just watch Wolf of Wall Street and you can kind of imagine what it was like. I’ll leave it at that. But anyway, I was sitting at a table with some friends and this gal came into the room and she was just breathtakingly gorgeous. And she sat down at our table and began to tell these dirty jokes. She had this incredible, beautiful, beautiful, incredibly beautiful face, an incredibly foul mouth, which I thought was really kind of cool. And I thought to myself, “Man, she’d chew you up and spit you out.” That was my first thought.

And as I was walking home that night, because I lived nearby in the Village in New York, I just started singing. “She’ll chew you up and spit you out. She’s a maneater.” And I just thought, “Oh, wait a minute, I think I’ve got something here.” And I went back to the house and I wrote a reggae chorus because I had just recently come back from Jamaica and I was into reggae at the time and I played it over and over again. And it was just very simple and with a reggae style. And I got with Daryl and he really dug it. He said, “Man, that’s really cool. But I don’t know about the reggae feel. Let’s try some different feels.” And he came up with the Motown feel, which is the one you hear on the record. It’s funny because today when I play it solo, I go back and play it in the reggae style, which is always a lot of fun. But that’s how that song happened.

 

Tell me about “Out Of Touch.” 

Well, “Out Of Touch” came about in a very unusual way as well. And these songs all have interesting anecdotes. It was around the time in the mid-’80s when digital technology was just coming available to the public. And we had been experimenting with some very sophisticated early digital sampling keyboards and things like that. And I had purchased this small little cassette deck that allowed you to overdub. You could do four tracks on a cassette and you could bounce tracks and, you could do things that were totally not available at home prior to that. And so I had that at the house. I had a new synthesizer, which I didn’t really play, I didn’t know what it was capable of.

And one night I was just messing around and I hit the synthesizer button that said “arpeggiated.” And I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. And so when I hit the keys, you know, it went, “donk donk donk donk donk.” And so I started playing a melody based on that. That’s that sound. And I just went [sings], “Donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk donk.”

And I thought, “Hey, that’s cool.” I put some bells on it. And then I did this whole background vocal part. Once I created this chorus, I didn’t have a verse and it was super late at night and I just recorded the chorus that I had and I went into the studio the following day. We were working with a guy named Arthur Baker at the time. And Arthur was producing the Stylistics. And I came in and I said, “Hey, Arthur, I think I might have a cool song for the Stylistics. Kind of sounds like a Philly chorus.”

I played it for him and he said, “Are you nuts? That’s a smash for you and Daryl, you’ve got to record it!” I played it for Darryl, of course. And he and I wrote the verse and and we cut it.

 

You sang Hall & Oates’ cover of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” As a singer and as a songwriter, how do you approach singing such an iconic song? 

With a with no limitations. That’s how you approach it. That song was an afterthought, a total afterthought. We had recorded the [1980] Voices album and we thought we were finished. And in those days, we would have what we called a “listening party” because we never allowed the record company, or any of the “suits,” so to speak, into the studio while we were recording. That’s something that is completely impossible to do nowadays. But in those days, that’s how we did it.

So we had this great listening party. Everybody’s in the studio grooving to the stuff that we had recorded and everybody was very high and and just saying, “Oh, this is great. Sounds great. Sounds great.” And right after the listening party, Darryl and I, with some friends, walked out. We were recording at Electric Lady down in the Village. And we walked out onto the street and we said, “Let’s get a get a slice of pizza.” So we went to the local pizza place, which was half a block away. We sat down and we’re talking and we’re waiting for our food. And on the jukebox came, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

And both Daryl and I kind of just knew that there was something missing from the album. We didn’t know what it was. And we just looked at each other and said, “Hey, let’s record that.” And so the next day we called the band, went into the studio and we cut it live. We just played it and we came up with that middle section, which is different, with very ’80s sounds. We sang it and we did the whole song in a few hours. And, of course, it became a hit for us.

This wasn’t a single, but I wanted to ask you about the title track to [1990’s] Change of Season.

Well, the Change Of Season album was made at an unusual time in my life. We had been with Atlantic initially then RCA for many years through all the big ’80s hits. And then, you know, we kind of backed off in the late ’80s but we still had a commitment to our contract,  which was transferred to Arista Records. We still had a commitment to them to deliver an album. I was going through a divorce. Our manager had left. There was a lot of, you know, upheaval… in at least in my life. I’m not going to speak for Darryl. And I just I wrote that song. I came up with the idea that I needed a new way forward, a new breath of life. And I didn’t know what it was. And the idea of changing seasons just seemed to to epitomize the way I was feeling. I wanted to have a cool R&B feel to it. I actually got together with our keyboard player,. Bobby Mayo, who’s a very, very well-known player. He played on Frampton Comes Alive, and he also played with Foreigner, among other people. I gave him the idea. He came over the house and I played him the idea. I said, “Man, I really want this to sound like an old Otis Redding record.” And then he came up with some really cool chords. And so he and I wrote that together.

I’ve interviewed you before and I remember you mentioned to me that, after that record, things were changing in pop culture. And you weren’t sure where you guys fit anymore. I feel like the Change Of Season album was a good “period” at the end of a long sentence, of at least that phase of your career. 

Yeah, it was. There were big changes in my personal life and there were changes in our career. You know, it was the rise of the garage band movement out of Seattle and all that. It wasn’t a melodic time. It was more of a period of angst and kind of aggression. I don’t think our style really jibed with the moment. There’s always an element of that with any kind of music that becomes popular. I mean, not only does it have to be good and catchy and and get people’s attention, but it has to be somehow in sync with the times and we didn’t feel we were in sync with the times. And so we actually voluntarily stepped back and said, “You know, let’s wait and see what happens.” And we waited until ’96 before we recorded again.

You guys recently headlined Madison Square Garden. It’s been really extraordinary to watch this reemergence of your popularity.

Yeah, it has been amazing. And I’ll tell you, I’m very, very appreciative and blessed. If someone would’ve told me back in ’72 that we would be selling out giant arenas and things like that in 2020, I really wouldn’t have believed it, to be honest with you. And there were moments in the ’90s and early 2000s where I certainly wouldn’t have believed it either.

I think that the songs have stood the test of time and the songs seem to resonate through through generations. And there’s a quality to the songwriting and the type of records we’ve made that seem to appeal across the generations, and that’s what’s really propelled our reemergence.

Not to compare you guys too much to Motown… but I just feel like Smokey Robinson’s songs will never really be out of style. All of those songs are always going to work for me. John and Paul’s Beatle songs are always going to work for me.

I think it’s all about the songs. It really is. I use this example, and I don’t want to be morbid or anything like that. But, you know, take the Eagles, for instance. Glen Frey passes away. He was amazing guy, and founder of the band. And they go out and they carry on with Glen’s son [Deacon] and hire Vince Gill, who’s just a genius. And they sound as good, if not better than they ever sounded. It’s the same thing with Journey. Steve Perry stops singing and they find Arnel Pineda. But it’s the songs that kids are hearing. They’re not really paying that much attention to the actual personnel necessarily. So it’s really all about the songs.

I read an interview with Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, and he’s doing the Dead & Company thing [former Dead members Weir and drummers Billy Kreutzmann and Micky Hart play Grateful Dead songs with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti]. And Bob Weir said that he fully expects that one day he, Hart and Kreutzmann are gonna be done. And they actually want the other three guys to continue playing their songs. I thought, “Wow.” Most bands wouldn’t say that. 

That’s very, very much in keeping with the history of music. I mean, Bach and Mozart aren’t out there conducting orchestras. There are orchestras playing their music all over the world. George Gershwin’s not sitting at the piano and playing his classics. But yet those songs are timeless. And that’s the magic and the beauty of being a songwriter.

Have you ever been in a situation, at a party, at a restaurant, even at a store where one of your songs is playing and people are enjoying it and they don’t realize that it’s you right next to them? 

Oh, yeah. It happens a lot. Sometimes I wonder, when I go into a restaurant or someplace like that and I hear a song [by us], I wonder if they see me come in and they’re actually putting it on. It’s funny because that’s the only time I hear our music, when I just hear by accident, like walking into a store or a shop or airport. I very seldom play our own songs at home.

The course that you’ve taken with your own career has been so interesting. I think if somebody said in the ’70s or ’80s that what John Oates would be doing in the 2010s, or in 2020, is playing with really great bluegrass musicians in Nashville… that wouldn’t be what people would have expected. But you’ve really committed yourself to doing this. Talk about the live album [Live In Nashville] and the commitment you’ve put into this part of your career.

Luckily, I had recorded Live In Nashville on January 9th of this year, right before everything shut down. And the reason I recorded it was because I had been on tour with the Good Road Band for about two years. And, you know, when you play live, the band just keeps getting better and better. And the songs evolve and the arrangements get better. And I wanted to capture this magic of this incredible group of players from Nashville while we were still kind of hot, because I was expecting that I’d be going out on tour with Daryl this year. I thought, “Well, let’s let’s mix this thing and put it out.”

When I moved to Nashville, I found myself being kind of welcomed into the Americana music movement and meeting a bunch of players and writers who were part of that world. And it really rekindled my earliest musical influences from [the days] before I met Daryl Hall, that kind of stuff that I was into. I was playing a lot of folk music. I was playing a lot of blues and bluegrass. I was not really wanting to go back in time, but to use my earliest musical DNA to create something new and unique, but still honor the past. And that’s what this music is all about.

 

The band seems pretty tight. 

Well, it’s the result of two years of touring, and that’s that’s exactly why I wanted to capture it. The band is just so damn good. And it’s just amazing to see them play. A lot of what’s happening in the performances seems like these are all well-honed arrangements. But honestly, they’re just guys who are great musicians listening to each other and reacting to each other. And that’s what I love about it. It’s spontaneous, but really well crafted.

When I last spoke to you, you commented that Hall and Oates  are attached to the hits and you can’t play too many deep cuts at your concerts… and what a good “problem” that is to have. But now that you’ve been doing your solo thing in this incarnation for so long, it seems to me that the two things complement each other. You could go to a big arena — obviously, when the world goes back to normal — and play some of the biggest hits of all time with the guy you’ve been doing it with for 40-something years, and rock a crowd of 30,000. But you could also go to City Winery and do something else without the expectation of playing 10 songs that you do every night with Darryl. 

That’s exactly why I do my solo projects, because it’s a it’s a complete 180 from what I do with Daryl and it gives me a chance to express myself in any way I want. And fortunately for me, the commercial success of Hall and Oates over the years has given me that platform and that ability to be totally free musically. And that’s an amazing place to be when you’re a creative person. The ultimate goal is to have total creative freedom. And I have that. So I want to make sure I don’t squander it. You know, I want to I want to make the most of it.

K-Camp: ‘Lottery (Renegade)’ And The Biggest Dance Craze Of 2020

K-Camp: ‘Lottery (Renegade)’ And The Biggest Dance Craze Of 2020

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.

One of the biggest songs of the year has been K-Camp’s “Lottery (Renegade),” which also spawned one of the biggest dance crazes on TikTok. We spoke to K-Camp about the song and the dance. (Listen to the podcast, where he also looks back at some of his biggest hits throughout his entire career.)

Tell me about writing “Lottery” and the success of that song.

I wrote “Lottery” when I was on the “Switch” tour. We had a stop in New York. We had like three days off in New York and I wanted to book studio time. My dog Reazy [Renegade] was in New York already. He had a session at Warner. He told me to pull up. And every time me and Reazy get together, I don’t think we ever miss. We link so rarely, but we get together, we never miss.

It was just one of those days, he’s pulling up beats. The 808s came in and I was drawn to it, and the rest is history. “Lottery” came out, swept the whole TikTok world, I don’t think nobody has passed me yet.

When did you become aware that everybody on TikTok was dancing to your song?

I became aware when I seen it on my Twitter. I see dances all the time. Every time I drop a certain [kind of] record, the dance community always eat it up.

 

I’m used to it. I think it was the New York Times and it was a story about Jalaiah [Harmon, who created the “Lottery” dance] and giving her credit.

So I found out who she was and had my homie call her mama and we linked. I got her in the studio, had her dance in the studio and put it on Instagram. And she just took it to a whole other thing.

Some people might not want to be involved with a teenager helping to make their song a viral thing. But you gave her credit. You were up front: “Hey, this girl really helped the song out!”

Right. And I knew her people. It was it was small world because a good friend, who managed Playboi Carti a little, his best friend from college’s daughter was Jalaiah, who created the dance.

Were you on TikTok when this happened?

No. I got a TikTok, but I don’t be TikTokin’, I got money to make.

In this case it did [make money]. 

I guess it did in a way.

Is there a lot of pressure now: “OK, how are we going to pull this off or something like this again now?”

NoAs a creator, I don’t go in with [the attitude], “Oh we gotta do this s— again.” Or, “We got to recreate this moment.” Because another moment probably gonna come that is probably even bigger in that moment. We just create and whenever the stars align and everything match up, that’s what’s going on, I didn’t plan that for “Lottery” [to do those] numbers. I make music. I do the music thing for real.

Do you get tired of having to hear the song? It’s so ubiquitous. 

Oh yeah, for sure. I was telling my homie yesterday, Yes. I’m tired of when I get on the ‘gram and the first thing I hear [is that song]. I skip over it every time now. I can’t take it no more.

But it has been good to you. 

It has been good. A definite blessing.

K-Camp also spoke about “1Hunnid” “Lil Bit” and other hits. Check out the podcast above to hear the full interivew. 

Lindsay Rimes: Behind The Scenes On Kane Brown’s ‘Cool Again’

Lindsay Rimes: Behind The Scenes On Kane Brown’s ‘Cool Again’

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. 

Chris Layton: Double Trouble’s Drummer Talks ‘Crossfire’

Chris Layton: Double Trouble’s Drummer Talks ‘Crossfire’

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.

Chris Layton was the drummer of Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, but he didn’t usually write songs for the band. Until their last album, that is: he was one of the co-writers on “Crossfire,” one of Stevie Ray’s last classics oof of In Step. He told us the story behind the song, and how the label asked if they could ditch the guitar solo to get it to top 40 radio.

So let’s talk about “Crossfire.” 

I was having a conversation with [co-writers] Bill Carter and Ruth Elsworth, who are really songwriters by trade. And we were talking about the idea of [Double Trouble keyboardist] Reese Wynans and [bassist] Tommy Shannon and myself and the two of them getting in our production studios and spending a week [together], and that we would work on all sorts of ideas and then we would see what we ended up with.”Crossfire” was one of a number of songs… we wrote nine songs. This was as we were a couple of months out from beginning the In Step record.  We just said, “Let’s do the business splits now and then whatever happens, happens, and we’ll all be writers, owners, if you will, of the properties when we’re done.”

So that being the agreement, we went into our space. And we just started working. “Crossfire” originated with the bassline that Tommy Shannon plays on the song. He and I, we developed a groove really based on that on his on his bass line. And we got together and kicked around things like chords, chord structure.  Bill Carter and Ruth Elsworth actually wrote the lyrics to the song.

 

The band had gone through a bunch of different difficulties with substance and whatnot and had come to a point where we had made a decision  to take a different tack in the way that we were going. In the direction in our music, our lives, everything else. And so we discussed the things that had, you know, tempted us, plagued us, inspired us, troubled us. The list goes on and on.

And they came back with lyrics that kind of expressed all of that in a simple way. And we took that and we developed that into what became the finished song as a demo. We took it into the studio and we changed it a little bit more.

I remember seeing Stevie Ray right before In Step came out. He popped up at a Living Colour concert with just his electric guitar. I think he played “Tightrope” and something else before Living Colour came on. It just seemed like he was sort of rejuvenated. I think there was an awareness with that ans that he had gotten through some substance stuff at that time. And I guess that was part of the energy of that record. 

Very much so. He was in Dallas. He had reconnected in a real significant way with one of his old oldest friends, Doyle Bramhall. That’s the father; not Doyle Bramhall II, who we were later in the Arc Angels with.

 

We were all like one big kind of extended family. But they had reconnected and they were sitting around talking about their experiences with life and with substance abuse and whatnot and they they spent long hours just sitting in Stevie’s living room with guitars. And they developed [those conversations] into songs. So when we got together, he said, “Hey, I’ve got these songs.” One of them was “Tightrope”… that was a groove that Tommy and I actually developed and said, “Here, take it up to Dallas if you want to see what you guys can do with it.” So those songs were kind of connected, but “Crossfire,” Stevie didn’t have any part of [writing].

And when we played it for him, we talked about the lyrics. He goes, “What is the song saying? ‘Save the strong, lose the weak?'” We said, “No, that’s in jest. The idea is that what we don’t want to do is just save the strong and lose the weak.” And he said, “Yeah, I get that.”

He took the song and he said, “I have to live with it for a minute. to see if I really connect with everything about it,” which is really a great thing about him. That’s why I can go back and listen to all the music that we recorded. And every bit of it is is really focused on intent and meaning. And there was really no other consideration to the music that we ever did.

But he did sit with it for about a week and he came back. He said, “I got it. Let’s let’s cut it. “And so we did.

When that record came out, the two songs you would hear on the radio most were “Crossfire” and “Tightrope.” And later on, I think “The House Is Rockin’.” I’ve heard stories of artists who don’t have to write all their own songs, but they want the singles to be the ones that they wrote. Were you surprised to see that “Crossfire” was one of the first singles from the album?

Stevie never treated songs that way. He usually didn’t care about money, which could be a little bit of an issue at times because, you know, we were while we were a band, we were also trying to run a business. We have to care about money because if we don’t care about it we’ll suffer for that. So there was not a conversation, “Well, I wrote this one, so that’s got to be the single.”  I always heard that as one as, that could be a single… and a really good one. And it did become that.

In fact, as it went up, the album oriented radio charts, it hung at number one for quite a while. Sony Music wanted to do an edit in order to cross it over into contemporary hit radio because they thought it could be like actual real national chart topper.

And that’s a funny story. They said, “It’s a great song. And it would really do everything that [a hit] needs to. But we’d have to get rid of the guitar solo because that that kind of stuff doesn’t really work on contemprary hits radio. And Stevie said, “Well, I thought we were a guitar band.” So anyway, it turned into a little bit of a heated discussion because they were really pushing for this.

He said, well, “Let me think about it.” And so after about six or seven weeks, right as the song started going back down the AOR charts, Stevie said, “Well, OK, I think we could do that.” They said, “Well, it’s actually too late now. We’ve lost the momentum anyway.”

The album did great anyway. And a lot of fans would have gotten upset by that edit. 

Yeah, well, that was kind of always his main consideration.To change that would be to change something fundamentally that really wasn’t us, you know. So that’s one of those things where you could say, “Well, yeah, but we could maybe make a lot more money. We could sell tons of records.” And it was like, “Yeah, but are we changing what we’re about?”

And that’s where he always had a really good head about him to say, “Well, I don’t want to change us fundamentally.”

So you guys co-wrote “Crossfire” on the last album, and he co-wrote songs with Doyle. Did you ever talk about writing together? 

After he got sober, clean and sober, he went to spend more time with his mother because she lived in Dallas. Doyle lives in Fort Worth, so they were just visiting [each other] and that kind of turned into songwriting as opposed to, “I’m going to go write with him and not with ya’ll.” Because we all had lived here [in Austin] and he bought a house in Dallas because he wanted to have a closer relationship with his mother. So it just kind of sprung up pretty naturally as opposed to being a planned idea.

I was there the night you guys got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It felt like there was a whole block of seats bought by people who came up from Texas just to see you guys. How did you feel about that night?

I had just come from Europe, I was in the middle of a tour in Europe. I’d been over there for almost a month already. So I just kind of landed and walked right into all of it. So there was that. But like you said, when we got there, we were like, “Is half the place from Austin?”

We never really endeavored for things like, “Well, what if we can get a Grammy?” I’m not saying that those things never crossed our mind. That would be a lie. But we never strived for any of that. We were never really any different than we were when we were playing 100 seat bars in Texas. We just had to learn how to do it in front of a lot of a lot more people on bigger stages.

So that night, it was surreal. That’s probably a cliche way to describe it, but it was surreal. I’ve written my acceptance speech [in my mind] several times since then. It was it was a lot of fun, it was very well put together.

They seemed to put so much care into your segment. And I thought they did such a great job. I mean, the whole thing was perfect and moving. 

Yeah, I did, too. I went back and looked at “Texas Flood” from the performance. It was really good. Jimmie [Vaughan] and John Mayer’s speech, I thought was just fabulous. I really thought it was really wonderful. And playing with Jimmie and Gary Clark Jr. and Doyle and everybody.

How does it feel for you to have a guy like John Mayer, or Johnny Lang or Kenny Wayne or Susan Tedeschi play your music… it must be pretty cool to see young people coming out and still being really into what you guys did.

You know what blows me away? None of this stuff ever even crossed my mind, you know? When you’re playing some little lounge somewhere and some funky part of town in your hometown, you’re like, “Will I be able to pay rent next month?” You don’t think about this kind of thing.

But you can lose sight of what you’re doing if you’re really struggling to get yourself together to pay the bills and make ends meet.

I interviewed John Mayer before he released [his breakthrough, 2001’s] Room For Squares, and he told me Stevie was his biggest influence, even though he wasn’t playing much electric guitar yet. I asked him about that and he said, “Wait until my next album.” 

I wondered about that, you know, about John Mayer hitting the scene and announcing himself like, “Hey, I’m going to be the next guitar dude.” The way he talked about Stevie. He was just awestruck with the what he could get out of a guitar, the way he could express himself. He said, “I have no idea how he was able to do that.”

So when people come up to me… they are a generation, two, even three generations younger, and they go, “Man, that guy was just…” I go, “Yeah, he was special.” And we were all fortunate. We were all fortunate together.

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