Granger Smith has come a long way since his first record arrived in 1999, a pop-country set titled Waiting On Forever. He was a wide-eyed 19-year-old and a freshman at Texas A&M. Navigating the industry at such a young age was a daunting task, which is probably why he didn't choose to leave college until three years later, then a junior. Of course, signing a publishing deal with EMI clearly pursuaded him to revisit the idea. He then relocated to Nashville and began the club circuit and later released several equally remarkable albums.
But it wasn't until last year's Dirt Road Driveway that everything fell into place. "I’ve always been excited to put out a record, always. I don’t think I’ve ever put out a record and thought, ‘this isn’t that great. So, I’m not excited about it.’ This album really worked, more than all the rest did," he shares in an exclusive interivew with NashvilleGab.
Describing his album as "ambitious," sampling southern rock and soul influences, he notes one song in particular that sums up where he is in life at the moment. "There’s a song called ‘Bury Me In Blue Jeans.’ Every time I have a record, there’s always that one song that speaks pretty close to where I am in life. That’s the one here," he says.
Despite his latest project possessing massive mainstream appeal, it does dish up more than most modern male offerings. On current bro-country trends and influences, he details how he navigates his own musings and creativity, "Every morning, that’s an ongoing thought, honestly. You have to and you want to. You want to navigate through the new world of changing music and needs of fans. You also want to maintain who you are and what your sound is. That balance is ultimately what makes longevity superstars in any genre."
"I try to stay in touch by listening to what’s on radio," he continues. "I like to hear about the new producers and what sounds they are liking. Also, up and coming songwriters and why their stuff is working. I try to focusing on why things work and if and how I can apply that to what I’m already doing."
Admittedly, staying true to one's roots isn't as hard as you think it would be. "Your roots don’t go anywhere," he says. "They’re in you. As much as I might hear a sound and say, ‘that’s really working, and I like that sound. Let me try and add that to what I’m doing.’ When I do it, it ends up sounding what I’m doing anyways, because creatively, I can only go so far from where the roots are already."
Now 34, the singer ponders how he's evolved in 15 years. "It all comes down to one thing: connection. Earlier in the music, you might write about what you know and what you’re feeling. In country music, above rock, pop and other genres, you have to find that connection with your people. You have to find your people, who’s listening to you, and connect them with what your story is. You also can’t just make up stories. You have to say something you know about. I’ve gotten closer to that on this last record than I ever have."
But now is the time to look forward, and that includes his adoring family (and really, really missing them while out on the road). "That’s probably the #1 hardest thing about touring," he notes. "When I was single, I was just telling people to throw everything you can at me. I don’t even need to sleep. I’ll go do interviews and whatever else (concerts, benefits, free shows). I’ll just do it."
"Now, it’s like, ‘well, is there a Southwest flight that can get me back because I haven’t seen the kids in eight days.’ Things like that. I enjoy having that balance. I love being on the road. I love my guys. I love that feeling. And I love being home, too."
What has been his favorite show to perform ever? "There are a couple ways that that has happened to me. One time would be some of the tours I’ve taken to Iraq. Those are the feelings of playing those shows to soldiers, who’ve been out there in the battle zone. It was a feeling of music finally coming together. It was finally becoming my gift that I can give–that people are appreciating it."
He confesses that at "a lot of other shows, you don’t feel that. You feel like you’re wasting someone’s time, asking yourself, ‘are they getting their money’s worth? Are you sure they came to see you? Are they enjoying themselves?’ Those are thoughts that go through any artist’s mind. But when you are in Iraq, those guys don’t wanna be anywhere but here for the show."
Through his career, there is one quote that has inspired him to keep plugging away at his career. It's by Alfred Tennyson: "I cannot rest from travel; I will drink life to the lees." The power of words is a life-changing thing, and Smith truly understands that.
"I don’t want to ever half ass anything," he says. "I hate the thought of looking back and saying, ‘if I’d only tried…’ I hate that thought. So, I’ve had a lot of failure happen and a lot of success. I like the feeling of trying and failing better than not trying and never knowing. That’s probably why I’m still in this business. Life continually calls you back and tells you ‘get a real job, do something respectable.’ Then, all the artists that keep going, it’s not that they have more talent…it’s just that they keep going."
Songwriters often find inspiration in the dark corners of their life, and Smith confesses that that is partly true for him, too. "I write a little bit better in the great moments. In the low points, I don’t feel like writing. That’s where the great ideas come from and that’s how the inspiration comes," he explains. "I store them away, maybe write an idea down, but I don’t like to touch things immediately, if I’m in a down mood. Then, when I’m feeling better, I can go back and draw on those emotions and easily put them down on paper."
Of course, along with that, there are moments that are harder to share than others. "I never thought about that until I got older and able to look back on life. I lost my dad not too long ago. There are certainly songs I’ve written about him…I don’t play them," he asserts. "I don’t have any intent on playing them right now. As much as I give to music and to fans, there are a couple things I’d like to reserve to myself."
To give back, Smith hosts an annual 100-Mile Walk charity event, which aims to honor servicemen and women all across the world. In 2013, the cause racked in $20,000 to support the Boot Campaign. Why did he start such a selfless effort? "It’s something I started doing after my tours in Iraq. I wanted to do something over here that more people could get involved in to show appreciation to servicemen and women. I always felt guilty that I play music for a living and have such a great time and they’re not. They are volunteering and in awful places of the world to risk their lives so I could enjoy this."
Grab a copy of Dirt Road Driveway on iTunes now!
Photos courtesy of Granger Smith Facebook
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