10 Questions with ... Eric Paslay
January 25, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Singer-songwriter Eric Paslay began his road to the CRS New Faces showcase when he was just fifteen years old. He wrote a poem for a young lady, but never gave it to her, opting instead to try putting chords and melody to his poem to create a song. Within a year, he was writing music and performing around his native Texas. Though he originally intended to pursue a career in medicine - he has diabetes and hoped to help other children with the disease - he soon found his passion in music. He moved to Nashville at the age of twenty and enrolled in Middle Tennessee State University to study music business. There, Paslay became the president of the MTSU chapter of Nashville Songwriters Association International and worked intern and volunteer positions before landing his publishing deal with Cal IV in 2006. Soon after, he signed his recording contract with EMI Nashville. Paslay has written or co-written hits for other artists including "Barefoot Blue Jean Night" for Jake Owen, "Rewind" for Rascal Flatts, "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" for Eli Young Band, and "Angel Eyes" for Love and Theft. His debut album's lead single, "Friday Night," went to number one and solidified his place in the Nashville singer-songwriter community. Paslay was voted in to the 2015 New Faces Show at CRS just as his current single "She Don't Love You" started to catch fire.
1. Thanks for taking the time for 10 Questions, Eric - Let's start with congratulations for being voted to perform on the CRS New Faces of Country Music show. Can you share with us what that means to a brand new artist?
Just getting to play shows in front of people - but especially getting to play for all the main people in radio in one room - there at CRS... I've gotten to go to probably four or five of them over the years, and get to hang out during CRS week and get to meet everybody, but it's kind of the show that everybody looks forward to. Like, what's to come down the road and in the future, and I'm glad I'm getting to be involved in that and just getting to be a part of it. And getting to make a ridiculous video! I hear they always make the funny video before for whatever you want to capture. I think mine might be a little laughable, but we haven't figured that out yet. But on a serious note, it's definitely a huge step in anyone's career when you finally get to play the New Faces show for CRS. The wheels are turning, but we haven't officially decided on anything. I always like the fun, sense of humor part, though. Life is not always serious, but you can also get serious across in a funny way, sometimes. The crazy thing is, I feel like I've been on radio tour for about four years, so I know I've got a lot of friends and fans in radio, and it'll just be a cool show. Every show I try to sing as if it's my last and try to remember that and play great, be comfortable, and have fun. By the shake in your voice and the look in your eyes, everybody can see it and hear it if you're uncomfortably nervous on stage. It's good to have nerves, but be okay with it. I'm sure I'll be nervous. Someone told me the first time I played at the Opry that your heart is not in the right place if you're not nervous playing at the Ryman. And I definitely have a good-nervous kind of feeling getting to play New Faces. It really is wild. There are a lot of friends that I've made at Country radio, and it'll be fun for a lot of them to see me with a full band, because a lot of them haven't seen that. And it'll be good having them see that I'm worth investing in, and it'll be cool to make some fun memories. As far as how I'm going to approach the show, I'll approach it like all of my shows - put on a good show, make sure people have fun, and make sure they want to come back.
2. You had already established yourself as one of the hottest songwriters in town - was pursuing a career as an artist always one of your goals?
It was always on the front of my mind. That's the reason I moved to Nashville, to sing, and I got the publishing deal. That's usually the first step for a lot of us, just getting developed in who we are and how we need to sing. I moved up here when I was twenty and was just trying to figure out what my voice was. I think a lot of times people come to town - or even if they're in their hometown - they think if they sound like somebody famous, they're going to be famous. But that person is already famous because of the way they sing, and you have to figure out your own voice. I signed my publishing deal about eight years ago, and in that time it has just developed. Right when I signed my record deal was when "Barefoot Blue Jean Night" got cut [by Jake Owen], so the wild thing is that on paper, I was known as a songwriter first, but I actually had a record deal before any of those took off. It was kinda like the dam was piling up with all these songs that had holds on them. Eli Young Band had already recorded "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," and they kind of held on to that song for a couple of years. I had already written "Angel Eyes" with Eric Gunderson and Jeff Copeland, and that kind of just became their song and made sense. But I hadn't really had a major cut yet. I'd had some really special smaller cuts before I had gotten a record deal, but none of the number ones happened until after I got my deal. I'm honored to be known as a songwriter first, but I moved to Nashville to be a singer, and I'm grateful that I have the gift to write songs, too. And I'm thankful for the people who forgot to say no and who recorded them.
3. A lot of songwriters we've met love the behind-the-scenes aspect of that life, which also means staying off the road. Was that ever appealing to you?
I had already gotten my deal, and all these doors were opening, so I felt like I have a gift to share with people. There are certain songs that I'd love to cut that I don't think anyone else would cut yet, so I'm glad I'm getting to share the hidden songs that a lot of people might not know how to capture right yet. But I'm smart enough to know that I'd get to be home more if I were just writing, but I'm so glad God is opening up doors that I'm thankful to be walking through. I'm glad to be able to share good music that people can hear and make memories with their lives. It's much easier to write the letter than be the messenger, but I'm glad I'm getting to soak up the scenery as the messenger sharing the songs.
4. You wrote or co-wrote all the songs on your debut album. Looking ahead, do you ever plan to record songs you haven't written?
We have gone through the whole current album and definitely had enough songs already written for it. But I look forward to the day that I get to cut outside songs, because it means I'm smart enough to know I didn't write it, and I'm getting to make another album. So that day of getting to cut outside songs will be great.
5. "Song About A Girl" sounded (to me) like sort of a Bro-Country busting song. Was it written with that in mind?
No, we wrote it about two and a half years ago, probably. It was just mainly a song about all the things we tend to sing about and write about just as writers. I mean, I'm sitting in my truck right now talking to you. I like tailgates. I like bonfires, and I like beer, and all that stuff. But it was just fun for us saying that the only reason you're singing about a bonfire is because there's a girl at it. It's really a song about a girl. You're singing about the water tower because your girlfriend's name is written on it. There's nothing sexy about a water tower without her in it. Even Lady Liberty - even the American songs are about a girl! I wasn't slamming on Bro-Country. I've definitely had a couple of songs that have fit in that vein. "Angel Eyes" and "Barefoot," I think they might fit in there. But I'm never slamming on what someone is doing. If people are turning it up on the radio, that's what people want to hear. It definitely had a sense of humor about it. I know what's on the radio, and I wanted to put it out there that all these songs are really just a song about a girl. You're always going to have haters when someone is successful, and all those songs took off. But my goal is just to remind everyone that we're singing about these things because of girls. Even though we're only calling them Baby and Sugar and stuff, which I love saying because they sing well. Don't think too hard, dig too deep, or read between the lines - it's a song about a girl.
6. Lady Antebellum originally cut "Friday Night." When it was not made a single, what made you come back to it as a single for yourself?
It was always looking like it was going to be a single for them, but I'm grateful that it didn't work out that way and it all panned out for me. Just from playing it live and being in Nashville, you figure out that if a song gets heard, a lot of it really isn't up to us. It's about timing. I think we just went back in the studio after we had a couple things come out that didn't go high enough to make an impact, I thought that since I love playing the song, I'd go in and cut it and see what it sounded like. It came out great and ended up taking us all the way to number one, so I'm thankful that it worked out that way. And I'm grateful that Lady A cut it first and made fans of the song from having it on their album.
7. Country radio is telling us "She Don't Love You" is a career song for you - did you feel this kind of potential when you finished writing it?
Yeah, when we finished writing that one, I just knew it was one of the best Country songs I have ever been a part of. And I'm just grateful that I somehow got to hold the pen that night and write it. And I'm just so thankful that Country radio is accepting it and hearing it with the ears I was hoping they'd hear it with. They're not just dismissing it as a ballad. The truth is, if you look at a lot of "Songs of the Year," it was always songs with a slow heartbeat that felt a little deeper, I think. But I'm thrilled to death. There aren't really words that I can say correctly to state how grateful I am that Country radio is playing it. And to the fans, out of the five #1s I've had as a writer, there has never been a response to a song I've had like the response to this one. "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" had a pretty amazing response, and that was the closest to this song. But even before this one got to the top 50, people were buying it to listen to whenever they wanted, and that's a pretty special feeling for me knowing people really want to hear it. The first time they hear it, it impacts them, and that's a goal as a writer. I'm really grateful that people are loving this song.
8. You grew up in Texas - what music did you listen to as a kid - mainly Country? If not, what else?
I listened to everything! Growing up it was everything from Oldies - which I think is why I love ear candy so much, a little bit of "whoa, ohh" or "uhh, uhh." It's like little kids or drunk people in the background! But it's easy to sing to those. It's just fun if you at least know that part. But I've always been drawn to songwriters. That being said, George Strait - one of the greatest A&R guys ever! He'll remember a song from way back. I've heard stories that he'll remember songs from three albums before the one he's cutting now and think back on that song and go "it's time for that song to come out." I'm just a fan of a great song, and we've all got a heart and a soul, so whatever way you want to represent the lyric, I'm all for it. That was a broad statement, I guess, but seriously. Everything from Rich Mullins to Rodney Crowell, to The Beach Boys. I remember "Kokomo" was one of the first albums I bought! From Dave Matthews for a spell to Johnny Cash. And growing up in Texas, there's so much from Tejano music to Country Polka German Czech boys playing in these bands. I'm thankful that I got to live in a state where the land is so flat that you can pick up radio stations from everywhere, so it's never just "Well, that's the Country station, and that's the Rock station, and that's the Christian station, and that's the Easy Listening station." It kind of all blended together, and I'm thankful that I got to grow up around that, where there really weren't boxes, but more just great music.
9. You're a very quiet and introspective person - so how do you get ready to go onstage and become outgoing and the center of attention?
Just take a deep breath and go do it! It's always that thought of remembering to be grateful for getting to play another gig and for people showing up. I think that's always been how I work. Just close your eyes, say a little prayer, and go out and make a memory with everybody.
10. You came to Nashville to pursue music - but we read you're your early intent was to pursue some form of medicine - Is that why you chose MTSU over, say Belmont?
I just didn't want to have a giant student loan! That's literally the bottom line! If I could have afforded to go to Belmont, I wouldn't have had to spend as much gas money driving an hour a day. But the driving means I got to soak up some really good albums and soak up that inspiration and let it soak in to my veins. So I sometimes think of it as a time of inspiration where things will come back out again in my writing. But seriously, no. The bottom line is that I think Belmont was a great school, but I couldn't afford it. As far as being a doctor, I felt like I needed to get a PhD. just for paying that much as a kid. If you even get a job in this business, you're going to start around $20,000 and it costs like $40,000 a year just to go there. MTSU has an amazing music and music business program. I'm so grateful that I was there and met so many people that really helped me get to where I am. I met my publisher there and some co-writers, and we had a really cool NSAI songwriting group there. I was grateful for all the people I got to hang out with there and all the different styles - everyone in college really has their own taste and style - and we all were trying to learn to write the best song in the way we sing it. I will always be grateful that I got to go to school at MTSU and learn about the music business and really had a lot of opportunity open up to me. I was able to volunteer and intern a lot to really get an idea of what goes on and really get a grasp on how the business works and how to be creative while still writing songs that are popular and catch people off guard.
1. You've just written what you consider your greatest-ever song and Luke Bryan wants to cut it - Do you give it up, or save for your next album?
Right now, I'm saving it! It depends on if I'm truly the one who is supposed to sing it. I've definitely been a part of writing some really great songs and going "Gah! This song is a frickin' hit, but it just doesn't fit what I'm doing!" That being said, when I go in to the room to write, I'm just trying to write a really great song. That doesn't always mean it will fit what I do as an artist. But as a songwriter and an honest human, you just have to capture what is given to you that day. I'd love to have a Luke Bryan cut someday, though! He's rocking!
2. Tell us about the first time you heard your song - that you sung - on the radio.
It was "Never Really Wanted," and I was crossing the big bridge in Tampa. A guy named Jay was the PD at the time, and Trudie Daniell - she's my regional - was down there with me. And it was just a really cool moment thinking, "Holy crap! That's me coming out of the speakers!" And you work really hard, and it's not like, "Holy crap, how did that happen?" It's like you work hard, and that was just a really sweet moment grinning and quietly thinking that you really do have a chance. It was pretty cool.
3. After countless radio visits and radio shows - is there anything radio does NOT know about you that you can - and would like to - share here?
Heck, I don't know. We've got plenty of years to come, so I'm sure they'll figure out a lot more about me. But I don't have much to hide. I walk around antique malls a lot, but I think people know that. I am always looking for something to fix up and make in to something cool. I'm always open to go fishing if someone wants me to come play a gig and then go fishing with them.