First Published October 2020
SEASONS CHANGE, CLASS REMAINS
When it comes to ways to burst onto the music scene and introduce yourself to a global audience, there aren’t many better ways to do that than by winning a show like American Idol. That’s exactly what SCOTTY McCREERY found out back in 2011 when he was the last man standing on the tenth series of the show. Since then, the North Carolinian has established himself as one of the greatest country voices of the modern age, and that’s something that can be stated without any exaggeration, and probably with pretty much unanimous consent.
It’s not just the power and the beauty of Scotty’s voice on a song by song basis that proves this, either. All four of his albums to date – Clear As Day in 2011, Christmas With Scotty McCreery a year later, followed by See You Tonight in 2013, and most recently, 2018’s Seasons Change – back it up, and all four have debuted at #1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart. That most recent collection, Seasons Change, contains what is easily one of my favourite songs of the last couple of decades in the shape of Five More Minutes, which made history for Scotty when it topped the Billboard chart in 2018, making him the only country artist in Country Aircheck/Mediabase history to achieve that feat without the backing of a record label.
Scotty has just released a brand new single, and as with everything the man has put out there over the course of his career, YOU TIME is class. And as well as the song itself being brilliant, the even better news for his fans all over the world, including those here in Ireland, is that You Time is also taken from Scotty’s forthcoming new album. And lord knows that after the 2020 we’ve all been experiencing, the news that there’s a new long-player from Scotty somewhere in the not too distant future is the tonic we all need. I had the very real pleasure of spending a little time in Scotty’s company recently, and we started our chat with You Time. The lead-off single from any collection is always important, of course, so I asked Scotty why that honour went to You Time this time?
“Well thank you for the kind words on the song. Ya know, it’s just a song I fell in love with the minute we wrote it. And we wrote it, I guess, early last year, early 2019. We were super busy on the road touring, and my wife is a paediatric nurse here at a hospital in North Carolina, and she was busy at work, so we weren’t getting a lot of time to spend together. That’s where the song kind of came from. And just listening back to it, it just felt very me, very us as a relationship. And it felt like a good representation of the new album. And for that new album, we’re working away at it. We’ve got a lot of it finished, but we still have a little ways to go. I wrote half the songs, and half of them will be outside cuts. Hopefully the middle of next year, it will be ready to go.”
Staying on the subject of albums, Scotty’s latest is Seasons Change, a #1 in its own right and continuing a remarkable run for him, as all of his albums have hit that top spot. Seasons Change also contains three #1 singles for Scotty; with In Between, Five More Minutes, and This Is It all featuring. I loved his choice of the song Seasons Change as the album’s title-track, though, because I thought that really hinted at the fact that when the album came out back in 2018, Scotty was in a place in his life where acceptance, expectation, and his love for what he does were all in close to perfect balance. Would that be a good read on how things were at that time?
“Yeah. When we wrote that song, ya know, it was coming out of a pretty rough year for me professionally, which affected things personally. 2016 was a strange, tough year for me. But all of a sudden in 2017 we kind of pulled ourselves up by the boot-straps and got going again. And really the momentum, and just the feeling of everything started feeling good again. So that’s where that song came from. We took that energy and ran with it on that album, and a lot of the songs were written after we got ourselves goin’ again. But yeah, ya know, I feel like sometimes when life throws things at you, you can either sit there and mope and be sad, or you can pick yourself up and say, ‘Well alright, let’s get goin’ again.’ So that’s what we tried to do.”
One of those #1 singles from Seasons Change, the glorious Five More Minutes, won Scotty an N.S.A.I. (Nashville Songwriters Association International) Award for ‘One of The Top Ten Songs I Wish I’d Written.’ That’s definitely one of the best-named awards I’ve ever heard of! But far more importantly, the song that won it – Five More Minutes – is definitely a song I wish I had written, too. I asked Scotty if he would mind taking us back in time and behind the scenes to the moments when that song was first coming to life…
“Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate you sayin’ that. Again, Nashville, ya know, I love that town for the songs that get written there. So to get that kind of award was very cool. But yeah, when we wrote ‘Five More Minutes’, I was in Nashville with a guy who has produced my last couple of albums and has been a mentor to me over the years, Frank Rogers. And another one of my favourite songwriters in town, Monty Criswell. I had just lost my grandaddy Bill about two weeks prior to that, and this was one of the first songs that I’d written since then. I just showed up to the write that day and started talking about grandaddy to Frank and Monty, just the type of guy he was, and if I had just a little more time with him how I’d love to play another round of golf with him, that kind of thing. I think it was Frank that said, ‘It’s just like you wanted five more minutes with the guy.’ I said, that’s exactly right, and that’s the song we’re gonna write today.”
Would Scotty find that, as a songwriter, he’s someone who tends to put a lot of his own personal life experiences into the songs he writes?
“Yeah, ya know, I think for me, that’s kinda something that I enjoy. I enjoy writing about my life, and expressing myself and what I’m going through, through music. Some songwriters can pull things out of thin air, and imagine something, and come up with an incredible song. But for me, I struggle with that. So I’m much more of a – if I live it, if I love it – that’s kind of what I write about.”
Scotty had mentioned that 2016 had been a strange year for him personally, and it’s fair to say that 2020 comes into that same category for pretty much all of us. One thing Scotty will definitely remember from this year is the remarkably serendipitous turn of events that saw him as the last artist to play the Ryman Auditorium before operations were temporarily suspended there, AND become the first artist to welcome a ‘live’ audience back to the famous old venue as well. The world, in so many ways, literally changed in the time between those two performances. Did it feel that way for Scotty when he finally got back on stage?
“Yeah, that was a night I won’t forget. Ya know, for me, any time you get to play the Ryman – the Mother Church of country music – is a special night. You can just feel the history the moment you walk in there. I got to play it in March to a sold-out crowd, there was an interview there, people were standing, it was an amazing night. And it was the first night that I saw people, like, starting to elbow-bump instead of shaking hands! And I was like, oh…this is kinda gettin’ weird! [laughs]. Then all of a sudden, the next day was shut-downs and everything, that was strange. But getting to go back and welcome a ‘live’ audience to such an historic venue, it was amazing too. It was different! It was a sold-out crowd again, but it was a much smaller crowd, everybody was wearing masks, you couldn’t see them singing or smiling. But just to have humans in there with us, and to play ‘live’ music again, to feel the beat of the drums and the energy of the guitar, that was just a moment I won’t forget after taking off for so long.”
Does Scotty have any idea when he’ll get to be back on stage in front of an audience again?
“There are still some shows on the books for me this fall and this winter, if they happen. I’d probably be surprised at this point. I’m not too sure. I think for a normal, ya know, thousands of people kinda show, that’s a ways away. But there’s options for a drive-in shop or something that we can work with.”
Back in 2011, Scotty won the A.C.M. (Academy of Country Music) New Artist of the Year Award. And just the day before I spoke with him, I’d had the pleasure of talking to Tenille Townes, this year’s recipient of that same honour. If Scotty could sit his 2020 self down with his 2011 self – or indeed, with Tenille, for that matter – what words of wisdom would he pass on for surviving life in the music business, having come through everything he has and made it back to the very top again over the last few years?
“I love Tenille, first off. She’s an amazing artist, and very deserving of that. For me, if I could go back and talk to myself, I think I would just say enjoy the moment. Enjoy the time you have on stage, and writing songs, and making albums and stuff. I think I was maybe just a little caught up in making sure that everything was so perfect…I wanted my show on stage to be perfect, my album, every little thing, instead of kind of just sitting back and letting things happen, and enjoying the moments. It’s a special time. Starting out as a new artist, and everything is so new, just sit back, smile, enjoy it. And kinda be a sponge around all the veterans that you’re around too, because they’ve been doing it for so long.”
Scotty lost a very dear friend – Yamir – in a tragic accident a few weeks before we spoke. He paid an emotional tribute to him by performing a beautiful rendition of Vince Gill’s timeless classic, Go Rest High On That Mountain, on his Instagram. After offering my sympathy and condolences, I asked Scotty if he’d like to share anything about the kind of person Yamir was, and also, on songs like Go Rest High On That Mountain, are there favourite country songs like that one that Scotty would turn to in times of pain or sorrow, ones that always bring him some sense of comfort to hear or to play?
“Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think that’s the power of music, it’s tremendous. It can make you stand up and bounce around and dance, and smile and be happy, but it can also bring you to your knees. So ‘Go Rest High…’ is one of those songs. There’s a bunch of ’em. ‘Movin’ On’ by Rascal Flatts, too. Music is something I always turn to. Yamir, he was one of those guys, his smile was contagious, everybody loved him. He had a rough upbringing too, so he could have gone either way, with how it was a struggle for him growing up. But he ended up just being the best, salt of the earth kinda guy. I learned a lot just being around Yamir, so it was ough to see somebody get taken away so young, and senselessly. He was a great guy, tough to see that happen.”
Staying with songs and songwriting, while I know that You Time and a lot of the next album was written in pre-Covid times, I wondered if Scotty had been doing much writing since this all started? Has Covid had any knock-on effect on his songwriting?
“Yeah, for sure. Like I said, we’re still working on this album, we’ve got some of it finished but we still have a ways to go with some of it as well, so we’re still writing songs and finding songs to finish out the album. I’m not sure it will be such an obvious effect of like talking about wearing masks and quarantining and stuff [laughs], but more the not taking for granted the days we have on earth, living life to the fullest, and the appreciation for life, I think, will definitely show up on this album. That’s kind of what I’ve taken out of all this time at home, really looking back and remembering how things were. I think once we get back to normal, I won’t take for granted the days on the road where I’m kinda like, ‘Aw man, I’m bored today’, or ‘I wish I could go home.’ No, I’ll be enjoying the moment. That will definitely show up.”
Scotty is a big, big golf fan, and he and some of his friends enjoyed some success out on the course back in June, something which he shared with his followers on Instagram. How good did that feel, I wondered, the chance to get back out and enjoy some golf with his friends after not being able to for a while?
“[Laughs] It felt great! It’s luckily one of those things you can do outdoors. And for me, I socially distance very well in golf, because I’m always hitting my ball in the woods anyway! [laughs]. So that’s a pretty easy thing to do [laughs]. But yeah, we had fun, and I’m hoping to play some golf in Ireland, that’s always been a bucket-list thing for me!”
Earlier in the week we spoke, Scotty had what he called his Elvis Presley Tuesday. And sadly, just the day before we spoke, the great songwriter Mac Davis, who wrote In The Ghetto for Elvis, passed away, adding to some of the other great writers and artists like John Prine and Joe Diffie who have taken their leave of us this year. I asked Scotty who were the songwriters and artists who have been most central to shaping his love of country music, and inspiring him as a writer and performer himself?
“My goodness, there’s a lot of them to pull from. And yeah, it’s been a tough year losing artists and songwriters. It’s been a tough year all around. I grew up listening to more of the classic stuff, guys like Randy Travis, Ronnie Milsap. And Elvis was obviously a huge influence on my life. I dressed up like him for Halloween, and sang all his songs in school! He was obviously a big guy for me. Songwriting wise, I mean, I’m writing with a bunch of the folks that I love. Brad Paisley is a guy that I grew up listening to. Allen Shamblin, there’s a guy who wrote a lot for Randy Travis, and who I’ve had the chance to write with. Every time I get the chance to write with him, it’s a really cool experience. Luckily, there’s still a lot of those kinds of guys who are still around that I can sit down and write with. But unfortunately we’ve lost a few of them this year too, and that’s sad to see.”
When Scotty gets to meet someone like Brad Paisley, and to sit down and write with him, because he would have been someone Scotty looked up to, how long does the weirdness – for want of a better word! – last before he gets over the fact that he is actually in a room writing with Brad Paisley?
“It took a while, for sure [laughs], just because I’m such a fan. And I still am a fan. He took me out on my first tour in 2012, and we got to go January through December playin’ shows with him, and gettin’ to meet his family, and meet his road-family. He’s always just been super cool to me. But, I mean that is a thing when you get to meet your heroes, and it’s pretty obvious, I think, for them to see that I’m a fan cos’ my jaw is on the floor [laughs]. Luckily, I really haven’t met any of my heroes and after that been like, man, I wish I didn’t meet him. Everybody’s been so kind and so cool.”
Like almost everybody who planned on hitting the road in any direction or for any length of time this year, Scotty has had to reschedule a lot of tour dates. But, God willing, we’ll be seeing him on this side of the world in 2021. But his shows in Dublin and Belfast next May will, somewhat astonishingly, be his very first in Ireland! So as we ended our chat, I asked Scotty why he’d been keeping us waiting so long?!
“[Laughs] Aaaw man…if it was up to me, I’d have been there every year for the last ten! [laughs]. Ireland is a place I’ve wanted to go for so long. You know, we didn’t even get overseas to play any shows until last year, I don’t know what that was, whether it was logistics or whatever. But it wasn’t for the lack of wanting to go! The McCreerys, my side of the family, is from over there, I think, Northern Ireland. So we’re excited to go. I’ve never had Guinness! I’ve been holding off, I want to have my first Guinness in Ireland! And hopefully get to play a little golf too, and get to meet and talk with a lot of amazing folk. I can’t wait!”
~ YOU TIME, the brand new single from SCOTTY McCREERY, is out now and available on all platforms. Scotty plays The Academy in Dublin on May 9th 2021, and The Limelight in Belfast (which is sold-out) on May 11th.