“They’re just really high energy” comments Thomas Rhett as we chat to him about his live performances backstage at Manchester’s Ritz, “I love including the crowd, I love when the crowd sings with me, I love when they participate, when they put their hands up and dance around and move.” Suffice to say that he backs this comment up just a couple of hours later when he comes on stage. Calm and collected behind the scenes, chatting about his career, the CMA Awards and touring with his dad, he is relaxed, smiling and joking, but when he steps out from the back and on to the stage, it’s all business – “We’re crazy people on stage” he acknowledges, “I think we’re very chilled people backstage, but once the intro music starts a switch flips and we just go out there and jump around, have fun and sing some songs.”
It’s just eight months since Thomas Rhett made his live UK debut at London’s C2C Festival and it’s fair to say that it’s been a very successful period for the second generation country star – awards, the release of a deluxe version of his hit album Tangled Up and a return to the UK on a headlining tour on which he has sold out Manchester’s Ritz, are just the highlights.
“I had no idea what to expect” – Thomas Rhett on his C2C debut
It seems that he made his mind up to return to the UK whilst at the C2C Festival. “I loved it”, he explains, “I had no idea what to expect but I had so much fun and that’s why we booked this tour in the first place. It was like ‘man, I really enjoyed being in the UK, I hope we can come back and do some solo shows’ and here we are doing it.”
Thomas Rhett’s recent CMA Awards win, where he scooped the award for Single of the Year for his hit Die A Happy Man, came against some really stiff opposition – Chris Stapleton was nominated for Nobody To Blame; Eric Church for Record Year; Tim McGraw for Humble and Kind; and Maren Morris for the excellent My Church – to come out on top of this list is quite some accomplishment. “I still can’t quite believe we even won that”, he comments. “I’m still in shock.”
Talking about the award a little over two weeks after the CMAs took place, it almost seems like he still hasn’t quite taken it in. “It was a good night. It was definitely a highlight of the year, for sure” Rhett enthuses. “Just especially seeing how many levels Die A Happy Man took my career, to see it get recognised at arguably the biggest CMA of all time was pretty awesome.” He even seems a little star struck when he comments about the night itself “It was so cool to win that award and then shake Garth [Brooks’] hand when I was walking to the stage. There were a lot of really cool moments that night, just to be in that environment with all my heroes, those I was listening to from the time I was three years old, watching them perform – I got to meet Randy Travis and talk to Reba (McIntyre) – it was just one of those nights you won’t forget.” The award followed initial success at the CMT Awards, a trend which unsurprisingly he admits he would like to keep going.
“I had written love songs, but I’d never written one as personal as that about her and for her” – Thomas Rhett on Die A Happy Man
Die A Happy Man was inspired by Thomas Rhett’s wife Lauren, which he openly discusses “With Die A Happy Man I just woke up one day and realised I didn’t really have a song for her. I had written love songs, but I’d never written one as personal as that about her and for her, so I think that’s why I was so shocked about how well the song did – it was a pretty personal love song, but my fans loved it and people were getting married to it left and right and getting engaged to it; husbands and boyfriends are learning how to play that for their wives and girlfriends – it’s just crazy that I’ve written a song which had such a big impact on love. I’m really, really proud of how that song shaped out and what it did for me this year.” He’s undoubtedly set the bar quite high for many other husbands out there. “Whenever I write a song remotely about a girl I always try to picture my wife being that girl I’m talking about in the song. With our new single Star Of The Show, [his latest release] it’s the same way.”
But Thomas Rhett’s latest hit, Star Of The Show is the single which almost wasn’t, he continues, “Before we decided Star Of The Show was going to be the single, we were almost going to go with a different song – we were going to go with a song called The Day You Stopped Looking Back which was one of my favourite tracks off Tangled Up but I wanted to get something new out there, I have song A.D.D, I’m very impatient when it comes to releasing new music so anytime I get a chance to put something new out there onto streaming services, or iTunes, I run at that.”
But once they decided to go with Star Of The Show, convincing Lauren to be in the video was another challenge. “We just wanted to make a fun video and Lauren, at first, did not want to be in it she said ‘I was in Die A Happy Man, I did my part, find somebody else’, I was like ‘babe, if you’re not in this song, people are going to be really upset’ so we put her in there at the beginning and then right at the end and I think she did great.”
The lead single on the deluxe version of Thomas Rhett’s debut album Tangled Up (released at the end of October), Star Of The Show is in good company as one of a number of additional tracks which he is clearly delighted to be releasing. “I did a remix of Die A Happy Man with Tori Kelly and I did a remix of Playing With Fire with Daniel Bradbury” he explains. “I did those because we had done them before and didn’t know where we were going to release them, and thought, why not put them on the deluxe version with three other tracks, American Spirit, Background Music and Star Of The Show. Star’s the single, Background Music is a song I wrote with my dad, which I’ve always loved – I just loved how that made me feel – and American Spirit just really encompasses, for me, what the American lifestyle is all about. I’ve never really had a song which describes that kind of content before, so I really wanted to put a song out there like that. I was just really anxious to get new music out there to the fans and this is somewhat of a bridge until the third record which we’re going to go and cut in January and hopefully release sometime next year. We’re just crazy busy in the studio writing and making fresh music.”
“It’s pretty much all written – it’s almost too written” – Thomas Rhett on his next album
At the sound of a third Thomas Rhett record our ears prick up. New Thomas Rhett music is coming and we’re anxious to find out how the next album is coming along. “It’s pretty much all written” he confirms, but there’s a catch – “It’s almost too written. We had a song meeting the other day and we listened to like 55 songs that I’d written this year and to whittle 55 down to 30, and then whittle 30 down to 12 is extremely hard. So we’re in the process right now of trying to figure out how to get as many of those out as possible. Whether that’s a double album, or whether it’s ‘here’s 12 tracks, you’re going to get another 5 in a month and then we’re going to release 5 on Spotify and 5 to on another service or whatever that may be, I just want to figure out a different system in our genre, because I think I’m really bored of putting a record out and then waiting two years to put another one out. There’s so much that happens in two years that you just want to write about and get out. We have a lot of new music coming next year.”
With such a large number of songs to whittle down to an album, it’s clear that Thomas Rhett can pen songs with ease (he comments that some of his best songs have been written in an hour and a half, although he’s also keen to stress that sometimes it can take much longer). And he’s got plenty of co-writes under his belt as well with the likes of Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Lee Brice.
Whilst confessing that he’s “addicted to what it feels like to go on stage and have a great show”, he also enthuses that “there’s … nothing like that feeling of leaving a co-write thinking, ‘we wrote the crap out of that song’, especially finishing songs like that or songs which you know have real meaning, there’s nothing like the feeling of writing a hit song and then six months later hearing it play on the radio.” In fact he’s at a loss for what he would do if he wasn’t in music, commenting on dropping out of college to pursue a career in the industry, “I was studying communications or something. I went to college honestly because my friends went and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I really don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t a singer or a songwriter. Things work out how they’re supposed to and I found that I had a knack for making words rhyme and that’s what I did. It’s so weird to look back – it was six years ago when I started a song writing career and now here we are playing a solo show in Manchester – it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s nice!”
“He’s killing it” – Thomas Rhett on his father Rhett Akins
When talking about writing, his father Rhett Akins comes up in conversation – both in terms of song writing and that he’s touring with him. “It’s so fun” he comments about being on tour together. “It’s just amazing, not only to have your dad be on tour, but to play in countries you’ve never been to before and have him with you is amazing. And to watch him go on stage, just him and a guitar, and watch how a crowd just stares at him is awesome.” His father is obviously a big inspiration to him – “He really is so good, I feel like I learned everything I know from him” he adds, “watching him perform, as well as singing and song writing and producing. He’s just such an overall talented human being and so I love that he gets to go out and show crowds in the UK what he’s all about. He’s just an amazing songwriter and I think crowds in the UK just love that singer songwriter vibe. He’s killing it.”
So can the UK expect to see Thomas Rhett coming over on a regular basis now that he has his debut UK headlining tour under his belt? It seems so – “Hopefully we can make plans to come back a couple of times per year”. We love it over here” he gleefully comments. Just a couple of hours later he takes to the stage for a Manchester headline debut at the Ritz. It’s an excellent performance and true to his word, it is full of energy, audience participation is high, fans singing along, cheering and one even invited on stage to join in. By the end of the show it’s obvious that the crowd would like him to come back at least a couple of times per year too.
Thomas Rhett image courtesy Joseph Llanes and chuffmedia.com