meta-scriptMiranda Lambert Talks 'The Marfa Tapes' And Why She's Drawn To Collaboration | GRAMMY.com
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Miranda Lambert Talks 'The Marfa Tapes' And Why She's Drawn To Collaboration

Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall & Jack Ingram’s 'The Marfa Tapes' is an auditory glimpse into the mountainous horizons that surround Marfa, Texas. Lambert talks to GRAMMY.com all about the making of it

GRAMMYs/Jun 8, 2021 - 04:22 am

In March, Miranda Lambert picked up a third GRAMMY win (her second for Best Country Album) thanks to her 2019 project, Wildcard. The album’s technicolor sonic landscape yielded both edgy rock anthem “Mess With My Head,” and the dreamy, hopeful “Bluebird,” which became a No. 1 hit and earned Lambert two additional GRAMMY nominations in 2020.

Celebrating the win looked a little different for the singer/songwriter this year due to the pandemic, but she had one of her biggest supporters next to her nonetheless. “I got to celebrate with my husband who reminded me to soak it all in,” she tells GRAMMY.com. “ [He told me] that I won for my category with the highest honor in recorded music. And an honor is exactly what it meant and continues to mean to me.”

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Since releasing her major label debut 16 years ago, Lambert has never been one to rest on her laurels. She’s preferred to constantly seek new ways of challenging herself, whether it’s been through her projects, like channeling the pain of a high-profile divorce into 2016’s double album, The Weight of These Wings, or teaming with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley in 2011 to form the Pistol Annies trio. 

But at the heart of it all has been Lambert’s talent as a top-shelf songwriter and vocalist. And as she tackled another collaborative project, this time with co-writers and fellow Lone Star State natives Jon Randall and Jack Ingram, it’s those skills that take center stage again. To make the album, the three decamped to one of their favorite songwriting places—tiny Marfa, Texas, which sits just over six hours west of Austin. There, they sat around a campfire and spent days writing and recording demos of new songs. 

The result is the new sparse, acoustic album The Marfa Tapes, released last month, which offers a raw listen to the songwriting process, and an auditory glimpse into the spacious and mountainous horizons that surround the small Texas city. Throughout songs like the wistful “In His Arms” or “Geraldene”—a pointed takedown of a second-rate “Jolene”-like character—listeners can hear the crackle of the fire, the rustling of leaves and nearby animals, off-the-cuff banter from the three songwriters, and even a plane as it flies overhead. 

Lambert recently spoke with GRAMMY.com about her experience making The Marfa Tapes, why working collaboratively is so important to her, and what is ahead for her work with Pistol Annies.

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How did you discover Marfa, Texas?

Jon Randall first discovered Marfa by looking at an atlas and picking the spot in the middle of nowhere in Texas. He mentioned Marfa to both Jack and I and one day when Jack was playing Midland, Texas, we just decided to go and see him play and then go to Marfa to hang out. It was the perfect place to disappear for a few days and be with friends.

What is it about that particular spot that allows you to open up creatively?

When one is in Marfa, you are just taken by the raw beauty of the landscape. It is very inspiring with not much else to do but write songs!

You, Jon and Jack have worked together for some time. They are co-writers on “Tin Man,” which was included on The Weight of These Wings and reappears on this album. What does each of them bring to the table, creatively, that makes this collaboration work so well?

There is a comfort the three of us have from working together since we took our first trip to Marfa in 2015. I think each of us brings a different perspective and strength to songwriting so that we really complement one another. In the end we get some great songs out of it.

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You, Jon and Jack wrote this project in September. How did having time off the road over this past year impact the album?

Having all that time brought an opportunity to do a lot of thinking, being creative and putting everything in perspective. It made me reflect on my songwriting and what I wanted to say. The pandemic brought another opportunity to go back to Marfa write without a business goal in mind, which is true freedom.

Most music released today is focused on having everything sound so perfect. Was it challenging for you to release a project that celebrates those imperfections that come as part of the creation process?

It was a challenge in a sense that the three of us were completely vulnerable. You can literally hear the cows in the background and the planes flying overhead. The rawness that this project offers is very special. Listeners are invited into the songwriting process which is a rare glimpse in on the magic.

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You recently released the clever and hilarious “Geraldene” from this album in late April. What inspired that?

Jon, Jack and myself always say if you have been out on the road, you have met Geraldene. She is Jolene’s younger sister that never got the proper attention. We started joking about the various Geraldenes we’ve met on the road and before you know it, the song was born.

The album closes with "Amazing Grace (West Texas)." How did that song idea come about?

There is a saying that “all that Texans love to talk about is Texas!” It is truly a state with so much to offer and it is so vast. This song was our ode to the beauty of West Texas and specifically Marfa where we recorded.

You recently hinted at some upcoming new work with Pistol Annies. Are the three of you recording new music, and where are you at in that process?

I’ll leave it at, we are writing and I hope you get to hear something sooner rather than later!

It is interesting that a lot of the music you have out—The Marfa Tapes, your “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” duet with Elle King and work with Pistol Annies—are all very collaborative. Is part of that desire to be collaborative due to everyone being so isolated during the past year?

I think that is a part of it but it is also fun to work on different styles of music that may not be a fit for my solo work. The collaborative process lets you work outside those boundaries and comfort zones.

Once you begin working on a new solo album, could any of the songs from The Marfa Tapes find new life on that project?

Never say never! It will all depend on the music that I will be creating for that record.

Chase Rice On His Brotherhood With Florida Georgia Line, Being Unafraid Of "Bro-Country" And Finishing The Album

Post Malone holds and acoustic guitar and looks at the crown during his Super Bowl LVIII performance
Post Malone performs during Super Bowl LVIII in February 2024.

Photo: Perry Knotts/Getty Images

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Post Malone's Country Roots: 8 Key Moments In Covers and Collaborations

Ahead of Posty's upcoming performance at the Stagecoach Festival, catch up on the many ways he's been dabbling in country music since the beginning of his career.

GRAMMYs/Apr 24, 2024 - 07:25 pm

Since Post Malone burst onto the mainstream nearly a decade ago, he has continued to flaunt his genre-defying brand of musical brilliance. For his latest venture, it’s time for gold grills and cowboy hats: Posty’s going country.

Though his musical origins are in rap, Malone has seamlessly traversed pop, R&B, and blues, always hinting at his deep-seated country roots along the way. In the last year, his long-standing affinity for country music has moved to the forefront, with appearances at the CMA Awards, a country-tinged Super Bowl LVIII performance, and a feature on Beyoncé’s COWBOY CARTER. Next up, he’ll make his debut at California's Stagecoach Festival alongside some of country music’s biggest names — and pay tribute to some of the genre greats.

While it’s unclear exactly what the Texas-raised hitmaker will be singing, his 45-minute set on Saturday, April 27 is labeled “Post Malone: Performs a special set of country covers.” After years of performing covers for and alongside country stars, the performance is arguably one of the most full-circle moments of his career thus far.

Ahead of his Stagecoach premiere, read on for some of Posty's biggest nods and contributions to the country music scene over the years — that could culminate in his own country album soon enough. 

A Slew Of Classic Country Music Covers

Malone has a history of channeling his musical heroes, often pulling on his boots to deliver heartfelt covers. He's paid tribute to country icons many times, including covers of Hank Williams Jr.'s classic, "There's A Tear In My Beer” in a 2018 fan-favorite video

During a 2022 Billy Strings tour stop at The Observatory in Los Angeles, Malone made a surprise appearance and used the moment to honor Johnny Cash alongside Strings. The pair delivered an acoustic duet of Cash's infamous murder ballad, "Cocaine Blues."

And just this year, Malone covered Hank Williams Sr. during a surprise performance at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. On April 3, he closed out the annual Bobby Bones' Million Dollar Show with a rendition of Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues." 

A Longtime Kinship With Dwight Yoakam

Malone has long collaborated with Dwight Yoakam, marking a friendship and professional partnership that spans his career. Yoakam is a GRAMMY-winning trailblazer known for his pioneering blend of honky tonk, rock and punk that shook up the country scene in the 80's with his blend of "cowpunk." 

The pair frequently joined forces on Yoakam's SiriusXM Radio spot "Greater Bakersfield," where one standout 2018 appearance features Malone covering Yoakam's own “Thousand Miles From Nowhere” as the two laugh, strum and belt out the lyrics together in perfect harmony. 

On April Fool's Day in 2021, they playfully teased fans with the prospect of a double country album release — which may not seem so far-fetched three years later.

It's fitting that Malone would find such deep inspiration in folks like Yoakam, a man who first rode onto the country scene with a new take on a traditional sound. Much like Yoakam bridged generations with his music, Malone brings a new yet familiar energy to the country scene, embodying the spirit of a modern cowboy in both style and sound.

A Country Tribute To Elvis

Malone teamed up with Keith Urban for a duet rendition of "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" during the "Elvis All-Star Tribute Special," which aired on NBC in 2019. Originally written and performed by blues musician and songwriter Jimmy Reed, "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" was famously covered by Presley and commemorated through Urban and Malone's unique blend of modern guitar-slapping country-rock charisma. 

That wasn't Malone's only country collab that night, either. He also covered Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes" alongside Blake Shelton, Little Big Town and Mac Davis.

A Celebration Of Texas With Country Legends

In March 2021, Matthew McConaughey and his wife, Camila, hosted the "We’re Texas" virtual benefit concert, to help Texans coping with that year's disastrous winter storms during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Following performances by George Strait, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, and Miranda Lambert, Malone — who moved to Dallas when he was 10 — served as the night's final entertainer. He performed Brad Paisley's "I'm Gonna Miss Her" followed by Sturgill Simpson's "You Can Have The Crown" backed by Dwight Yoakam.

A Rousing Tribute At The 2023 CMA Awards

At the 2023 CMA Awards, Malone joined country stars Morgan Wallen and HARDY on stage to cover late icon Joe Diffie‘s “Pickup Man” and "John Deere Green." Malone's first-ever performance at the CMAs felt more like a reunion than a debut, with Malone right at home among his collaborators.

“I’ve manifested this for years," HARDY told Audacy's Katie Neal. "Slight flex here, but I started following [Post Malone] when he had like, 300k Instagram followers. I was on the 'White Iverson' terrain, like the first thing that he ever put out and I was like, ‘this is dope,’ and I've been with him ever since.” 

After the performance, Malone hinted to Access Hollywood that it might be the start of a new chapter. When asked if a forthcoming country album would be in the works, he answered, “I think so. Yes, ma'am.” (More on that later.)

A Countrified Appearance At Super Bowl LVIII

Before Beyoncé announced COWBOY CARTER in a Verizon Super Bowl ad, Malone offered Super Bowl Sunday's first country-themed clue at the top of the night with his tender rendition of "America The Beautiful." Sporting a bolo tie and brown suede, Malone delivered his patriotic performance with a characteristically country drawl while strumming along on acoustic guitar before Reba McIntire's star-spangled rendition of the national anthem. 

Malone's performance followed in the footsteps of a long line of country artists who have kicked off the national sporting event, which started with Charley Pride in 1974 and has included Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Garth Brooks

A Tip Of The Hat To Toby Keith

During a performance at the American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, on March 9, Malone paid tribute to the late Toby Keith, who passed away in February. After pouring one out and taking a sip from a red solo cup (an homage to Keith's playful hit of the same name), Malone performed a cover of "As Good As I Once Was" for the Texas rodeo crowd.

His TikTok video of the performance quickly garnered over 4 million views, sparking enthusiasm among fans for more country music from him. "Sir. I'm now begging for a country album," wrote one user in a comment that has received over 11,000 hearts.

A (Potential) Full-On Country Album

His much-teased country album may not be too yonder. After confirming that a country album was in the works during a live Twitch stream on his channel, Malone has spent much of this year teasing forthcoming new work. There is no scheduled album release date as of press time, but Malone has shared snippets of new songs including “Missin’ You Like This” and dropped sneak peeks of collaborations with Morgan Wallen, HARDY, Ernest, and Luke Combs

In February, Malone posted a sample of a collaboration with Combs, "I Ain't Got A Guy For That," the first in a series of song snippets shared across his social channels. 

On March 20, Malone posted a reel to Instagram featuring a video of himself seated on a stool, smoking a cigarette and singing along to a track that opens with Wallen singing, “It takes two to break a heart in two,” as Malone comes in to deliver a blow with the line, “Baby you blame me, and baby I’ll blame you." The track, shared with the caption (and supposed song title) "I had some help," was first announced in a now-deleted social media post by Wallen at the end of 2023. 

No matter when the album may come, Post Malone’s Stagecoach set will only up the anticipation for some original country music from the star — and from the looks of it, fans and genre stars alike are more than ready for it.

12 Must-See Acts At Stagecoach 2024: Tanner Adell, Charley Crockett & More

Tanner Adell
Tanner Adell attends the 2024 CMA Awards.

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for CMT

list

12 Must-See Acts At Stagecoach 2024: Tanner Adell, Charley Crockett & More

Before the country music festival returns to the California desert April 26-28, get to know some of the most buzzworthy artists set to take this year's Stagecoach Festival by storm.

GRAMMYs/Apr 23, 2024 - 11:28 pm

In a matter of days, some of country music's best and most promising acts will come together in Indio, California for Stagecoach Festival 2024. The annual event has spotlighted an eclectic mix of talent since 2007, but this year's impressive roster of performers helped Stagecoach earn its largest number of ticket sales in the festival's 17-year history.

Held April 28-30 at the Empire Polo Club — the same scenic desert landscape as the long-running Coachella Music and Arts Festival — this year's Stagecoach Festival offers a diverse blend of artists that spans from headliners like Miranda Lambert and Eric Church to surf-pop icons the Beach Boys, hit rockers Nickelback and hip-hop star Post Malone

Along with this diverse roster of superstars, the 2024 Stagecoach lineup is filled with a captivating list of artists on the rise. From a singer/songwriter enjoying a much-deserved comeback to a skillful 25-year-old putting his own spin on the '90s country sound, this year's crop of talent is paving the way for the future of country music.

Stagecoach Festival 2024 is completely sold out, but country fans who didn't snag their ticket in time can still enjoy all the festivities by streaming performances live via Amazon Prime all weekend long. Before you head out into the California sun or get cozy in front of your TV, take a moment to learn more about these 12 must-see acts coming to Stagecoach this year.

Tanner Adell

Since the release of Beyoncé's country-inspired album COWBOY CARTER, singer/songwriter Tanner Adell has become one of the genre's most talked about new artists. Before she was tapped as a guest vocalist on Beyoncé's cover of the Beatles' classic "Blackbird," and original track "AMERIICAN REQUIEM," Adell had already garnered a dedicated fan base online. 

Thanks to viral hits like "Buckle Bunny," the playful title track of her 2023 debut album, the Nashville-based talent has earned praise from both critics and country listeners worldwide. From heartfelt ballads to beat-driven bops made to get you on the dance floor, Adell blends elements of radio-ready modern country and rhythmic hip-hop with ease.

Adell's Saturday performance at Stagecoach promises to be a fiery and fun showcase of her polished pop-country songbook.

Zach Top

While growing up in Washington state, Zach Top forged a deep connection to the sound of traditional country music. From Marty Robbins to Keith Whitley, the influence of the genre's past is deeply entwined in every track of the talented 25-year-old's brand new record, Cold Beer & Country Music

Top's 12-track LP has earned plenty of buzz for its new take on the neo-traditionalist style that dominated country radio in the late 1980s and early '90s. With engaging vocals reminiscent of the late Daryle Singletary and thoughtful lyricism, Zach Top provides a fresh new take on a familiar and formative sound.

Brittney Spencer

Over the past five years, Brittney Spencer has repeatedly proven why she's one of the most important and captivating voices within modern country music. From her acclaimed 2021 single "Sober & Skinny'' to her celebrated collaboration with country supergroup The Highwomen, Spencer's vocals are consistently as emotive as they are effortless.

Spencer's charismatic personality and boundless energy take center stage through every performance, making her live shows a can't-miss event. Her Sunday afternoon set at Stagecoach offers a chance to hear cuts from her stellar debut album, My Stupid Life, which dropped in January.

Vincent Neil Emerson

Texas native Vincent Neil Emerson first earned widespread praise with the 2019 release of his debut album, Fried Chicken and Evil Women, earning him comparisons to influential artists like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. His narrative-driven lyrics and hauntingly raw vocals have won the hearts of country fans far outside the Texas plains.

Over the years, he's collaborated with fellow alt-country favorite Colter Wall and recruited the creative genius of Rodney Crowell, who serves as producer on Emerson's self-titled 2021 LP. With his most recent album, the Shooter Jennings-produced The Golden Crystal Kingdom, Emerson once again channels the old-school magic of the traditional country that only comes from a rare type of Texas troubadour.

Katie Pruitt

Although Katie Pruitt has been locally lauded as among the best of Nashville's modern crop of singer/songwriters for years, her rise into the mainstream is still overdue. The Georgia native's stunning 2020 debut album, Expectations, was hailed for its raw honesty and effortless vocal intricacies. 

When she takes the stage during the final day of Stagecoach 2024, Pruitt will be armed with a brand new batch of awe-inspiring songs. Released on April 5, her sophomore album, Mantras, delivers an unpredictable, genre-bending sound that displays a sense of artistry far beyond her years. Don't miss your chance to see Pruitt's mesmerizing live set, which is guaranteed to have you dancing and maybe even wiping away a few tears.

Carin León

In just a few short years, beloved Mexican singer/songwriter Carin León has evolved from a regional hitmaker to an internationally known talent. His reflective and honest songs have connected with audiences globally, becoming one of Spotify's most streamed modern Mexican artists. 

Earlier this year, the two-time Latin GRAMMY-winner made his Grand Ole Opry debut, and will serve as the opening act for rock legends the Rolling Stones' Hackney Diamonds Tour when it heads to Glendale, Ariz. this May. (And just one week before his Stagecoach debut, he also made his Coachella debut.) Fans who catch his Friday set may be lucky enough to see a live rendition of "It Was Always You (Siempre Fuiste Tú)," his fresh collaboration with fellow Stagecoach 2024 artist Leon Bridges.

Trampled By Turtles 

Thanks to their unique blend of bluegrass, folk, country, and a dash of rock and roll, Minnesota-based outfit Trampled by Turtles has become a music festival staple — and will make their third Stagecoach appearance (and first in 10 years) on Saturday. Their high-energy live sets channel the psychedelic magic of rock's jam band scene, subbing plucky acoustic instrumentation in the place of rolling electric guitar.

The long-running band will treat fans to an array of tracks from their impressive career, which spans 10 albums, including their critically praised 2022 LP, Alpenglow. Even if you aren't already familiar with Trampled by Turtles' extensive list of releases, you're sure to be captivated by their hypnotizing performance style and positive energy that radiates from the live stage.

Charley Crockett

Texas-born talent Charley Crockett is one of few modern artists who have proven worthy enough for the coveted title of "troubadour." The seasoned singer/songwriter's appearance at Stagecoach will coincide with the release of $10 Cowboy, his soulful and synth-tinged 16th studio album.

Crockett's mix of traditional country and thoughtful folk, infused with gritty 1970s pop, creates a nostalgic charm that captivates the live stage. His descriptive story songs and distinctive twang echo the genre's early greats while expanding those classic country themes into new and surprising sonic territory. His Stagecoach 2024 set is sure to deliver a blend of fresh album cuts along with fan favorites from his already-expansive catalog.

Lola Kirke

You may know Lola Kirke as an accomplished actress in both television and film, but the British talent is also one of country music's most surprising new artists. Her stylized mix of traditional country and edgy pop-rock is refreshingly fun and tailor-made for Stagecoach's good-time vibe. 

In recent months, Kirke has shared a string of infectious singles leading up to the release of her latest EP, Country Curious. In March, she dropped a stellar take on the Paula Cole classic "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" featuring Stagecoach 2023 alumni Kaitlin Butts. Make sure you clean off your boots before Kirke's set, because there's a good chance she'll have a very special line dance lesson ready for the crowd.

Willie Jones

For nearly a decade, Louisiana-born talent Willie Jones has captivated country fans with fresh and genre-bending tracks, propelled by deep, rich vocals. Since first making waves with his rendition of Josh Turner's "Your Man" during an audition for "The X-Factor" in 2012, Jones has been paving his own path in the genre. 

He's recorded two full-length records, including his irresistible 2023 LP Something to Dance To. His Stagecoach set will certainly be a boot-stomper, offering concertgoers a chance to experience the magic captured on his latest EP, The Live Sessions, which arrived on April 5.

Sam Barber

Missouri native Sam Barber has evolved from a hopeful musician to a viral sensation with a major-label record deal. While passing the time at college, the gifted 20-year-old began recording covers of his favorite country tracks and shared them on TikTok, quickly garnering thousands of eager listeners. His down-to-earth charm, paired with surprisingly seasoned and gritty vocals, also earned the attention of Atlantic Records. 

In 2023, they shared Barber's debut EP, Million Eyes, which spawned the breakthrough radio single "Straight and Narrow." Now, fresh off the release of Live EP 001 and a string of new singles, Barber will bring his thoughtful yet edgy country sound to Stagecoach, marking another rapidfire career accomplishment.

Luke Grimes

Although you may know him best for his role as the chaotic charmer Kayce Dutton on the acclaimed television series "Yellowstone," Luke Grimes' creative talents expand far outside the small screen. A lifelong musician and lover of country music, Grimes took the stage at Stagecoach 2023 in support of his debut EP, Pain Pills or Pews. The project's raw and honest tracks earned critical acclaim and quickly led Grimes back into the studio, tapping Dave Cobb as producer for his vulnerable new self-titled LP, which arrived on March 8.

Whether you're a longtime fan of his acting or an already devoted listener, Grimes' set marks a pivotal moment in his ever-evolving musical career — and one of many can't-miss moments at this year's Stagecoach Festival.

Why 2024 Is The Year Women In Country Music Will Finally Have Their Moment

Tyler Hubbard Press Photo 2024
Tyler Hubbard

Photo: Jimmy Fontaine

interview

Inside Tyler Hubbard's New Album 'Strong': How He Perfectly Captured His "Really Sweet Season" Of Life

On the heels of Tyler Hubbard's latest album release, hear from the country star about the biggest influences for 'Strong' — from his "unique relationship" with his hometown to making Keith Urban jealous.

GRAMMYs/Apr 15, 2024 - 07:53 pm

Country fans first got to know Tyler Hubbard as the voice of Florida Georgia Line. Upon his solo debut in 2022, they got a deeper look into his life as a devoted family man. Now, the chart-topping singer/songwriter wants to show his skills as the genre's feel-good party starter.

Hubbard's second album, Strong, turns up the energy with 13 tracks that focus on spreading the joy he's feeling in his own life. There's several parallels to his self-titled debut, including another tribute to his late father on "'73 Beetle" and reflections on his small-town Georgia upbringing with "Take Me Back" and "Back Then Right Now." Yet, every narrative feels more celebratory — buoyed by Hubbard's purposeful delivery, his hopeful lyricism, and uptempo melodies.

It's a natural evolution for Hubbard, who has projected positivity in his music and his image since his FGL days. And now that the world has welcomed him as a solo act — including two No. 1s at country radio with "5 Foot 9" and "Dancin' in the Country," and several sold-out shows in 2023 — he felt it was only right to bring good vibes with his second LP. 

"I was carrying the momentum from last year — the first album, being out on tour, the energy from the fans," Hubbard shares. "If you come to my live show, it's a lot of happy, fun dancing energy, and that's what I've really enjoyed kind of leaning into right now."

Ahead of Strong's release, Hubbard sat down with GRAMMY.com to chat about his album process. Below, he breaks down the most important components, from writing nearly every song on his tour bus to happily riding in the "good time lane."

Building On The First Album

The first album was more of an introduction to who I am, and this album is more settling in. It's inspired by the live show more than anything, and the fans themselves, as opposed to me and my story. 

I kind of want [these songs]to feel like distant relatives to the first album. I'll use that analogy a lot of times in sessions and just say, "Let's elevate, and let's move forward and progress, but let's keep it in the same family." 

When I was writing both these projects, it was a tough time. You know, going through the pandemic and all that brought along, transitioning into different careers and not knowing what was gonna happen with FGL for a while. Obviously, my marriage really inspired the song "Strong," but there's sort of that principle [from album one to album two] of going through a hard season that you come out on the other side of it stronger. 

Writing On The Road

Last year, I was getting in front of my audience for the first time [post-pandemic] and really getting to see what they wanted, what was resonating, what was working, maybe what was missing in the set. So I was able to pull that energy from the fans right back to the bus. The majority of this album I wrote on the road last year, which is where I love to write songs. I love to write in town too, but [there's] something about being out on the road — you just feel a little extra creative and a little less distracted. 

Back in the day, when we were starting off and really roughing it, we didn't have anything else to do but our careers, so we'd come home from the road and we'd write three or four days a week, and then we would go hit the road and play shows. But now that I'm a husband and a father, I try to compartmentalize it, so when I'm home during the week, I can take some time off to be with the kiddos and my wife.

And fortunately, now, I have my own bus, so I can bring writers out, and we can just hunker down on my bus all weekend and write songs. It's pretty fun because you kind of feel like you're binge writing a bit. But once you get in that creative space and your wheels are turnin', it's nice to stay there for more than four or five hours like we do in Nashville, turning it off at 4 o'clock and going home. It keeps it fun.

Creating Music For The Stage

We were mainly thinking about the live show [when we were writing]. It just felt like [we were writing] songs I couldn't wait to play live. 

There's some heart, there's some depth, there's emotion and vulnerability in a lot of these songs that I like to play live, but overall, I want it to just feel fun. There's enough stuff in our world to make us sad, so I'm just like, if I can put music out that makes people feel good, that's what I want to do. 

Especially in the context of our genre and our culture — it feels like there's a lot of sad boy country going on right now. You know, nothing wrong with that, I like to get real and emo a bit. But I think if everybody's doing one thing, I try to lean to the other. And right now I love where we're headed, in the good time lane.

I was soaking up everything Keith [Urban] was doing [while touring with him last year]. I watched his set most nights. He's kind of the king of fun tempo live energy. [We were] either [trying to] make Keith jealous or make Keith want to record one of the songs we write. So some of these songs are probably inspired by trying to get a Keith Urban cut. 

"Park," "Wish You Would" and "Vegas" are [three] of those songs. They go really well live and have been really, really fun. The crowd starts moving in a weird way when ["Wish You Would"] comes on. It looks like they're just, like, lettin' loose and not really coordinated at anything. [Laughs.]

"Back Then Right Now" is the single, so people are knowing that one [more] and it's cool to see them singing it and engaged. "BNA" is gonna be a lot of fun to play live. I could probably play this whole album top to bottom and be pretty happy with that being the set.

Honoring Where He Came From

I wanted this album to still be dynamic — as uptempo as it is, I still wanted the fans to be let in a little bit more into who I am and deeper into my life. Hopefully with each project I put out, I have some songs that let people in a bit more and tap into a vulnerable place, and challenge me as a person and a writer to just continue to go there. 

I have a unique relationship with my hometown. I love where I came from, and I'm proud of where I'm from, but it's not somewhere that I'm still living — I've been in Nashville longer than I was in Georgia, I've been here for over 18 years. A lot's changed since then. The house I grew up in is not there, my dad's gone, my mom's moved to Alabama. 

It's an interesting dynamic, because in our genre, it's cool to be really proud of where you're from, and really pay homage to where you're from. And I still do — a lot of these songs are literally born because of where I came from. But at the same time, I don't have that same relationship with where I'm from. I just thought it was a little bit of a different approach on the relationship with the hometown with ["Take Me Back"]. I hope people can relate to it.

Recruiting Trusty Collaborators, Like Producer Jordan Schmidt

The collaborators and songwriters on this project, there's a couple of new ones, but there's a lot of guys that I have a big history with. A lot of that's just due to the fact that if I'm bringing writers out on the road, it's guys that I know and trust, and that I've had success with. I'm not speed dating on the road — it's just very intentional, efficient time.

They've proven themselves, and so there's no reason to not go back to 'em. I just can't reiterate enough how thankful I am to be in this city, in this songwriting community. I have so many people that make me a better songwriter and push me as an artist and come with great ideas. It makes it that much more fun to write songs and do what I love.

Also, to know me, and who I am, and where I'm headed, and what I want to do and say, that helps tremendously because we're not just shooting in the dark. I think "Wish You Would" is a song that's a little unique and feels really fun. If I was going to pick a direction, that's a cool, fresh sound that I'm really enjoying right now.

Leaning Into Feeling Good

I'm in a really sweet season. Not just with the work stuff, but my family is in such a good spot. My kids are 3, 4 and 6, so they're in a really fun, just joyful season. I can have a bad session or a tough day, and I can go home and get overwhelmed with joy and love in the house. It's just awesome energy. I'm really grateful for that, and I'm really kind of leaning into it. 

I hope [fans] understand how grateful I am to be here to be still doing this 13 years later, and to be able to have another opportunity to experience a lot of firsts again, and get to continue to connect with them. I just love what I do, and I gotta give the fans a lot of credit for allowing me to do it. 

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Oliver Anthony performing in 2023
Oliver Anthony performs in Nashville, Tennessee in 2023.

Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images

interview

After Viral Fame, Oliver Anthony Bares His Soul With 'Hymnal Of A Troubled Man's Mind': "I Want To Truly Make A Difference"

On the heels of releasing his debut album, Oliver Anthony details how the project parallels his unexpected breakthrough hit, "Rich Men of North Richmond": music that's "as raw, from the heart and sincere as it can be."

GRAMMYs/Apr 5, 2024 - 06:20 pm

Last August, Oliver Anthony became the quintessential definition of overnight success. His working class anthem "Rich Men North of Richmond" went from viral sensation to history-making hit, helping the singer become the first to top the Billboard Hot 100 without any prior chart history.

But while "Richmond" showcases Anthony's brutally honest songwriting and raw delivery, its message and success are far from what define him. And he's proving just that with his debut album, 'Hymnal Of A Troubled Man's Mind.'

Helmed by Nashville superproducer Dave Cobb, the 18-track collection is rife with stories of addiction, depression, faith, and fury as Anthony documents the decade leading up to his unexpected rise to stardom (it also features eight Bible verses as interludes). A stark departure from "Richmond" in some ways and others not, the album is proof that his viral moment wasn't a fluke. 

One element that remains is Anthony's defiance of adhering to any cookie-cutter artist blueprint, which was further evidenced by the Easter Sunday arrival of Hymnal Of A Troubled Man's Mind. It's one of the many ways Anthony is showing that he's still fiercely independent, and that his unprecedented ascent hasn't changed the man he is or the music he makes.

"My day-to-day life hasn't changed a whole lot other than just not having to wake up for my job every morning," Anthony — who was born Christopher Anthony Lunsford, but pays tribute to his late grandfather with his stage name — admits. "I have this new career, but at the same time I don't know how long I'll be doing this either. At the end of the day I want to truly make a difference, not just play a bunch of shows to make a handful of executives a bunch of money only to get a pat on the back."

On the heels of releasing Hymnal Of A Troubled Man's Mind — and playing a sold-out hometown show — Lunsford spoke with GRAMMY.com about how he's navigating the balance between fame and privacy, and staying true to himself through it all.

Your stage name is your grandfather's name, so he clearly means a lot to you. Can you tell me a bit about the man Oliver Anthony was, and why he inspired you to pay tribute to him in such a way? 

Originally I was using his name as an alias because a lot of the songs I was writing talked about things my employer wouldn't approve of, like smoking pot. It was a way of hiding my identity so they couldn't Google my name and find everything. 

Another reason I did it is because we looked a lot alike. I'm the only redhead in the family other than him, and we're both 6'6" and left-handed. 

He was also just a very down-to-Earth guy. He never was one to talk much and never took the bait on politics and other stuff, he was always very down the middle. He was a hard worker too, taking a job later in life at a chemical plant where he moved up in the ranks despite being mostly self-taught. 

He was a role model of mine in many ways. During his final years, he experienced cognitive decline that made his death more of a slow goodbye. When I started writing all of these songs I was still really grieving his loss.

The full listing of your stage name, at least in the beginning, was Oliver Anthony Music. What was your intention with adding the "Music" part onto it?

The "music" is supposed to capture the timeless era from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to into the late 60's and 70's. I'm not trying to paint it as an ideal time in American history by any means, but it was just a very real time. People weren't just living then, they were surviving. I wanted to capture that era of America before we became reliant on ordering everything from Amazon, going to the grocery store for all our food and depending on people on TV to tell us how to think, where to go or what to do.

That's what Oliver Anthony Music is supposed to encapsulate — that precious time in our history that, in certain parts of the country, still exists. When you go into rural Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and the Carolinas, it almost feels like time is slowed down a bit, almost like they're 20 or 30 years in the past. 

That's why we recorded this album on 1940's microphones inside an old church. We didn't even hire a photographer for the album cover. Instead we used a Polaroid camera that Dave Cobb had sitting in his drawer. This was never intended to have all the flash of modern production. It's supposed to just be as raw, from the heart and sincere as it can be.

Is "Rich Man's Gold" a song about your grandfather and how the circumstances of his upbringing shaped him into the man you remember? 

It also focuses on the contrast between the lifestyle we live now compared to the one we lived not long ago. The main verse in the song talks about how we weren't born to just pay bills and die. The point behind that is so many people today have encapsulated their lives in student loans, credit card debt, financing new vehicles they don't need, and buying big houses as a way of filling a void they'll never be able to fill. 

I think true fulfillment in life comes from basic things we overthink, like love and connection with our family, neighbors and friends, and just living a more purposeful life. A lot of us go to work at a job we don't really like because it pays the bills, even though it falls well outside our passion, leaving us only a couple hours a week to spend doing what we truly love. Then before you know it, you're old and die and that's it, you don't get another shot at it. 

Time is the most precious thing we have, and at any moment we don't really know how much left of it we have. The song really hones in on all that to show how a lot of people are alive, but they're not really living.

How has the overnight success you've experienced changed, or not changed, who you are as a person? 

I've kept a lot of my same friends and would say that my personal life hasn't changed a whole lot. I've still got the same s—ty Suburban with a salvage title and 330,000 miles on it, and the same s—ty clothes — although I have been able to put money into a few investments to set my family up with some financial security. But I've been really careful not to change my life a lot. 

I never, ever want to get to a point in my life where I feel like I'm better than everyone else. It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it. That's one thing that's been a problem from the beginning because I never wanted to get on Facebook and say "Hey, look at me!" When "Richmond" blew up, I didn't want to post a lot, and instead opted to let things run their course. But due to the monetization of social and online media, people were incentivized to make posts about me since I was a trending topic, with much of it being completely fabricated. 

So it's been a weird balance of figuring out how I can, with good conscience, keep my voice out there without being an attention seeker. It's a weird balance because if I'm not posting and speaking my mind, then somebody else pretending to be me is going to do it instead.

I really just want to use what little discernment I have to make decisions that I'll look back on in 20 or 30 years and feel proud of, and not like somebody strong-armed or pressured me into something that my heart wasn't into.

One of the ways you showed that after going viral was by promoting other amazing Appalachian artists that RadioWV has featured. Who are some Appalachian artists you've been listening to or think deserve a bigger platform for their music?

To be honest, what I listen to is pretty limited and is mostly made up of people who are dead. I mainly discover new music through YouTube videos — I don't have Spotify, Pandora or anything like that. I've had the chance to meet and talk with folks like Logan Halstead, and am a big fan of his work, though. 

It drives my wife absolutely crazy, but anytime we're in the truck together and I've got control of the dial I'm putting on Hank Jr., Waylon Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lightnin' Hopkins and random stuff like Cuban dance music. I like listening to a lot of old material and folk music from other countries. It just feels more real, and nobody is trying to shove it down my throat. 

At least when I'm listening to somebody who's dead, I know that they didn't manipulate me to somehow stumble across it like how so much is today with algorithms and pay-to-play. That's also what was so cool about "Richmond," because it blew up in such an organic way with no record label or management pushing it. 

Getting back to your original question about Appalachian artists, there's so many people from the region that would blow the doors off anyone on country radio right now, that most people may never actually get to enjoy because they simply aren't getting the exposure. I'd love to see things go back to the days of good music being played and bad music doesn't rather than it all being about how much money you've got behind the song.

You previously hinted at getting into ministry in the future, and this new album of yours is littered with Bible verses. With that in mind, what does your foundation in faith mean not only to your music, but who you are as a person? 

Leading up to everything that's happened, it's obvious from listening to my music that I was severely depressed and dealing with regular suicidal thoughts and anxiety attacks. Every part of my life, from my career to my marriage, my family and my future seemed very grim. I was in a bad place leaning on alcohol, like a lot of adult men do, because they have a tough time opening up about their struggles. 

At some point I got in touch with Draven Riffe from RadioWV and made plans to record a few songs on my property the following weekend. We got to talking about the personal issues going on in both our lives and how we'd both just decided to give our lives to God. I felt like I didn't have anything left in me, so I just told God that I've done things this long by myself and haven't been able to figure anything out, so please guide me where to go and show me what to do. 

I ended up recording seven songs with Draven that weekend, but the most special moment definitely came on "Richmond." As soon as we finished recording, I looked up at him, and we locked eyes. After a moment he said, "I know we just met and I don't want you to think I'm crazy, but I swear I could feel the presence of God with us when we recorded that." 

The song ended up doing what it did, but the icing on the cake came months later during my first show after going viral at the farmer's market where over 12,000, including Jamey Johnson, showed up. I talked with him afterward and he told me he had been off songwriting but that God spoke to him and told him he needed to meet me that day. To have one of my favorite artists of all-time show up at my first gig because God told him to after everything I'd been through, it became so clear to me that I was doing what I was meant to. 

A lot of people joke that they sell their souls to the devil, but in my case I truly feel like I've signed my soul to God. He put me here to give me purpose because my life had been without it up until then. 

I don't know that I'd even call myself a Christian, but I definitely believe in Jesus Christ and find a lot of wisdom in the timeless knowledge of The Bible. There's parts of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Matthew — all of which have excerpts on the record — that are full of practical advice on living, whether it's with marriage or finances, lust or alcoholism, or even how to interact with your neighbor. That advice written many years ago is still so relevant in today's society even though most things are totally different. 

My first time in a church in 10 years was for our Easter show the other day, so I'm definitely not the church-going devout religious kind of person. I just got to a point in my life where I didn't have any other choice than to let God take control of things. You can see just how much change has happened since then — it's undeniable.

Aside from ministry, is there anything else you want to pursue with your newfound platform?

Our family just bought this old farm that was operational until a couple years ago. We're in the process now of getting it going again. Once it's operational we want to start educating the public and maybe bringing people out for workshops on gardening and other homesteading basics. 

I also want to partner with other people in that space, like Joel Salatin, or some of these YouTubers that are getting people excited about gardening on only a quarter-acre in their backyards. It tastes better than anything you can buy — even at a high-end grocery store — and can be done for little to nothing. It's so rewarding to do and something I hope to repopularize as part of this whole thing.

It sounds like you're really trying to practice what you preach in terms of what you sing about and how you embody that spirit in everything you do.

Music and my whole life in general is just trying to hold on to that beautiful, raw, less glorified and flashy way of living that's still readily available in this country. There's so much noise and everything moves so quick now that it's hard to slow your brain down enough to get excited about gardening, being outdoors and clearing the land or raising livestock. There is no instant gratification to that, it's a process. 

If you get on YouTube and scroll through 100 Shorts your mind will start going a million miles per hour, which makes it hard to want to slow down to clean up after some stupid cow afterward. It makes it very hard to integrate the two things together into how we live today. 

What has making this music taught you about yourself? 

One thing I've learned is that if I want to try to have good mental health and be a normal functioning member of society, I've got to create music. In the same way that some people use a journal to write out their thoughts, songwriting is how I'm able to get my feelings and perceptions out of my own head. When life is going really well, it's harder for me to write songs because usually my motivation stems from things going wrong. I could probably write some catchy lyrics, but they wouldn't mean anything to me. 

Everything I write about I feel deep down inside, which can also be said about some of my favorite songs. That's the beauty of music — writing it as a way to clear your head and listening to it to remind you that you're not alone.

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