30 Roc: The Stories Behind ‘The Box,’ ‘Bartier Cardi’ and ‘King’s Dead’

30 Roc: The Stories Behind ‘The Box,’ ‘Bartier Cardi’ and ‘King’s Dead’

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.

Over the summer, Rolling Stone said that Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” was the biggest song of the year, and “it isn’t even close.” The year isn’t over, but it’s certainly going to be one of the biggest. 30 Roc co-wrote and co-produced the song, and we spoke to him about it, as well as some of the other songs that he’s worked on, Cardi’ B’s “Bartier Cardi” and Black Panther soundtrack standout, “King’s Dead.”

Talk about the writing of Roddy Ricch’s “The Box.” 

When we made the beat we technically wanted to make this very easy for Roddy to be able to flow on it. Be able to ride the beat and have different pockets on it. So me and my co-producer [Dat Boi] Squeeze, we tried to keep it as open as possible.

What is the process between you and the people you collaborate with: does someone come up with a beat? Someone comes up with a melody line? Do you guys help with the lyrics? 

No, it’s more of me actually sitting down in the studio making the beat. Sometimes I have my producers with me sit down and we’re just run through different beats, different ideas, different melodies, you know, different drums. And we put them together. So we just sit there all night and we put them together. When we made “The Box,”  we were just really sitting there and just coming up with something like it was just us having fun in the studio, doing what we do every day: making music.

When do you know when it’s done? When do you send it off to Roddy, or Roddy’s people? 

I know when it’s done… I just have this thing where I just be like, “OK. No more! Let’s just leave it where it’s at!” I think everybody who’s around me now can kind of tell to when it’s done because I just get this look like, “That’s it!” Like, me and Squeeze looked at each other and said, “Tag it and bag it!” When one of us says that, it means, “No more s—!” Don’t put more s— in that, leave it where it’s at.

We actually e-mailed [a track to Roddy Ricch] before that, which turned out to be “Roll Dice,” which was on the album [2019’s Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial] too. And then we emailed “The Box” like a week later.

How many hours into it do you have to be when you get to that point where you’re like, “No more, we are done!” 

It normally don’t take us hours to make beats, really. It’s more like minutes [laughs]. I think the only time we ever took hours is something has a lot of sounds. Like something that was like fifteen, twenty-five sounds that can take like two months, depending on how great we want it to be.

But Roddy Ricch, “The Box,” didn’t take us a lot because it’s not that many sounds in it. It’s literally the brass – which is the horns — and then we put drums on top.

So once you send it off, the artist does their thing on top of it. Do you hear back from him? Were you in the studio at all when he started doing his stuff? 

No, I actually heard back from them, like, literally that same night. I want to say I woke up to a text message from his A&R rep, who was like, “Man, tuck that beat away. Don’t send that beat to nobody.”

My job was completed at the time because that’s all we was focused on doing, doing Roddy Ricch’s album, you know what I’m saying, getting on Roddy Ricch’s album. He told me to put the beat away, and s—, I tucked it away!

Obviously the hope is always that you’ll have a huge hit. But were you expecting it to do s well as it has done?

No. Honestly… we have this thing that we do every Friday, or whenever a new album comes out that we want to hear. We sit in the studio. We normally just meet up at the studio. We sit there. We go through the whole album. So that night, Roddy Ricch’s album was just coming out and we sat down, there was the intro and then it was “The Box.” And I was like, “OK, cool.” I don’t never get too excited because the people choose which song they like.

So, you know, we listened to “The Box.” Then we listened to “Roll Dice.” You know, everybody in the room that I was with was very excited over “The Box.” And I was kind of like, “Oh, cool,” you know?

But it was like, “I don’t know,” because the other song we did was kind of hard too. So we just waited. We waited. The next morning we woke up, we just started seeing everybody posting it on Instagram like, “Oh, this s— is it! This s— is hard, this s— is hard!”  I was like “OK, cool.” And from there, it just really went up. How can you not be excited?

Has the song changed your life?

Yeah, it changed my life in many different ways. You know, I’m doing more work with people that I always wanted to work with. Of course, financial is always a good part of it [laughs]. I’m really just back in the studio.

When when I produce songs, I really be acting like they don’t even come out. They don’t exist to me [after they’re released], because I’m ready to go back to work. “What’s next?” This song’s only gonna last for so long. I just go back to the studio.

You mentioned that you’re getting to work with people who you always wanted to work with. Can you say who, or is that still under wraps?

Still under wraps. Some songs will be dropped in the next couple months. You’ll definitely hear a lot [of them]. It’s a lot of artists that a lot of people wouldn’t think I’d be working with.

A lot of people think that there’s a Ciara sample [“Love Sex Magic”] on that song. 

Actually, it’s not a sample, it came out of a VST [a Virtual Studio Technology]. A lot of people go, “It’s still a sample.” It wouldn’t be in a VST if it was a sample. That’s a sound that they made for that VST.

So when you say VST, what is that?

VST is something that a lot of producers use. It’s a bank of just a lot of sounds. And this bank has a lot of orchestral harps, you know, brass and stuff like that. Strings. So that’s what that came out of. So that’s technically a bank.

I want to ask you about another song of yours. Talk about working with Cardi B on “Bartier Cardi.” 

Is was an interesting process because we actually molded that song for her, me, Cheeze [Beatz] and London [Jae]. We actually sat down and molded it. Me and Cheeze made the beat, London was in the back working. We had a whole process of like how we put songs together and stuff like that. And, you know, we just put it together. We all went out and did our own little like footwork to get the song to her. And it worked.

Can you elaborate on the footwork? How do you get a song to Cardi B when she’s exploding from her huge first single? 

We all had our connections. So, you know, we all kind of like used everybody that we knew that was around her: “Listen to this!” “This need to be the next single.” I got the phone call one day when I was going to go get some hookah supplies. Somebody called me like, “We need the track out, ASAP.” So I had to rush back to the house and bounce some files and send it over there.

I’m guessing that was well worth the interruption. 

Of course! I’m not trippin’! I still got my supplies.

That’s a lot more money to buy more supplies.

Yes, sir!

Do you ever bump into her at parties, occasions events, whatever? Do you get her feedback on the song?

No, actually, I’ve seen Cardi B like, once. I  just like to keep working and mind my business really. I go out and stuff like that, but I’m really in tune with just locking in and just staying focused. Doing what really matters.

Talk about “King’s Dead” from Black Panther. That movie and that soundtrack seemed to be a huge cultural moment. Did they ask you “Do you have anything lying around that you can give us?” Or did they say, “We want you to do something for Black Panther?” 

No, it was actually me and Mike Will [Made It]. Shout out to my bro Mike Will. We kind of put it together. He sent it off to Kendrick [Lamar]… or I wanna say he sent it to  Jay Rock first. And he called me back and he said, “Hey, bro, we got one. Like we got a crazy one.” And he wouldn’t tell me who it was for. And, next thing you know, the song came out. It did a lot, you know. And that was a big song for me; we won a Grammy for that. So, you know, that was kind of interesting.

The crazy thing is: I’ve still, to this day, only watched half of that movie [laughs]. I haven’t watched the whole movie. Maybe I’ll sit down today and actually do it. It was actually a very interesting moment for me. That was my first song with Kendrick. That was my second song with Future. That was kind of like a big moment for me.

Are you just not into Marvel movies? 

You know me [laughs]. I can’t watch those movies, I’m just not into that.

Have you been out in a situation whether it’s at a restaurant, at a store, where your song is playing on the loudspeaker or the P.A., someone’s digging it,  and they have no idea they’re standing next to one of the guys who made that song?

Like right now, in the neighborhood I live in, my neighbors are trying to figure out who I am. But I had a neighbor across the street the other day stop my mom, and say, “Oh, your son is 30 Roc! He’s amazing!”

Just talking to you for a few minutes, it seems like you’re a pretty low-key guy who doesn’t really crave the spotlight. But it must be pretty fun when someone recognizes you and asks you for a selfie.

It’s definitely pretty fun. I’m pretty low key because I’d rather have my bank account right than be out with all the cappers. I’d rather stay low key and stay doing what I’m doing to make sure that me and the team are straight.

So you’re not looking to make a 30 Roc [solo] album?

No, that’s eventually going to happen. I’m working different moves since all this happened. So, you know, I’m working a lot of different moves, I’ve been working on my artists. I have two artists, I’m working on my label, my brand. You’ll see more of the label this year coming up (2021) because this year is almost done. We’ve put in a lot of hard work behind closed doors.

The artists I’ve been working with, my artists, like a lot of people are not going to think that I would come out with these type of artists. And so it’ll be very interesting.

Marv Green: The Stories Behind ‘I Called Mama,’ ‘Creepin” and ‘It Just Comes Natural’

Marv Green: The Stories Behind ‘I Called Mama,’ ‘Creepin” and ‘It Just Comes Natural’

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.

Tim McGraw never intended for “I Called Mama” to become a single when he heard the song at the beginning of 2020. But in March, the world changed, and the song took on a heavier meaning; it’ll likely be one of the country songs that we think about in the future, when we think about 2020. Marv Green is one of the co-writers of the song, and we spoke to him about it, as well as some other classics that he had a hand in writing.

Talk about writing “I Called Mama.” 

Well, that was something that [co-writer] Mr. Jimmy Yeary brought in. True story: he actually did get a call about a good friend who passed away, suddenly, out of nowhere, I believe the guy was in his late forties. And he walked in just saying, “You guys, I just feel like I really want to write about this today.”

Because this had happened, he just stopped for a minute and wanted to slow everything down. And one of the things he wanted to do was call his mom, which I completely relate to. And Lance [Miller, co-writer] did, too. And we were off to the races. Sometimes you write a chorus first. But this song we wrote, top to bottom, just as you hear it. It kind of wrote itself with us, you know.

We’ve had a good little vibe. And, you know, sometimes you get a little circle of friends and you get on a little roll. And somewhere the end of last year, somewhere around last fall, we started writing as a trio and we’ve really had some great luck.

And so, anyway, Jimmy Yeary came walking in my studio that day and said what had happened. “I Called Mama” was where his heart and his head was. We agreed it was just a nice way to talk about life.

 

I’m guessing you wrote this song before the pandemic. 

We did. Right before: we wrote this in February of this year, if I’m correct. This is one of those songs that didn’t live long as a demo. It never got to be a demo because we recorded it on an iPhone.

I’ve known Tim for a long time, but Lance knows him better. And Lance sent it straight to Tim, and Tim loved it.

I’d heard that Tim may not have intended it to be a single, but obviously, things changed.

I think he was quoted as saying, “I never, never planned for this song to be a single.” He really was proud and excited to put on his record. But there was no plan in his mind they would be a single.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from people about “I Called Mama?” 

Lots of texts and really sweet, nice messages from co-writers and friends. Just, you know, just saying, “Wow, I love that song.” And that’s the great thing about the community here. We’re all rooting for each other.

SoTim posts the song on social media. Do you look to see what people are saying about it? 

[Laughs] I try not to. But if you’re talking about Instagram or Facebook, Tim is on my friend [list] so it’s gonna pop up. And it’s hard not to look. And the good news is I haven’t seen any negative [comments], which is not always the case. Lots of sweet comments about people who get called their mom or wish they could call their mom.

Everyone has their own individual taste. But during this time, a song like that… I feel like you’d have to be a real troll to say, “You know, that song just isn’t good!” 

[Laughs] Yeah, I agree. You have to be in quite the mood to put that down. One radio personality said it’s “a hug and a nice bowl of chicken soup.”

And don’t we all need that right now?

Yes, absolutely.

 

Are you and Tim friends, or is more of a transactional thing, where you write songs and submit them, and he decides if he wants them? 

As much as I could know, Tim, I know him. He’s one of those artists that, if I see him in town or at an event or a party [we say hi]. I’ve actually got a quick anecdote about seeing him at a party at Christmas. But I’ll tell you that in a second. He’s one of those guys that always says, “Hey, Marv.” It could be across the room or whatever, but he’s just genuine and he has always been that guy that keeps in touch. It’s not like he reaches out frequently, but he always has left the door open, all the way back to [2000’s] “Let’s Make Love” and [2001 album] Set This Circus Down. We had some songs on that. And ever since then, he has always said, “Send me songs.” I’m very lucky to be someone that he reaches out and says, “Hey, hit me with anything that you have.”

I interviewed Lori McKenna a few years ago, she wrote “Humble and Kind.” She kind of said the same thing about him: that he is as normal of a guy as someone who’s a star on that level could be. 

Here’s two quick ones. So one was at some event. This is a true story. I was talking to Tim for like 30 seconds. And then he gets real close. He goes, “Marv, your zipper’s down.” [Laughs] I had forgotten to zip up my pants zipper. Thanks, Tim!

And then the other great one: so you know, I’m a songwriter, I’ve done fine, but I’m not the guy that has, like, a suit jacket for everything. I have a couple of nice jackets and suits for a few occasions, but I don’t have a bunch.

I was at a Christmas party last this past Christmas, And Tim and Faith were there. And so we’re talking for a minute and he’s looking at me and he looks again and he grabs my lapel and he goes, “Marv, this is your CMA [Awards] jacket and your BMI Awards jacket.” [Laughs]

I said, “Yep, you got me, Tim. I don’t have a bunch of suits.”

Talk about writing “Let’s Make Love” for Tim and Faith. 

So during that time, this would probably be around ’99, 2000, I was writing a bunch with some friends and co-writers, Aimee Mayo, Chris Lindsey — who I wrote the song “Amazed” with [for Lonestar] — and then Bill Lither. Bill had had success with Aimee with Tim. I called them all and I said, “For the month of March, let’s pretend we’re a band. Let’s just write with each other.” Because I was noticing back then, CDs from people like Jim Lauderdale and Kim Richey and those kind of writers, they were ending up on artist’s buses and they were getting cuts that way. I said, “Well, why don’t we just pretend we’re a group and write for a whole month? And at the end, we’re going to go in and record the 10 or 12 best songs that we got. We’ll print it, we’ll have a party, we’ll invite labels and artists to come and we’ll call it ‘the March Project.'” And so they loved it. We spent the whole month and we knew Tim and Faith were both doing projects and our main focus was writing for them.

And so we put “Let’s Make Love” on that project. And sure enough, when they heard it, they loved it and recorded it. And off that same project, we ended up getting three songs on the Tim McGraw solo record too.

Have you been in situations where people are listening to a song that you wrote, whether it’s at a wedding or at the supermarket or whatever, and they have no idea they’re standing next to the guy who wrote that song? 

Oh, yeah, all the time. And, you know, probably the strangest moments, you know, when you’re down in front of an artist [at a concert] and there’s, you know, 10,000 or 12,000 or 14,000 people singing your song and you’re standing there, going, “Hey, I wrote this! But nobody cares!” And that’s OK. I mean, it’s just one of those things. There’s a beauty in it: we can go anywhere and travel anywhere and no one knows who we are. We enjoy writing music for a living and doing what we love, but still being able to, you know, be unknown. There’s a beauty in that. But there are a couple of times, whether it’s “It Just Comes Natural” with George Strait or “Creepin'” with Eric Church, and you see the crowds going crazy. And [you wonder], “Eric, what does that feel like?” But again, there’s a beauty. I can go sit at any given restaurant and no one cares who I am.

 

Tell me about “Creepin’.”

We wrote that down at the Sony Fire Hall, which used to actually be a fire station back in the day. And Eric was a little late. Whenever I’ve written with him, I always have something ready. But he always comes in and knows what he wants to do that day. And I love that about him. And he started describing sittin’ on his screened-in porch watching this bee buzzing against the screened-in porch. And he started singing the very top of that, [singing] “I got my baby, no, no. I got a little buzz and my head is sore.”

And then he goes, “I’m thinking in my mind, all the chorus does is just go ‘Creepin’!'” I was like, “Man, I love this!” We just kind of hopped right in and took off. And the cool other thing about that song is, remember, we’re in there with two acoustic guitars and playing against each other. I’m singing a little harmony. We recorded it as is. And so when he left, I was thinking to myself, “Well, that’s a very Appalachian sort of backwoods kind of thing.” And that’s the last I heard of it.

And then they call and say, “Hey, we’re in the studio, cuttin’ ‘Creepin’!'”  And in my mind I’m going, “Well, I wonder what that’s going to be. Is it going to be just kind of this acoustic, backwoodsy kind of vibe?” And then when I heard the record, I was blown away what he and [producer] Jay Joyce did. I mean, what a record.

 

George Strait’s “It Just Comes Natural” is such an iconic tune. 

That’s during the time when [I was working with] another great producer, Tony Brown. I mean, talk about an open door. I used to love to go play songs for Tony. So it was crazy because I think that for that record, I think there were four songs that Tony loved. And he said, “Marv, I wouldn’t be surprised if you get three or four [songs] on this record.” And I was like, “OK.”

True” was my first number one and that was with George. And then I had an album cut with Terry McBride called “Always Never the Same.”

“It Just Comes Natural,” I wrote with Jim Collins, who is from Texas. And so I walk in and I’ve got [sings] “Sunshine, clouds, rain/Train whistle blows…” I had a verse about things that sort of happened naturally. And then I sang the chorus: [sings] “And I love you.”

And Jim said, “We can’t call this song, ‘I Love You.'” And I said, “Well, what about ‘It Just Comes Naturally?'”

And he looks at me and says, “No, “It Just Comes Natural.'” And I said, “No, that’s not grammatically correct. ‘It Just Comes Naturally.'”

He goes, “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t sing. ‘It Just Comes Natural’ sings better.” And I said, “All right, Mr. Texas.” And sure enough, he was right. And that totally resonated with George.

I know you’ve made your own records. You’ve recorded your own versions of some of the songs that you’ve written that other people have recorded. Do you have a new record of your own coming?

Well, the next thing I’m gonna do is new original songs. I have not recorded anything. I mean, I’ve got a couple things out there. But I haven’t made a recording I’m proud of and that, I feel like is “me.” So whatever I do next is gonna be all original, unrecorded. I’m just trying to find that happy place between all things acoustic and electric.

 

Ed Roland: From ‘Shine’ To The Next Collective Soul Album

Ed Roland: From ‘Shine’ To The Next Collective Soul Album

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.

Ed Roland was one of the most ubiquitous songwriters on rock radio in the ’90s; but unlike some of his peers, he’s able to go to the supermarket without being recognized. And that’s the way he likes it. “If somebody’s singing my song, I’m standing there. and they don’t know who I am, I won,” as he says in this interview. And he’s been winning for a long time.

Let’s start with the Collective Soul song that probably most of us heard first: “Shine.” Talk about writing that, and the success of that song.

“Shine” was written… probably the riff was written in 1988. I was mucking around with a lot of songs at that time with that droning sound, putting melodies underneath them. And then it wasn’t till about ’92… my brother was at my parent’s house. I came home to say “Hey” to everybody. He was playing guitar and I didn’t even know he played guitar. So we’re kind of reconnecting. My brother Dean, who’s in bands, he’s 10 years younger than me. So I sit there, I just kind of showing off and all of a sudden the chorus came to me and I was like, “Okay, that sounds cool.” Recorded it and, you know, just made a demo in the basement. And that’s what you hear. That’s me on the drum machine. And that was our intro to the world of music. I was truly just trying to get a publishing deal. The whole [1994] Hints, Allegations [and Things Left Unsaid] record was just me in a basement doing different types of stylistic songs and just trying to showcase me as a songwriter, not necessarily going, “Hey, check this band out.” So that’s where it all started.

 

 

That’s something that people do more commonly in country music: become a songwriter, get a publishing deal, maybe get well-known in town, in Nashville. And then, you know, if they get some traction, they start making records. That’s a lot more unusual in rock. Am I right about that?

Very much so. Once again, I was 30 years old when we got signed, and that’s long in the tooth for rock and roll. So I’d already just kinda given up… I didn’t give up. I knew I wanted to write songs. I was still just trying to be in music in any way I could. And, you know, two weeks before we got signed, I had already signed up play on a cruise ship, play guitar. God knows what I was going to play. I was going down to rehearse and all of a sudden this everything just went “Kaboom!” And here we are.

I didn’t realize that you’d written it so many years before the song became so ubiquitous. You could not go anywhere in ’94 without hearing “Shine.” That was an era where rock music was less produced than the rock music of the ’80s, like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard. Bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and even Jane’s Addiction or the Red Hot Chili Peppers were different. It seemed like that was an era where Collective Soul could thrive maybe more than the ’80s would have been.

Well, once again, I was just trying anything. You know, it wasn’t that I wasn’t trying in the ’80s. Trust me, I was giving it my best. I don’t know what clicked with that song. Like I said, the Hints record, there are songs on there that are a little folky and on some of them showcased production as well as the songs. That song just clicked. And, you know, we didn’t even know that song would click. When we started getting traction on radio, we really didn’t know what the band was supposed to sound like. And then when “Shine” hit, we were like, “OK, I guess we’ll be a rock band” and we enjoyed that part of it. You know, we never considered ourselves “grunge.” We never consider ourselves anything other than just being a rock and roll band. We just knew we love melodies and we like loud guitars. And we had eight months on that first tour [before] we kind of found our place, and felt good as a band. Every day off we were in the studio making the next record, “The Blue Record,” [1995’s] Collective Soul.

I’m guessing that the first time you heard yourself on the radio, it was “Shine.”

Well, Album 88, which is where “Shine” got played, that’s a college station at Georgia State is one hundred thousand watts and that’s where you could hear, the Cure and R.E.M. before all those bands broke big and they had a “locals only” [show]. But it was the first time I ever heard me on a major commercial radio station was “Shine” for sure.

What went through your head the first time you heard it?

You know, just shock, to be honest with you because everything was moving so fast, you know? When Album 88 started playing it, you know, I’d been playing in bands 12 years prior to that. Nobody would show up to the shows. Maybe whoever we were dating at the time. And I took it to Album 88 and it got the most requests and they asked us to do a Christmas show in.’93. And it was sold out. It’s like a thousand people. We were like, “What is going on?” I mean, we only knew like six songs, really. So we just played “Shine” two or three times and people just loved it. And so it was very confusing and exciting times because we didn’t know if we had gotten ourselves into. We really didn’t have people nurturing us or guiding us… the song just was bigger than the band. It didn’t matter what the band name was. People just love this song.

I remember seeing you play the following year, at Woodstock ’94, to a huge audience and it was a big moment. 

I think that night, we only played two songs from Hints.I was writing songs in the back of the bus and at soundchecks. We were doing [new] songs, and I didn’t have lyrics to half the songs. I remember they taped that show that night and we played “Gel.” And that’s where I kind of came up with the lyrics, live on stage; we were kind of doing preproduction [for he album] in front of thousands of people every night, just trying to figure out the next record. We were playing catch up big time.

Right; “Gel” is the next song I want to talk about and one it’s one of the only ones that I want to talk about that that wasn’t a number one song on rock radio. “Gel” was a number two. Didn’t it debut on the Jerky Boys soundtrack? 

It did. So we thought we were gonna get dropped [from the record label, Atlantic Records]. So we went and immediately started recording. We were on tour in ’94 and they said, “Do you have a song that you like?” They called it a “bridge track.” And I didn’t really I didn’t know what that meant. I was like, “Well, we just recorded this so you can have this.” And I’ll never forget, our A&R guy was like, “Well, if this is a throwaway song, I can’t wait to hear the rest of the record!” And I was like, “Well, it’s coming, just give me a second. We’re going as fast as we can.”

And it’s funny, I’m so proud of that because growing up in Atlanta, I could still remember the civil rights movement and everything like that. And, you know, my whole vibe on that was just, “Let’s all come together, be human beings.” Which wouldn’t hurt in today’s world too I think it’s universal and I think it’s timeless lyrically.

 

And then it’s so funny that it comes out on the Jerky Boys soundtrack [laughs]!

Instead of “Everybody get together,” it’s kind of like “We hate everybody and we’re going to call you guys on the phone and punk you!”

That’s it!

That’s a great soundtrack but I remember thinking that that song felt a bit out of place. But back then you couldn’t just drop a new track the way you could now, it had to be on something (like a soundtrack or compilation), otherwise, how would it get into the world? 

How is it gonna be supported? Correct. Probably besides “Shine” that was the most important song we did because it did “bridge.” I mean, we had no expectations for it. We just thought it was gonna be on the soundtrack. And we were excited to be on the soundtrack. We just had no clue [how popular it would be]. And then we were like, “Oh, boy, we’d better make sure the rest of this records good. So, so far, so good!”

The “Blue Album” had a lot of big songs. Hints just had “Shine.” And so it’s like, “Are these guys real?” And when we heard “Gel,” I was like, “All right, these guys have got staying power.”

We were afraid we were going to get dropped because everybody thought we were a one-hit-wonder. And I can see where people thought that. I mean, once again, the song was bigger than the band. You know, and a lot of times that’s been our whole career. Our songs have been bigger than the band. I mean, you know, we’ll do shows and there’s bands, contemporaries of ours, that come and go, “Oh, my God, I didn’t know you did that song.” They just loved the songs. It was cool, but at the same time, it has its frustrating moments, if that makes sense.

I get it. I’ve been doing interviews for about 25 years, and there are some guys, or women, who walk into the room or walk into you wherever you might be. And everybody knows, “That’s Rod Stewart!” “That’s Beyonce!” or whoever. But I think there’s probably something nice about, “Yeah. I’ve done a lot of songs that you guys know, and I can go to the supermarket and maybe one person recognizes me.”

You know what? I love it. I mean, I hear my songs all the time. Back in the early days, it never bothered us. It never bothered me. You know, we’d be. I’ll never forget one of my favorite stories, I was in a store, buying some jeans or something, and some guy is just singing on top of his lungs, “The World I Know.” And I’m just standing there waiting for him to calm down to check me out so I can pay for my jeans.

But I write for people to like the songs, not to like me. I think I’m a likable person, but I didn’t do it to be in the spotlight and I don’t think anybody in the band is. I mean, we’re the most unnoticed, unnoticed band, I think ever, in rock and roll. People just don’t know. And that’s fine. My wife tells me all the time she goes shops at Home Depot or Trader Joe’s, and my songs are playing there all the time. I love that. Like, it’s a part of culture.

From the classic rock era, you know, a guy like Rod Stewart, or Elton John, although they don’t want to be bothered, they want everyone to know it’s them. Whereas Paul Rogers from Bad Company and Free or Steve Winwood, those guys don’t really care if you noticed them and would probably prefer that you don’t. And I think it’s easier to have a life like that. 

I’ve been around some of those artists you mentioned, and I’ve seen what it’s like with them. To me, if somebody’s singing my song, I’m standing there. and they don’t know who I am, I won. Because I wrote the song for people to enjoy. Not to recognize me. And if they do recognize me, it’s flattering. And course, the ego, you know, gets pumped up a little bit. But that’s not why I do it or why the band does it. So we won the game when people are singing our songs and don’t even know it’s us when we’re right there [standing next to them].

I’ve been interviewing a lot of country songwriters who don’t make their own records or if they do, it’s in a small indie label. And ditto for hip-hop, a lot of the songwriters are not famous. They’re trying to be famous, but they haven’t gotten there yet. But in rock, most of these guys are pretty well known. But I do think you probably a better quality of life if you could take your kid to their baseball game and not everyone there asking for a selfie or an autograph.

Yeah. I get to be a daddy. That’s only happened a couple of times and I’ve had to go talk to some people and say, “Look, I am my son’s father. I am dad. I’m not what you read or see or hear.”

 

December” always reminded me of later era Cars song. I know you have a new project that’s inspired by the Cars.

December” was the last song I wrote on the second album, the self-titled record. And it’s the only song that we as a band ever disagreed upon because I wrote it early in the morning. I always get to the studio early, make sure everything’s set up for the guys because I produce and I want to make sure we don’t waste any time get things done. But I wrote that song when they got in there. I played it for months, the four chords over and over. That was kind of the concept. But then to bring in different melodies. So by the end of the song, there were four different melodies going on and sitting down and playing that over and over for four minutes for the guys. They were like, “This is the most boring s— I’ve ever heard in my life. We’re not doing this!”

I said, “You have to trust me on this. Just trust me. Like there’s gonna be a bass melody that’s gonna overlap with the vocal melody of background melody and then a guitar and then orchestration.” And they are like, “Whatever.” And thank God I talked them into it.

But the Cars, I love the Cars. And, you know, we’re in the coronavirus. I got stuck because we had two weeks before we were gonna rehearse and start a tour this year. And that was the first two weeks of the whole coronavirus where everybody was told to kind of quarantine. But I’d already gone down to Florida. And so I was sitting there with our engineer/producer Shawn Grove, and Cheney [Brannon], who used to be our drummer, but he was kind of assisting on this new recording gear that we had bought. And we’re going to learn to use. And, you know, the first week we sat there and I was like, “All right, we learned this program. Now what do we do?” And we just decided to start a band called The Living Room. And the reason was, we knew we couldn’t do anything as Collective Soul, we know were gonna be here a couple weeks and we were in a living room. It’s a very small home. And I said, the only band I ever joined the fan club, was the Cars. And they were like, “Oh, well, let’s do that.” And I was like, “Let’s do that. Let’s have fun.”

So the Cars have always been a big influence. I mean, Elliott Easton’s, you know, top two, three, favorite guitarists for me. I love solos that are melodic. He does that. And of course, I love Ben [Orr]’s vocals. I love Greg Hawkes’ keyboard playing I think I get a lot of my riffs on guitar, just from listening to what he does on keyboards, to be honest with you. So: a very big influence on me and the rest of the guys in the band.

I was too young to see them in concert, but I got to see them when they reunited a couple of years ago in New York City. 

I didn’t see that tour, but I got to see them like three times back in the day. I mean, I would sneak backstage and meet them and, you know, they don’t remember any of that. But, you know, that was they were that big of an influence to me.

Your influences always seemed to be diverse. 

I grew up with FM Radio. My favorite artist is Elton John. I mean, that’s the reason I want to be a songwriter. I got his greatest hits, put the needle on the record and decided, “Wow, I want to be a songwriter like Elton, and [Elton’s lyricist/songwriter partner] Bernie Taupin.” Not necessarily a singer or someone at the front of a band or anything. I just want to write songs and and I just loved the pop melodies that they created. And, you know, I go back to Jeff Lynne and Electric Light Orchestra, of course the Beatles. I was a late bloomer in music because my father was a minister. Such grew up mostly in gospel hymnal music, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Little Richard. Things like that. Their generation of music, which I love. But then when I found my own, which would have been Elton and then, the Beatles and ELO. And from there it took off, you know, with The Clash and Sex Pistols and things like that, the Cure.

 

I remember hearing that you wrote “The World I Know” while thinking about Times Square.

This was 1994. We had a day off In New York. And I met this girl, and I flew her out, playing Mr. Rock Star or whatever. And I wanted to impress her. And so I had the music [for the song]. And I told her, I said, I want to walk around for about an hour. And literally I just walked around in Times Square, which in 1994 is not like Times Square was two years ago. Times Square’s even different now. But you know what I mean. It was still dirty. For lack of a better term, not nasty, but just dirty. You know, you saw the yin and yang of society. I mean, there’d be somebody living in cardboard box and then someone pulls up in a stretch limo, and gets out with their fur coats. I literally just walked for an hour in Times Square. And then when I came back, I was like “This is the world. I know. You know, you have good, bad. And, you know, we’ll we’re gonna get through this.”

 

 “Precious Declaration” was another number one. 

We were in a lawsuit and we had just settled. We had gotten an involvement with a manager in a production company when Atlantic was involved with us. So we settled and that was just my way of saying, “What’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine.” So it was just that precious declaration when I had my freedom back and my right to make my own music and to own my own music.

I can’t forget to ask about “Where The River Flows.” 

It was funny, we were on tour. Our first tour was with Aerosmith. And Joe Perry had this tunable guitar, you would press a button and it would immediately tune the guitar, whether it’s open or drop D or crazy tunings all over. So he hooked me up and I bought one and I got it and I just pressed a button on it. And I don’t even know what tuning it went to. And I remember I was in Houston, Texas, in the hotel room, and I just wrote “Where the River Flows.” And I don’t know why. That was just luck of the draw. Just pick the guitar up and let it flow.

Was it surprising to you that you were knocking out number one after number one after number one during that era? 

I guess it was. But we were so busy. And then when we weren’t busy, once again, we were kind of muddled in a lawsuit. And then, you know, we went home. We had no money. I had to borrow money from my parents. And I lived in a cabin, on a cow farm where I made “Precious Declaration,” the whole record in a kitchen, in a 10 by 10 room.

And I thought I was just demoing the songs just to get them to the guys. But when everything was over, I just felt like it was honest and pure. And I just wanted it to be, you know, real. It’s as if we tried to re-record those songs, it just wouldn’t have the same vibe to me. So that’s kind of where all that came from. Then everything got better. But we were going 90 miles an hour. We really, really were. From going on tour with Van Halen, making a record. You know, I didn’t own a TV. I didn’t even own an apartment. I didn’t have a car.

We were gone all the time, so we really didn’t know, to be honest with you, until years later, really what we had accomplished We knew we were doing well.

I don’t want to say we were flippant about it, but we were finding our groove and we just wanted to keep proving ourselves. We’re like, “OK, that did good. Now let’s go make another record and let’s show ’em what we got this time.”

I’ve heard some stories like that from bands who start to get really big, and there’s a perception, maybe it’s a reasonable perception: they’re gonna have some money now. And it’s like, “Actually, it’s all tied up in lawsuits.” 

Yeah. Oh, yeah. I think that’s pretty much the norm for every rock band back in the day anyway. But everything works out fine. And once again, we got what we wanted. He got what he wanted. And here we are. [00:27:36][4.1]

Even Springsteen went through that at one point.

Yeah, he did.

He was barely paying his guys. They’re all living in one house together and the label’s screaming at him to put out a record. And he’s like in the middle of this lawsuit. And it’s like it’s hard to imagine Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band being like, “We’ve got to get some instant soup for dinner!”

It was that way [for us]: I was chopping wood because we had a wood-burning stove. That was our heat. And we cooked on that for five or six months. So I get up in the morning, go cut wood for the day, go record that night, fire the wood up, stay warm, cook food and start over the next day.

 

Tell me about “Listen.” That’s another number one.

I think that’s more of just, you know, to me. I feel like I’m an old soul hippie guy and I just, you know, listen, we can all get to be get along. It’s more in line with, like, gel lyrically to me or the meaning of it. You know. If you listen, you realize love is everywhere, you know, you just you don’t fight it, it’s there.

That’s another one that works well right now.

Twenty-five years later, here we are again.

 

So, “Heavy”: when I first heard it, I don’t know if he’s an influence, but it reminded me of Peter Murphy’s “Cuts You Up.”

I love Peter Murphy [sings] “Cuts you up, cuts you down.” I actually wrote that riff and I wanted to write a song that did not have the title in the lyrics, which I did on “December.” But the guys fought me. They were like, “You gotta put ‘December’ in there somewhere.” And I was like, “Well, ‘Trampled Under Foot’ is not in the lyrics of the Led Zeppelin song!” And they were like, “Just do it!” So I gave in on that one.

This one I didn’t want to [do that] This one, the lyrics were, “All your weight falls on me, it brings me down.” So what does that mean? It’s something heavy. I wasn’t talking about the riff. I just was talking about life was heavy at that moment.

And to me, that riff came the lyrics came pretty quick. And that was the beginning [of the end] of the first entity of Collective Soul. Everybody was fighting me, labels were fighting me and I was just like “God!” I gave it to the label and they’re like, “Eh, it sounds dated.”

I was just going, “Well, f— you it’s going out.” And they wouldn’t even do a video. It was number one for like fifteen, sixteen weeks on radio. They would not make a video for us, and this was when videos were still very important in the marketing of bands. We’re talking 1999 and they did not make a video on it. They told me they’d wait and see what it did on radio. So it went to number one, I said, “OK, it’s number one, go make a video.”

They said, “Eh, let’s see how much staying power it has.” So, the third week I call and I said “Can we make a video?” They say, “Eh,I think it’s run its course.”

So the fifth week I call again, “Can we make a video?” And they’re like, “No, it’s long past [time] now.” So either it was like the last week [at number one], it was the 15th, 16th week [at number one], I call, and I said, “I guess we’re not making a f—ing video on a song has been number one for almost four months!” They basically hung the phone up on me. So that was kind of their attitude about us in general.

Surely they must have been happy that you kept cranking out huge albums that…

I don’t think they were ever happy with us, to be honest with you. It wasn’t like they ever came and saw us play. Actually, none of them did, outside of New York. At the time, I met more presidents from other labels who were out supporting the groups that were supporting us. We were just naive. And we didn’t have somebody in there [at the label] pushing for us, like most major artists do. You know, we were just naive and just loved what we were doing and didn’t stop. You know, we should have corrected some things along the way, but… Well, you know, we didn’t. And here we are.

It seems to have worked out for you. Do the things that bothered you back then still bother you now?

No.

I guess that comes with age. 

It comes also with… owning it and being in charge yourself. They were kind of in charge. Whether you think they are or not: they are. And with that, you know, they spent years of networking to get certain people to help you. So you understand that, too. But there did come a point where I was like, “Enough of this.” I would always have this conversation with them: “Ya’ll are not out on the road with us. We see our fans, we see our people. We of all people know where we need to focus and where we need to not focus.” Because we’re out there flying the airplane, for lack of a better term. And they just never would [listen to us]. They just went about their own method: “rock band 101” marketing plans, or just not even giving us any marketing. Just throwing it out there.

That’s really interesting because if you listened to rock radio during that time, you were ubiquitous. And the rest of the stuff probably doesn’t matter if you’re getting played on the radio. 

But I think that’s part of the whole marketing thing then. Then there are other ways to market it to so you sell more CDs. It is a business.

 

I want to ask about one more song that was not a number one, it was an album track. “In A Moment,” from the first album, reminded me of Bowie. I don’t know if he was one of your influences. 

Bowie’s a big influence and [late Bowie guitarist] Mick Ronson is one of my biggest guitar heroes of all time. But yeah, that 12-string [guitar] strumming. Just laying it down. But yes, that’s that’s a good pick up on that one, good job there. Any time we’re in the studio, even now, like we recorded the new record last week, two weeks ago, I look at Dean, my brother, who’s in the band. He’s the modern day Mick Ronson. And I’ll just go, “Hey, dude, give me some ‘Mick’ over there.” You know, those big sustaining notes. So but the whole acoustic thing was basically Bowie. I mean, he did a lot of that stuff, that 12-string thing.

So you were mentioning just now you finished the record, you know, is there anything you want to say about when do you think it’ll come out? 

We did an EP for Record Store Day [Half And Half], we covered R.E.M. “The One I Love” and Neil Young’s “Opera Star.” And then two originals [“Let Her Out” and “Back Again”] and then our studio album was supposed to come out in June. It’s called Vibrating. So we’re waiting on to, you know, coordinate that with a tour. So we got together about two weeks ago and made another record because we missed each other. And like I said, it’s funny to be in a rock and roll band. We really like each other, we like hanging out with each other and like making music. So we have two and a half records basically in the can now.

So we’ll see what happens. And then I had to have The Living Room.

Back in the day that could have been a problem, but today, does it matter if you release it as two albums in close proximity or ten EPs in close proximity? 

I don’t know. You know, because originally Vibrating was supposed to… [2019’s] Blood was supposed to be a double album. So we split it up into two records. So Blood was the side two and four, I believe this one side one and three. But, you know,”Ythey were like, “You don’t do double albums anymore. You’re kind of lost in the decades, here, buddy.” And I was like, “I get it.”

But, you know, at the same time, you know, we’re flowing as a band and it’s so easy for me to write songs and present them to them. I hate to use the word, but we’re gelling together as a band right now, better than we ever have. And I love that. It’s just enjoyable. We record as a band in the room together. Johnny [RAbb] sets his drums up. We horseshoe around him. And one, two, three, four. Here we go.

So I’m a huge Neil fan, but I have to confess. I had to look up what album “Opera Star” was on , I figured, Trans or Re*act*or

Re*act*or. At that time I think I was just started playing guitar and that album came out. And if you listen to Re*act*or… or to me, it’s if you want to consider “grunge,” or whatever that is, this is the first “grunge” record. I think it’s one of the best records. He just didn’t give a s—. He was just playing some crazy, great guitar work, you know, and just being Neil. I just love that record. And “Opera Star” was pretty easy for us to learn. When I showed it to the guys, they didn’t know about it. And they were like, “Holy s—, where’s this song been?” It’s just a great riff.

R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” was the song that introduced a lot of people to them, it was a bit more guitar-heavy. 

And, you know, being Georgia boys and them being Georgia boys, we felt we want to give a little nod to them too because they meant a lot to us growing up. They’re hometown heroes. And the beautiful thing about that song is, there are only two lines in the lyric. So if I ever forget those, the guys in the band are gonna put me in a home somewhere.

And so what’s gonna happen with The Living Room?

We got accepted for Record Store Day the day after Thanksgiving. Sure. So I don’t know. You know, with the coronavirus it’s just so weird right now. But I wouldn’t mind playing out with it. It’s just a fun record. I’m so proud of it.

Given that you’re a Neil Young fan, you’ve surely seen Neil shows where he goes out, plays what he wants. He does not care what anybody in the audience is expecting. You know, if people go to see Ed Roland, they probably want to hear some Collective Soul songs. Would you take it out and say, “I’m not doing that this time? This is a different thing?” 

No, I’d have no problem with that. I’d incorporate [Collective Souls songs] in that vein. No, I’d make it new wave like he did. Like Neil did Trans, he re-recorded [the Buffalo Springfield classic] “Mr. Soul.” When he did that I was like, “That’s kind of cool.” He just gave it a different twist. I mean, if you don’t like it, go back [and listen] to the original.

And if you don’t like it, Collective Soul will be back next year. 

Oh, yeah. You’ll see us soon enough!

 

EY: Behind His Hits With Meek Mill, Drake and Childish Gambino

EY: Behind His Hits With Meek Mill, Drake and Childish Gambino

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.

EY is quietly becoming one of hip-hop’s hottest producers; his credits include Meek Mill’s “24/7 (featuring Ella Mae),” Drake’s “Omerta” and Childish Gambino’s “‘Algorhythm.” He discussed all three songs with us, as well as what it takes to make it as a producer.

Tell me about working with Meek Mill and Ella Mae on “24/7.”

It was definitely a fun experience. It was me and my friend OZ, who produced that record and my other guy, Austin [Powerz] who’s the producer. I was at the crib just trying to get a few ideas together. I was going through some samples on YouTube and just downloading samples.

And I come across the Beyonce “Me, Myself and I” song, which has been playing in my house for years. I’ve got younger sister, Auntie’s and cousins that love that song. So I thought to myself, “Has anybody sampled this yet? How has nobody sampled this song?” Like it’s such a classic.

I just downloaded it, put it into free loops and just started chopping it up and trying to just catch, I don’t know, just the vibe of it or whatever. And I learned the chords a little bit of the original song. [Then] I put the chords over the sample up and started slowly, progressively added in drums. Then I sent a video to my boy OZ of the idea I had. And he’s like, “Yo, this is hard. Send it. Let’s work on it right now.” So I sent OZ a zip.

And he sent a video back of the [song with the] bounce that he kind of added to it, and spent he sped up a little bit more and then from there it just kind of took on a life of its own. So, that’s kind of like a quick breakdown of how we made the beat. It was pretty dope.

So, you were working on this, specifically, with Meek Mill in mind.

It was definitely with Meek in mind. I’d heard he’d been working on a project and I thought I wanna send something over. I wanted to just send something over that was melodic but just had old school feel. So I was looking for samples. So when I was looking for samples, I found the Beyonce joint. It was dope to hear what they had done [on the track].

So when you’re writing a song for someone like Meek, obviously there’s a budget. But it may not be easy to clear a Beyonce sample. Am I right about that?

I would think so, yes. But again, cause I was just in that place, I was just creating, [so] that didn’t really hit me until later. I wondered what the clearance situation would be.

But it managed to go through and yeah, it worked and it became a dope song. So, you know, that’s kind of what you want at the end of it, no matter what happens in terms of business, to come out with a dope record. But yeah, initially you would think, it would be a tough [sample] to clear.

I imagine someone at management would feel like, “Hey, I wanted you to write me a song, but you just put in a really expensive, impossibly difficult to clear sample!” 

It wasn’t even like Meek was asking for a specific type of record to get sent over. I’d been sending stuff and ideas and just dope vibes for a little while anyway. And that was one that they gravitated towards because I guess the feel of the record and it was chopped and there were sections of the beat where the sample just sat alone on its own. So it was really nostalgic, I feel like. So, yeah, it came together really amazing.

When you send it to him and his team says, “Okay, we’ll take this,”  then it’s out of your hands. Did you know Ella Mae was gonna be on the track?

Once it was sent over and I was told, “Yo, this is fire.” I didn’t hear anything of it until it came out. But when it came out that we were definitely happy. I didn’t know that Ella Mae was on it until the day before [it was released]. A friend of mine, Nija [Charles], she wrote on that song. She wrote Ella Mae’s hook, and she let me know. So yeah, I only heard the record when it came out. It was super fire. Super happy about came out and Meek killed it, of course.

So it drops on radio, and that’s when you hear the finished version of the thing that you started a few months earlier. 

Yeah. About a year and a half. So it was dope. Just the whole experience of going from the idea that was created and me leaving it alone for a day or two and coming back and then collaborating with a friend of mine and then going back and forth again and then to hear the song come out a year later was like, “Yo!”

I tell my friends now. I was that beat was a year old and the world got to hear it as a whole new thing with Meek and Ella Mae. It was incredible. It still is.

Talk about working on “Omerta” for Drake.

That was fun as well. That was really fun. Again, same type of vibe. Did the beat, sent it over to my friend OZ who has got a relationship with Drake. And OZ hit me, “Yo! This is being used!” Obviously, I wasn’t sure when or how it was going to come out at first, but then I think a day or two days before it came out, we’re told is coming out and it came out and I couldn’t be more happy. To be fair, just the sample, the way it sounds, the drums, everything kind of came together, amazingly so. Yeah, that was a really wicked experience as well.

Drake, for about 10 years now, has been arguably the biggest star in hip hop, or at least one of them, and really one of the biggest stars in any kind of music at all. What does it mean for you as a songwriter just to get a track underneath him and get him to put that out?

Bro, it’s incredible. It means everything, doesn’t it? Like, he is the top artist of our generation and will be for a very long time. So for me, it’s amazing. It’s definitely a dream come true. I’ve been wanting to get a song with Drake for a minute. It is crazy. I hear it in the shops like I’ll be in a store out here. JD [Sports], I know you guys don’t have it in the U.S. It’s like Footlocker. And I heard the song. And I was still like, “Yo, what? This is crazy!” Like, I still can’t believe it to this day.

For a long time, his [production] guy was “40” [Noah “40” Shebib]. It seems like he’s got really high standards for who he works with, because at first he worked with that guy almost all the time. You guys must have felt like, “We’ve really got to come with something good for this guy.”

It’s not like he was asking me to send over music. I’ve been sending music through my friend OZ who has that relationship. Drake still works with 40, I think everything does go through 40 anyway to some degree.
40;’s a legend. A lot of what’s going on in the game right now because of 40, I believe.

Do you get to meet Meek, do you get to meet Drake after you do these tracks? 

I’ve met Drake before, but it was before “Omerta.”. And I haven’t met Meek. I’m pretty sure that’ll come one day if we work again and I’ll just be in L.A.

As a songwriter, when someone that big decides to cut your song, there’s a lot riding on it, especially when you’re young, right? When you started out, that could be the difference between paying rent and not, and I correct? 

At this point, no. Coming up as a producer/writer, you have to work through those phases. Right. So, yes, there was a time where I was equating every session I did and every beat I sent. I wanted to monetize that situation ASAP because I had things I had to take care of. It was a phase of that. But I haven’t been in that phase for a minute.

But I guess you kind of build your way up. You work through those phases and you build you out through that and, you know, figure out how to handle things and manage things. And sort your priorities and, you know, you get into working music, ’cause you’re working on music. You’re not trying to rely on that wholeheartedly and think, “Oh, my God, this song is gonna come out because I’ve got a pay rent next month.” I mean, again, that’s a phase, though. Some people go through those phases. Some people don’t. Luckily, again, it’s just the grind. And again, like you go through that to hopefully make out if you stick out long enough.

I’m not sure if the music industry is the first place you come into, if you’re just trying to get rent paid. Like, the priority has to be, what is your passion? You wanna make music. Okay, cool. Then you kind of have to make it a priority. It’s like a leap. So I understand the fear and all of the other stuff that comes of it. But I feel like the ones that do get through that barrier are the ones that kind of take that job up and, you know, do what they gotta do.

 

Let’s talk about Childish Gambino’s “Algorhythm.” I really dig that song; it has like this sort of ominous tone to it.

That song is incredible. I love that song. That was my friend Kurtis [McKenzie]… he sent me a few samples, and I opened the samples up and I said, “I’m gonna create freely. I’m going to like go round the samples he’s created, try a drum pattern and just tried to create something that doesn’t kind of sit in a certain genre. And then I sent it to Kurtis and he loved it. Curtis sent a beat to DJ Dahi who has been one of our favorite producers for a minute. And it’s a blessing. I call him a friend now.  And then me, Dahi and Kurtis got in a group text and we start discussing, I guess, ideas, what we could do. And then Dahi just elevated the whole song from just a beat to just a whole different level, played some keys on it. It just went in like just on production, on even the vocals. It took it to another level. And the reason I’m saying that is because that song in particular, showed me the difference between sitting there and making beats and having a vision and sitting there with the artist and trying to guide that vision as well. And that’s what that taught me.

And me and Dahi had many moments that we spoke about that. That moment was quite recent as well. It was in L.A. in January, and that was the main thing for me, just being able to create, sitting with the artist, [who was] guiding the full vision of the song.

So this was different than your other experiences because Donald Glover was there, where Drake and Meek Mill were not. 

I was sending the beats over. Those relationships weren’t direct relationships for me. But the Gambino one was more… We were there at the studio and were working. And he would say what he liked and what you thought the vibe was and Dahi executive produced the whole album. So he was actually the one that was Frank Gambino a lot. But, yeah, it was a great vibe. It was amazing.

Have you been in situations where you’re at a club, you’re at a party, you’re at a restaurant, you’re in a store, and suddenly a song you worked on is being played on the P.A. and you see people digging it and they have no idea they’re standing right next to the guy who co-wrote it?

Of course. Yeah. That happens all the time. Like the example I just gave you in the store when I was out here. It’s dope! I personally enjoy not being known to that level. As a producer, it’s dope: I try to see people’s reactions, to see if they’re singing along or if they are enjoying it or if they’re bobbing their heads. I’ve been to shows and concerts and I’m just standing there like, “Yo, this is fire.” But the only thing I can think of is why my synth sounds so loud. So, yeah. It’s cool.

And so you’re not a guy is going to try and turn this around and make your own records and stuff like that.

Maybe. No, I wouldn’t say I never do it. I might. Just right now where I’m at this moment. I don’t think that’s what I want to do right now. But I’m not opposed to it.

Bernie Marsden And The Story Of Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’

Bernie Marsden And The Story Of Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go 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.

Bernie Marsden co-founded Whitesnake in the late ’70s with former Deep Purple members David Coverdale (vocals) and Jon Lord (keyboards), and the band had a solid following with hard rock fans through the early ’80s. He co-wrote a number of the band’s best songs, including “Fool for Your Loving” and “Walking in the Shadow of the Blues” before leaving the band in 1982. In 1987, the band — which featured Coverdale leading a completely different lineup — decided to re-record another song that Marsden co-wrote. That was “Here I Go Again.” We talked with the guitarist, a blues aficionado who refers to himself as “a Freddie King guy” about his biggest hit.

Tell me about writing “Here I Go Again.”

The song was written quite late on when we were doing Saints and Sinners, I think it was the last thing we recorded, actually. And it was the last thing I personally recorded with the band, which is kind of ironic in a way. Not that it bothers me. I knew that we had something good and I knew that it was a very decent song and. it was a hit over here [in the U.K.] just after the band split. Whitesnake was still purporting to be a working band at the time by the record company. But it wasn’t. And so the record went into the charts. And I think it was a top 30 hit. I don’t think that it was a big hit. It was a long time ago.

 

The song came together fairly quickly. I had a finished demo, which I then told David about, and then we worked on it together and we changed a few things here and there. But the song was pretty much in shape. Lyrically, he changed [some of it]which was cool, because he’s the guy who’s gonna sing the song. But it didn’t take long to come together. And we went to the studio and presented it. The rest of the guys — it was [keyboardist] Jon Lord and [drummer] Ian Paice and they just said, “This is kind of cool.” And Jon Lord loved the intro and said, “I’ll be playing that on the Hammond organ.”

When you hear that organ, it’s like, “That’s Jon Lord.”

When I first played it to him, he said, “Play that again.” So I played it again. And he looked at me with a kind of a smile and those lovely eyes Jon had said. He said, “You’re a clever little thing, aren’t you? You’ve got a hook there straight away with that intro, and that’s why I want to be the one who plays it on the record.”

I never argued with the great Jon Lord, I can assure you!

You and that version of the band wrote a lot of great rock songs. But that’s a song that transcended rock to become a pop hit. With pop hits, people don’t even necessarily know who did this song. They just know the song.

In North America, I suppose, including Canada, where it was number one as well, I think… quite rightly there’s probably ninety-five percent or ninety percent of people who just think of me as, “Oh, he’s a songwriter.” My name is not associated with Whitesnake the band, because by the time it was big in North America, I was long out of the band. And there’s no reason why anybody should’ve thought differently. And that never bothered me. I just found it ironic that at Whitesnake’s peak in America, the record company had chosen a song from the last lineup of the band to rework, and I thought they did a really good job of it. I think [producer] Mike Stone did a great job in the studio. I think the band were really good at the time. I think Dan Huff put a great guitar solo on it

People say, “Does it annoy you to hear it?” No, it doesn’t annoy me at all. And although it was Whitesnake, I could [hear it and] think, “Well, this is Journey.” Or, “This is Foreigner.” Or, “This is Toto.”

It was just a band that I happened to be in, with the same name. As I heard the way that they had approached it, I thought, “This could be very, very successful.” I had no idea how [successful]. Of course. But there were a few indications, indicators of how it would go because Geffen records of the time and [Geffen executive] John Kalodner, in particular, were very, very positive about it.

 

Most bands don’t record a song and then have a hit with it the second time they record it. As you said, you’d been out of the band for a while. When was the idea introduced to you that, “Hey, we’re gonna redo this song for the next Whitesnake album?”  

It was never “introduced” to me. Oh, I heard a few rumors, but nothing tangible. And then I started getting phone calls about a video. Which was the video with the Jaguars and with Tawny [Kitaen, who starred in the video]. Doing her thing, so to speak up. But the big thing, obviously, was MTV.

So I got more calls about, “Have you seen ‘Here I Go Again?'” long before I’d heard it. And I remember I was doing a gig in Liverpool, I think it was. And there was one of these TV screens up on the bar. And one of the guys in the bar said, “Your song’s on the TV.” That was the first time I saw and heard it, at the same time. I was pretty impressed with it, to be honest with you. It was great.

I was listening to them back to back before talking to you. I think it’s Don Airey who plays keyboards on the 1987 version. As you mentioned, it’s a band with the same name, but it’s a completely different band [from the one you were in] other than David. 

Yeah. It never bothered me, Brian. I was never an issue. I mean, Don Airey and I went back to 1974; Don Airey and I were in a band with Cozy Powell [Cozy Powell’s Hammer]. And Cozy had been in a lineup of Whitesnake. But that was after I was in the band. But Don did a great job on it. It’s that kind of symphonic thing is something he’s very good at. I think he was a hired musician for that record, like I think most of the guys were. It’s very much a David Coverdale [solo] album, although it’s called “Whitesnake.”

But when I get to quite get up and play with them these days, it’s really cool.

So you and David are still in touch?

Oh, yeah, we’re good. We’re good.

Have you ever discussed rejoining?

Oh, no, no. I know I was never really interested in that either. I mean, maybe a one-off gig at some point in the last 20 years with the original lineup would have been pretty cool. But I have no wishes or illusions of being involved in Whitesnake as it is today. No, I’m much different. You know, whether it’s a physical thing or an age thing, whatever. Now, that’s not my bag, really. You know, I’m a [blues legend] Freddie King guy, you know.

The band I was in was great. We put some fantastic music together. It was a wonderful band to be in. And it was a great live band. And then when that came to an end for me in ’82, ’83, I was 30 years old or whatever it was. And it was like, “What am I going to do now?” And I’ve been saying that ever since. And there was always something to do. And then after ’87, with the success of “Here I Go Again.” I became strangely connected again to Whitesnake. And that’s that’s never gone away.

I imagine it must have changed your lifestyle as well, getting publishing [royalties] on a song like that. 

I guess it must have! [laughs]

I’m not trying to spy on your bank account or anything! 

[Laughs] Obviously, as a writer of a huge, huge song there’s benefits, but the benefits work both ways. You know, Whitesnake became a very, very huge live band in North America long after the guys that put the band together did all the groundwork. And the biggest success of that was because of “Here I Go Again.” So, you know, I feel part of it. And without “Here I Go Again,” would Whitesnake have continued or or would I have had the remuneration? Obviously I wouldn’t. But would Whitesnake have had the long career that they did without “Here I Go Again?”

In the original version, the lyrics were, “Like a hobo, I was born to walk alone.” They changed it to “Like a drifter.” Did you ever ask why they changed the words?

No, I was told why, but I didn’t ask. I was told the reason for it. And it made me laugh. But “drifter” in America is a kind of a cool word.

 

I’m sure you’ve seen the Geico commercial that’s always on, with a guy using the lyrics for his wedding vows. 

Yeah, the Geico thing has that’s been quite a big thing, Joe Bonamassa calls me constantly and sends me texts every hour, saying “You’ve been on twelve times this hour!” And Steve Lukather. So I’m not trying to namedrop here! These are friends of mine. The Geico thing is really big. But there was a Wal-Mart commercial before that. For that, I’m very thankful. But all I can say is the Americans have very good taste!

 

So obviously right now is a very, very weird time for everybody, particularly musicians. I know you were playing [Whitesnake’s 1980 album] Ready An’ Willing on tour. What are you planning to do if touring comes back.. which it hopefully will.

Yeah, hopefully. I’m sure it will at some point. The Ready An’ Willing thing was looking very cool. I was not trying to recreate Whitesnake, but what we’d done was recreate a period of music from that time and it was looking likely it was going to be very, very popular. We did four sold-out shows and we were ready to roll this year with it. And that’s not going to happen now. So by the time things come back, we might I might think about [1981’s] Come An’ Get It, [because it’ll be the 40th anniversary]. But there’s still a lot of mileage left in Rady An’ Willing. So you know, doing an evening of Whitesnake music is still like a popular thing with promoters and stuff. And if I do my own shows, you know, with my current material and stuff, obviously I’m going to still put those songs in because without those songs, people wouldn’t still be buying a ticket to come and see me play.

I think that anything that was kind of popular before the pandemic if there’s a vaccine and people feel comfortable with going out, it’s going to be even more popular after. Because people now are dying to see new music.

And the musicians are, you know, just chomping at the bit to say, I have 25 dates in the book. So it works both ways, you know, and there’s not a monetary thing, We’re all sitting there with books with no gigs in.

I’ve done a lot of interviews with people like yourself; people have taken the opportunity with the lockdown’s to talk to people, which has been great. But there’s no substitute for walking out on those boards and saying, “Good evening. we’re going to have a good time tonight.”

A guy like Bonamassa, he’s always touring. And he’s probably okay to sit out a year or two. And, he probably doesn’t have to worry about the money, but his bass player may not be able to look at it that way. His bass tech might not be a look at it like that.

Exactly. That’s the problem.

It’s like the guy who prints the tickets for the gigs and the people that work for him and the guys that work for that, the effect is enormous. And, you know, the vaccine is obviously the thing that we’re all waiting for and hoping for, so that things can get back to whatever is going to become normal.

Here in America, I’m sure in England as well, the arenas are not going anywhere. They’re not going to get knocked down. Sports teams are still going to exist. But the smaller clubs, that’s the problem. If they haven’t been able to pay their rent in months and pay their, people, it’s like they may not be able to reopen. 

I had I think about 20 shows in the book for the last couple of months and I think at least five of those [vanues] have closed. So that’s the tip of the iceberg. Maybe there’s some way of bringing them back. But the moment the club owners say, “Look, we just cannot keep paying these rents because we have no gig.”

I’ve talked to John Fogerty about this and he mentioned that he has been in a situation where they’re playing a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, but he doesn’t really look like a rock star, he doesn’t make a big deal out of himself. He just acts like a regular guy. So he’ll be around people singing along to songs. They have no idea that he’s the guy who wrote it and they may be standing next to him online at the supermarket or something. Have you had situations like that?

I’ve been in that very situation and I’m very honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as John Fogerty, believe me. One of my great heroes, to be honest. Now, I’ve been in places where they’ve been playing the song and they have no idea that the guy wrote the song is sitting at the next table; that’s kind of amusing in a way, guy. And especially when you see people singing the song and the enjoyment they get from it. And, you know, that’s kind of cool. And I’ll never stop enjoying that.

I went to see John Mayer a couple of years ago, in London. And, you know, I went to the gig with my daughter, who’s a Big John fan. And I must have signed more autographs that afternoon than I had in probably the previous year because the place was full of guitar players and other musicians. And it was like a big queue and I was laughing my head off and my daughter was saying, “This is crazy!” I was just a guy going into the gig, the same as them, which is how it should be.

Jessie Jo Dillon, Country’s Writer Of Protest Songs And Breakup Ballads

Jessie Jo Dillon, Country’s Writer Of Protest Songs And Breakup Ballads

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.

This interview with Jessie Jo Dillon took place in two parts: the first was during the summer. Coincidently, it came right after her father, Dean Dillon, was announced as a new inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame. “I don’t envy Sean Lennon,” Jessie Jo said, noting that it’s tough to live in a parental shadow. But Jessie Jo’s catalog of co-writes includes one of 2020’s biggest hits: Dan + Shay’s “10,000 Hours,” featuring Justin Bieber, among many other hits. And on the other hand, there’s the politically charged Maren Morris protest song “Better Than We F0und It,” released just a few days ago. The second part of the interview came right after the release of that song.

Her vast catalog also includes Morris’ “Rich” and “To Hell and Back,” Cole Swindell’s “Break Up In The End,” Tim McGraw’s “Here On Earth,” George Strait’s “The Breath You Take” and Brandy Clark’s “Girl Next Door,” the latter of which was based on one of Jessie Jo’s exes. She’s able to both write about the most important and controversial issues going on today — even if they are difficult to write about — and the most personal matters of the heart.

If you listen through her songs (we didn’t come close to covering all of them here), you’ll quickly realize that Jessie Jo Dillon isn’t in anyone’s shadow. In fact, her catalog casts a pretty long shadow of its own.

Let’s start by talking about Dan + Shay’s “10,000 Hours.” When did you write that? 

It was the normal kind of Music Row day. I went to Jordan Reynolds’ house, who is my co-writer on it, and the guys were over. Dan and Shay were there. Dan had the title “10,000 Hours”; he liked the way it looked. And we just started talking about the adage of how you’ve mastered something if you’ve done it for 10,000 hours. I was just like, this needs to be a simple song. “Keep it simple, stupid” [laughs]. It’s a good love song. And so we wrote the song, we all loved it. And I didn’t really hear much about it for a while until I was in New York at the same time as the guys were. And Dan [Smyers] reached out to me and said, “I’ve got to see you, we’re in New York, too.”

And then so we ended up meeting up and he said, “I want to play you ‘10,000 Hours.'” And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, what? You guys recorded this?” And he said, “Yeah. Justin Bieber’s on it.” And I was like, “No way. No, he’s not.” And he said, “No, I’m serious.” And so then he dropped the headphones on my head and there’s Justin Bieber.

 

So what did you think when you first heard the finished version?

Oh, Brian, I cried. I mean, it was so was surreal to me. That’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world. And I’ve always loved his voice. He has an incredible voice. Being a country girl who’s written mostly country songs, it was just… very surreal, like I’m talking about someone else.

A very different song is Maren Morris’ “Better Than We Found It.” Who were the other writers? When did you write it? 

Laura Veltz and Jimmy Robbins. Laura and I wrote [Morris’] “Rich” and “To Hell & Back” with Maren. Jimmy and Laura wrote “The Bones” and “I Could Use a Love Song” with Maren. We combined our powers!

We were at Maren‘s house on the back porch and I had saved that title and idea of the song for Maren. We all just started talking about how we were feeling about the state of the world, and our country. We were talking about all of these kinda subjects… the environment, Black Lives Matter, which we all support, Biden and Trump, ICE, systemic racism and human trafficking.
We are all good friends and agree with each other so it was a safe place in that way. It’s hard to talk about these things with some of my friends and family these days. The four of us were all on the same page and we really wanted to write a truthful song about coming together to do better, to be better, and being the change you want to see.
Most country artists don’t like to discuss politics, and this song makes a particularly strong statement. 
That’s one of my favorite part of Maren as a person and creator. She is such a brave woman and she is not afraid to speak her mind and be herself. She is the antithesis of apathetic. She gives a damn. I do, too. I think we have always bonded in that way, on some level. I’ve never really understood the people that are so worried about what everyone thinks of them and will stay silent because of that. Didn’t Deepak Chopra or some smart person say, “What other people think of you is none of your business… and if you start to make that business your business… you will be offended for the rest of your life.”
This is definitely my most “politically-charged song.” Although it will always be odd to me that a woman’s right to her body, police brutality, COVID, being kind and caring about people has somehow become political, you know? That’s human decency.
She starts the song by singing, “If you don’t like it, then get the hell out/That’s what they yell when I open my mouth.” She knows that the response could get ugly. 
She hears that all the time on Instagram or Twitter: “If you don’t like it get the hell out.” Ironically, a few days after we wrote the song I got in a debate with someone and that’s exactly what they ended up saying to me.
The part where she sings, “Over and under and above the law/My neighbor’s in danger, who does he call?/ When the wolf’s at the door all covered in blue/ Shouldn’t we try something new?” / We’re over a barrel and at the end of one too,” is sure to offend some people. Did you guys worry about that? 
I didn’t necessarily worry, but I also want it to be known that I know not all cops are bad and there are some absolutely incredible ones and they do an extremely difficult job I cannot imagine doing. But anyone who is still saying we do not have a police brutality problem has their head in the sand, in my opinion.
The song also expresses a desire for us to reconcile with each other: “Divided we fall/America, America/God save us all/From ourselves and the Hell that we’ve built for our kids/America, America/We’re better than this”
It still gives me chills when I hear that line. Laura had started singing “America, America” and it all just fell out of us in just a couple of minutes. This has been a difficult, introspective, depressing, and rather “painful discovery” type year for me. I know it has been for so many. I cried on the 4th of July because I felt like the country I thought I was in, and the country I am in are two very different things. I realized my white privilege, I suppose. I think there is a wide gulf between what America has said it is and what it actually has been. It has been an idea as much as it has been a place. I believe there is systemic racism and that our country was sort of founded that way, and that makes me horribly, horribly sad. We have got to dismantle it and the other deep problems we have and turn this country into one we all can love and live in safely. The one we all believe in. The one we will all fight for. The one we want to leave to our children.

 

Let me ask you about of the songs that you worked with Maren on,  “Rich.”

I love that song so much. Maren and I had been friends but had never written a song together. And we had been drinking one night and I said, “Hey, you know, I have this idea that I’m wanting to write called ‘Rich.'” We got together with Laura Veltz. It was a really quick write.

“Rich,” lyrically, is actually a rather sad song. But we wanted it to feel fun. And it was just a really great day of three chicks, just ping-ponging melodies and lyrics back and forth. And it was one of those magical ones where it fell out in about an hour or two hours and you’re like, “Whoa, how did we just do that?”

It’s about a woman who says, “I should not get back together with this guy… but I probably will!”

Right [laughs]. Yes. Lord knows I’ve been there and I know the girls had been there, too. It’s about one of those people: you need to put them down, but you can’t! And there is a sadness in that. But and that’s why we wanted to make the production feel fun. You’re making fun of yourself a little bit, too.

What’s it like writing for, or with, Maren? She came up as a writer for other people before she started making her own records.

Right. She did. She had been a performer since she was a little girl. And so she kind of had gotten a little beaten down by that. And so when she moved to Nashville, she just thought she’d write songs [for other people]. But then she kept getting this feedback from people: “Man, I love this song, but I don’t even know who’s going to record it because you sound so great [on the demo]!”

Like “Rich,” for example, almost got recorded by somebody else. I remember she was almost done with her record. And I remember telling her, “Maren, I don’t want to hear anybody else sing this but you!”

She just has such a signature sound. She’s fun to talk about, because she’s as good as everybody thinks she is. She’s an absolute melodic force. That voice coming out of that little Polly Pocket [body]. I mean, it’s just insane. Incredible songwriter. I love writing with Mare, too, because she’s brave. She’s not afraid to do something different or sing about something that someone might tell her she shouldn’t sing about. I always look forward to our creative time together because she inspires me all the time.

It’s hard for me to imagine anybody else singing “Rich,” and when she references “Me and Diddy, drippin’ diamonds,” you have to be a certain age for that reference to even make sense.

Yes, for sure. And it actually was almost recorded by a band — and who knows if they would have ended up doing it — but they liked the song. It’s a band that I think you and I both love: Little Big Town. And I actually would have loved to hear Karen [Fairchild] sing it, but… it just felt so “Maren,” like you’re saying, with the lingo and her swoops. I’m glad it turned out how it did. But I would still love to hear Karen do it.

 

Talk about “To Hell and Back,” which is another big song of yours and Maren’s.

Oh, man. I love that song. I’m so proud of it. It’s an older song, actually, because me and her and Laura wrote it after her [first] record had come out. I remember she had champagne with her; we had some champagne and we’re writing “To Hell and Back.” It was a title Maren had, and she wasn’t sure what it was about. And so we did a lot of discussing about what we thought the subject matter was, and it just kind of fell out of all of us like “Rich” did. It was a very easy song, weirdly, to write, because when I listen back to it, there are parts of it where I think, “Man, how did we come up with that?” I love everything about that song. From the production to her vocal to the melodies to the lyric.

When you write songs, do you think, “This one is for Maren”? And are there songs that you guys have written with her in mind or even written with her that she hasn’t gotten around to recording yet?

Yes, we have. I have several songs with her that she hasn’t gotten to yet.

In general, if you’re sitting down with an artist, you always want to bring it. I always try to bring in hooks that I feel like might be something that the artist would be interested in singing about. With Maren, it’s easy because we like singing about the same things. Sometimes, as a songwriter, you’re matched with people and you have to kind of search for what you think would be their perspective.

Somedays you’ll think: “So-and-so is about to go in the studio [to record new material]. Maybe we could do something for them.” I feel like I never have any luck when I try to target something so hard. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually gotten a song recorded [that way]. I  feel like my best stuff is always when I’m writing what feels like the best song that day, whether it’s a bop or a ballad or whatever.

 

Another one of your sad songs is Cole Swindell’s “Break Up In The End.” And that’s a classic song that I could imagine a lot of other people singing. But I read that a lot of people actually turned it down. 

Yes. Luke Bryan had it for a while and then did not record it. And then Dan + Shay really wanted to record the song. Dan, to this day, will text me and be like, “Damn it!” because he loves that song so much.

But Cole put it on “hold” for us. And he’s a very dear friend. And I think he did a great job with that. Even though he’s not a songwriter on it, that song was very personal to him because he had just gone through a breakup that had quite devastated him. And that’s the beauty of professional songwriting: when the songs find this home, and they take on this whole other thing because the singer has just bonded with it so much.

Dan + Shay can still cover it!

I would love to hear that, actually.

I think that’s the kind of song that everyone could bring their own thing to. And it would sound great by almost anybody. 

Gosh, I hope so… it feels like that kind of song to me. It feels weird to say that about your own work [laughs]. But I’m just so proud of that song.

[When we wrote it] It was another easy day. I had that title, I had seen this book called John Dies at the End in the library. I thought, “Man, I want to read that. How does he die?” And I thought, “That be a great way to write a song where the title just gives it away.” Originally, we [Dillon and co-writers  Jon Nite and Chase McGill] were calling it “We Break Up in the End.”

When I brought that into the guys, I was thinking, “They’re either going to think this is crazy or they’re going to like it,” and they both loved it. And the rest is history, I guess.

You mentioned that Luke Bryan had it on “hold.” What’s it like for you when you write a song, and it’s sort of in the clutches of a huge artist or their manager?

It’s torture [laughs]!

How does it how long does that last? And what goes through your mind?

Oh, man. You always hope it’s short, because Lord, it can be long. I mean, I’ve had songs that have been held for almost a year. You know, I’ve had songs that have been held more times than I have, to be honest [laughs]! And they still somehow have managed to not make it to a record.

I feel like “holds” make you feel good for the first 30 minutes. You’re like, “Heck, yes! We have a chance.” And then, in comes the doubt. “I wonder if so-and-so is going to knock this off the record.” I’ve had to learn in my career… I used to get so upset. I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t get upset sometimes. When I had a song held for a long time and it and then it didn’t get recorded, I used to always take it so personally. And I’ve realized through working with more artists as I’ve gotten older and been in the field longer, that sometimes they love a song and they go in to record it and it doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t fit the record. It doesn’t sit in their voice. And that’s OK. It doesn’t mean the song is bad. It just, unfortunately, didn’t work.

 

Let’s talk about Tim McGraw’s “Here On Earth.” Writing a song for a star of that stature must have been really thrilling. 

Oh, it’s insane. I mean, I fell asleep when I was a little girl every night listening to Tim’s “Everywhere” record. My brothers and I had bedrooms across the hall and my mom put a boombox in the middle of the hallway and on and put on the CD… or it might have been a tape. And we would just fall asleep listening to it. Tim’s body of work is unparalleled to me. He’s one of my favorites in our genre.

We actually wrote that song at a writing camp for him. Missi Gallimore, who works with him, does A&R  for him and her husband, Byron, who produces him, set up a camp with some writers to try to target [songs for] Tim. And I remember that they asked that day… I can’t remember what song it was, but they were like, “Tim’s really loving this song.” It was a classic-rock-like tempo. And he wanted thing in that vein. And Chase and Jon and I — we just all kind of looked at each other and were like, “Yeah, we kind of don’t know how to do that. We just need to write a great song today and see what happens, you know?”

And that was “Here on Earth.” It was Jon’s idea. Once again, it was a fairly easy day of great co-writing where nobody’s that odds and everybody’s on the same page. And it felt like a special song in the moment. I know it means so much to both of them, but especially Chase. When he first heard Tim’s version, he sent me a long text and was like “Having my daughters now and hearing Tim McGraw sing this song just brings me to tears because it just makes me think of my girls.” That’s been such a cool, insane thing.

 

I love Brandy Clark’s “Girl Next Door,” and I love the line, “If you want the ‘girl next door,’ go next door!”

I will never forget this: I standing on my porch. I was dating a guy at the time and I was livid at him. And I said to her on the phone, “If he wants to the girl next door, he needs to freakin’ go next door.” And she was like, “Jesse, you need to come over right now. You need to write that song.”

We also called Shane McAnally, who’s both of our good friend and an amazing, amazing, amazing songwriter. And we told him the idea and he was like, “Can y’all just come over now?”

We went over to Shane’s and we wrote that song. I remember that was one that took longer. We were deciding on, very specifically, exactly what we wanted to say. We had so many options because it was such a fun song to write, that it was almost like whittling them down.

 

I want to ask about the processes of writing “The Breath You Take” for George Strait. That’s a song you wrote with your father, who just got into the Country Hall Of Fame [Dean Dillon]. That’s a song that has a very parenteral narrative to it.

Yes, it does. It was one of the first songs I wrote with my dad. Growing up the daughter of a Hall of Fame songwriter is an interesting road. I do not envy people like Sean Lennon at all, because you’re definitely in a shadow. You’re a bit in awe of your parent. I definitely am, still to this day, in awe of my dad. At first, I was very quiet with him about the fact that I was writing songs.

And I remember he was kind of annoyed with me: he was like, “Why haven’t you been sharing any of this with me?” I think I was just nervous. And I remember I had a sketch of an idea for the chorus of “The Breath You Take.” And I called my dad and sang some of it to him and sang some of the ideas I had. He was like, “Well, I’m writing with Casey Beathard today. Will you just come over and let’s write the song?” And so I did… with these two huge juggernauts. Casey Beathard has written for Eric Church and Kenny Chesney and all kinds of amazing artists.

But it was another one that was an easy song. I feel like all of us knew what we wanted it to be. Sometimes in co-writes, I think sometimes people can be on a different page and sometimes the song can still work out, but then sometimes it doesn’t because you can just never really agree.

So it was just one that still means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to Casey and my dad. I think we got to say something that we wouldn’t have said if it wasn’t in a song.

Is it hard to write with your father? 

I really enjoy writing with my dad. Writing with him and another writer is always funny and fun because I can watch the other person be in awe of him and sometimes I have to be the one to say, “I don’t know, Dad… I don’t think that’s it.” And you can watch the other person look at me like “What?” But, you know, Dad’s not always right. He knows.

What other songs do you want to discuss? 

I have two songs that came out on Lindsay Ell’s album [Heart Theory]. I’m really proud of her, she really dug in. And I think she made a record for herself; it is the record she’s always wanted to make. I’m very proud of her and I’m really proud to have songs on there. My songs are called “Ready to Love” and “The Other Side.”

 

It’s a cool record in that way because it really does go through the stages of grief. I think she did a great job of doing that. I mean, having gone through breakups myself, man: what different emotions you feel over the course of six months or so. If not longer, if you’re me! Lord, I’ll hang on to anything! For too long! But so I am excited about those songs.

 

And then I have also been excited for Brett Eldridge’s album. Similarly to Lindsay, he just made a record [Sunday Drive] he had always wanted to make. And I think he kind of changed courses a bit for himself, and I think that was a hard decision for him to come to, but it was one that felt right in his heart. And so it was very, very, very awesome to be a part of that project for him. My songs on there are called “Where The Heart Is” and “The One You Need.” 

You mentioned that you would never want to be a recording artist. So what is next for you? Do you not have the ambition to make your own record of yourself?

I have always said that… and lately because of COVID, I have found myself thinking about that. Just making an album for myself, really, because as a professional songwriter, you write so many songs that you love that don’t ever get recorded and no one ever hears them.

I understand the trend that happened a few years ago — and it’s still happening now — where great songwriters that are also singers say, “Screw it, I’m gonna make a record,” like Maren Morris or Michael Hardy [aka Hardy], Old Dominion, Brandy Clark. You’ve seen a lot of great artists come out of Nashville who were originally songwriters making records, because I think they want their music to get out. And so I found myself sitting a little bit in that. And I’ve had a few baby conversations with my friend who’s a producer-songwriter, Aaron Eshuis, because if I was ever to do something, I think I would want to do it with him because he’s so easy for me to be around. And it would just be a full-on exploration. Who knows if I’ll ever actually do it. But I have been thinking about it a bit.

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