First Published May 2020
THE WILD ADVENTURES OF ERIC PASLAY
For me, there are also two excellent indicators of whether or not I’ve really enjoyed an interview with any artist. One is if it was relaxed enough for laughter to be a part of things. And the other is if I end up feeling like I’ve gained an insight or two that I didn’t have beforehand about how that artist goes about their craft. Both offer clues as to what makes someone tick, and as to why they’ve been successful. Singer/songwriter ERIC PASLAY certainly checked both boxes, and then some.
Eric is one of those artists who, if you’re a fan of country music, you’ll already be well aware of. The man from Temple in Texas has five #1 singles to his credit, including the massive Jake Owen hit Barefoot Blue Jean Night. That song also had the honour of taking the #1 spot on Country Aircheck’s Top 100 Songs of the Decade chart, and was one of four he had a hand in writing which made it onto that list. Two of the biggest bands in American country history have also recorded Paslay’s work, with Lady Antebellum cutting his song Friday Night for their Own The Night album, and Rascal Flatts choosing Rewind as the title-track for their ninth studio collection. With achievements like that, it’s no surprise that Paslay’s writing ability has earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song, the same for C.M.A. Song of the Year, and twice for A.C.M’s Song of the Year. Not only that, Paslay can also point to a Grammy nomination as an artist as well, in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category for his collaboration with Charles Kelley (of Lady Antebellum) and Dierks Bentley, entitled The Driver.
We spoke at the beginning of what was going to be a busy week for the giant Texan, as his latest single – Heartbeat Higher, featuring Sarah Buxton – was all set to drop last Friday (May 8th), and on the evening of our chat, Eric was due to perform ‘live’ on Songwriter Sessions on the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Instagram. But we kicked things off with Heartbeat Higher, a song a lot of Eric’s fans will already know well from his ‘live’ shows as it’s been a part of his set-list for a while. So why now to actually send it out into the wider world, I wondered?
“Because it’s always the perfect time to put out new music! [laughs]. I’ve been waiting so long and planning for this moment for a good while, and also, I think everybody’s just ready to get their heartbeat goin’ again, cos’ we’ve been sittin’ around so long, it feels good when your heartbeat starts dancin’ and racin’. And that happens when you feel a new experience or when you love somebody. And that’s what this song is about, feelin’ that rush of love, and that excitement. And I’m feelin’ that right now knowin’ there’s new music comin’ out!”
With everything the world is going through right now – and the full-pause that’s been put on ‘live’ music – how important are opportunities like performing on the Songwriter Sessions for Eric and artists like him to connect with an audience?
“I think it’s amazing that we’re able to use computers like we’re doin’, and that everybody’s willin’ to do it. I’ve been writin’ a bunch of songs online, you cans see each other, you write, and you catch a song together. I don’t think there’s ever been more online shows than now, which is amazing to see that people still want to hear music even though we can’t be together. It’s a cool thing to see how music still brings people together even though we can’t be in the same room. To think that we get to experience all that at the same time is just really fun. And it’s just laid-back and relaxing. I keep joking that you don’t have to wear any pants when you’re doin’ your Zoom shows! Just don’t stand up! [laughs]. I am wearing pants right now, don’t be creeped out! [laughs]. But it really is, it’s amazing to think that we’re all still coming together, and I’m grateful we’re doin’ that, but I’m definitely lookin’ forward to being ‘live’ and in person when we come back over to tour.”
Has Eric found that this has been a good time for him creatively?
“A lot! A whole lot. Some really good songs, and I’m excited about ’em and seein’ what projects they end up on, if it’s mine or other artist friends of mine. Yeah, I’m writing some good music. And working hard on puttin’ new music out, comin’ up with new logos and all brand new stuff from the website, from music to videos. It’s a perfect time to just sit home and be creative. And I have an amazing team around me. It’s been a good time, I think. It’s definitely awkward for everybody not to be able to go out right now, and thinkin’ that there’s not a for-sure time when it will be safe to do that. But hopefully when October rolls around and The Shires tour happens, we’ll be able to come over [to the U.K.] and play some shows.”
While we all hope October does find Eric back on this side of the pond, we should have been seeing him here in the very recent past too, as he was one of the artists on the C2C [Country to Country Festival] bill for this year. But like so much else, C2C fell foul of Covid 19 back in March. That was a late enough decision, one made as the whole situation was developing and picking up pace worldwide, so I asked Eric at what stage did he first begin to feel festival might not actually happen…
“Well, as a singer, I’m already kind of a germophobe. I call it a singer-phobe! [laughs]. You don’t want to get sick because it’s just not fun to sing when you’re sick, and it’s hard to do that. I mean, I always wash my hands before I eat, and I always don’t touch my face, ya know. We were aware that it was around, but didn’t know how contagious it was at the time. We were in Berlin and Amsterdam, and we got to London, we were right there at the hotel at the O2 when the announcement was made, and everything was kinda shutting down. When something that big happens, that’s when you’re really scared! You’re tryin’ not to breathe in too deep at the airport and all that. It was really, really disappointing because we were just two days away from getting to play Dublin. But hopefully we’ll get to do those sshows again with C2C and come back and play for y’all. it was all kind of shocking, to everybody. But we’re dealin’ with it, and we’ll make it through. And hopefully music will help everybody through it.”
Eric is no stranger to this part of the world anyway, as he has a brilliant ‘Live’ In Glasgow album that I highly recommend checking out. Now, a writer and artist of Eric’s status could surely have recorded a ‘live’ album anyway…so why Glasgow?
“The C.M.A., the Country Music Association, who actually do the C2C tour as well, I was on a tour over there with them, my first time ever coming to the U.K. and Europe, and we went to Scotland. And I have a big red beard, ya know! In my blood, I actually have Irish blood and Scottish blood, and some German…I’m a mutt from Texas, I have all kinds of things in me! [laughs]. So I look like a lot of people in Dublin and a lot of people in Glasgow, I’m a mixture of everyone in those two towns! [laughs]. I remember having a crowd in Glasgow and they were such fun people, all singin’ along. And I just said to myself, wow, if I ever record a ‘live’ album, I should come here! You can have one of those memories from a town, I think we all have that. And that was just a really cool night. So you always want to recreate that. And I think we did with the ‘live’ album. But hey, I know we could definitely record one in Dublin, too! And in London, and in Berlin, and we could record one in Austin, Texas. You gotta record one somewhere, ya know. To me, being from Texas, to say I was in Scotland and I recorded a ‘live’ album was kinda cool!”
Eric has often spoken about how his song Barefoot Blue Jean Night changed everything for him when Jake Owen took it to the top of the charts. But I was wondering if – as far as his career as a songwriter goes – there was another moment before that, maybe not something that might have seemed significant to anyone looking on, but for Eric himself, he knew it was another game-changer along the way?
“Well, they call it the music business, right? And if you’re tryin’ to do this professionally and make a livin’ at it, at least one of the steps in Nashville – from the business side, and you don’t have to do it, you can do it independently like I’m doin’ now – is to get a publishing deal. A publishing deal means you can make music full-time. There’s a company and you write songs for them, and they pay you a little bit of money. Hopefully you write a big hit, and you can make money from that. So when I got my first publishing deal, every day I’d go in and write and write, and write, and write. Probably that first company I was with, I probably have close to two-thousand songs that I wrote for ’em. And ‘Barefoot…’, and even ‘Even If It Breaks Your Heart’, and all of the songs on my album, and all of the songs you hear that have been hits, I wrote during my time with that company. I have other hits with other companies, but the biggest chunk was with them. So having that happen. And also, the best thing about it, is that my wife and I worked together there. So I probably would never have had a shot with such a pretty girl if I wasn’t workin’ there and gettin’ to hang with her every day to where she realised I was kinda cool! [laughs]. That was the biggest step. It wasn’t just one song. I think a lot of people think you just need the one song. No. You need a lot of songs! And people that believe in you like I had with Natalie and Billy, and a bunch of people at that company. And you need a little luck. And perfect timing! [laughs]. There’s no formula. How does a song become a hit? No, there’s no formula. But it definitely needs to get heard. And I’m grateful that I have some new music getting heard now with Heartbeat Higher. It’s a wild adventure. If you’re a writer, just write a whole bunch of songs, because if someone hears the one song [that they like], they’ll want to hear twenty more. And hopefully you’ve got a lot of great songs waitin’ to be heard.”
Staying with songwriting, Eric said once that, “I pay attention to the words I sing, and make sure they matter.” That being so, I wondered if I would be correct in thinking that indicated he spends a lot of time on his lyrics – finding the right word, shaping the perfect phrase – and that he probably views rewriting and editing as an important part of the process?
“You know it’s wild, I probably should rewrite and edit, and sit there with late-night tea smoking on a pipe, like Gandalf, figuring out what word I should say here [laughs]. But I think the most truth you can find is in the moment. And if there is a line that isn’t quite right, then absolutely , I will come back to it and rewrite it. But a lot of times, there’s no time clock goin’ of well, you need to know the song by this particular time. But typically, in two to three hours we’ll have a song done. And you’ll either know it’s a good song or a great song. And then the rest is up to fate! [laughs]. And if people get to hear it or not. And who sings it, and when they sing it. But the more songs you write, the more you know when you have the right line or you don’t. And the more you write, the faster that process becomes. I probably didn’t give you an answer because there really isn’t one. But I will say, I don’t think we rewrite enough. I think there’s a lot of really, really great ideas that are never fully written as well as they could be. Because we’re in a hurry to write the next song. Or someone has to go. Or whatever that is. But I definitely know that I’ve been guilty of not writing a lyric as great as it could be. And also, some people can rewrite a song to death, when it wasn’t a good idea to begin with! [laughs]. You don’t need to rewrite that one, you just need to write the next song! Move on, and tell the next story.”
Something else which is a huge part of Eric’s life is the fact that he lives with Type 1 diabetes, a fact which he deals with in his Level With Me podcast. I wondered in what ways has that – and other serious life-events such as his mum going through cancer – shaped him as a person? And in turn, impacted or influenced his writing…
“Yeah, I think if you’re alive you’ve dealt with some hard things in life, some struggles that you didn’t choose. And Type 1 diabetes is one of those things for me. It’s an auto-immune disorder, I got it when I was ten years old. So I’ve had to live with taking shots and watching my blood-glucose level and all that. It’s made me who I am. And I like who I am [laughs]. I’m o.k. with me [laughs]. But ya know, I think having Type 1 diabetes has helped me to be a musician and not be afraid to step out on stage. And with the podcast, that’s what we get to talk about. Level With Me is keeping your levels in balance, we’re always juggling what our glucose level is at. You eat food, then you take insulin. But you take too much insulin, so then you gotta go drink some orange juice! That’s the whole struggle. All the Type 1 diabetics are out there goin’. ‘Yeeeah! This dude knows what I’m talkin’ about!’ [laughs]. My mother just went through breast-cancer, and she’s totally clear right now. She got to ring the cancer-free bell, so we’re very, very grateful for that. And grateful she caught it really quick, and was treated so well. The more time goes on with sicknesses, like hopefully with this pandemic, they’ll figure out a way to treat it better or help us have a better immunity to it. With Type 1 diabetes, there’s an amazing device I wear, a CGM, made by Dexcom, which tells me my blood-glucose level every five minutes, which is mind-blowing. Basically, if you know any diabetics that prick their finger and puts some blood on a test-strip, well this device gives me one of those readings every five minutes. It sends it to my smart-phone, so I just swipe-up and look at how I’m doin’. It’s made my life a lot easier, and it’s made me a lot healthier knowin’ what my levels are at. So yeah, the podcast is talkin’ about all that with a whole bunch of diabetics, but not just diabetics either. It’s their wives, and their families, their parents. I’m sure my parents wish they had one of these CGM devices when I was a little kid, so they didn’t have to keep comin’ in to check and make sure I wasn’t havin’ a bad episode. Anyway, grateful to be alive now, and grateful that there’s so many things to keep me healthy. And grateful to be able to tour on the road and record records, and to have a little girl now and not be afraid to pick her up because I know I’m at a good level. And my wife interviewed me on one of the episodes, so you’ll realise how much of a rockstar she is! [laughs].
~ Eric’s new single, HEARTBEAT HIGHER, featuring Sarah Buxton, is OUT NOW and available on all digital platforms.