10 Questions with ... Scotty McCreery
October 18, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
At only 22 years of age, singer-songwriter Scotty McCreery has accomplished more than most in his age bracket. The North Carolina native hit the scene in 2011 at the age of 17 with a win on season ten of the FOX-TV reality hit "American Idol." He has since sold nearly 2.5 million albums and received RIAA Platinum and Gold certification, debuted three consecutive albums at number one - becoming the youngest man in history to have his first album debut atop the all-genre Billboard Top 200 album chart, achieved three Platinum-certified singles and two top ten hits, toured with headliners like Brad Paisley, The Band Perry, and Rascal Flatts, and more. He has also headlined his own tours, earned industry and fan accolades, and amassed more than three million followers on social media. Additionally, the North Carolina native is attending college at North Carolina State University. In what free time is remaining, he enjoys sports and outdoor activities. You know... normal 21 year old boy-next-door-turned-superstar kinds of things!
1. Scotty, thank you so much for taking time to speak with All Access today. We know you've been hitting the road hard this summer as a special guest on the Rascal Flatt's "Riot Tour 2015" and have also been working on your forthcoming album. You released the first single from that upcoming project, "Southern Belle," back in August. Have you been performing that song on the road, and if so, what kind of reaction have you been seeing to the song in concert?
Yeah, we started playing "Southern Belle" just about a week or two before we sent it out to everybody at radio and iTunes, and it's honestly been about the best reception I've gotten, overall, out of any of the singles I've put out - six or seven, I think. It's been cool to see! There are already fans that know the words, just a few weeks in to it, singing it back to us and dancing and all that. It's feeling good right now from where we're standing. I love to see that. And also with radio, just tell them I said thanks for giving me a chance! We're working hard to get them the best music we can. We love them, and will see them on the road.
2. We know you've addressed the fact that "Southern Belle" is a little outside of your normal wheelhouse of music, but this track is by no means "Bro-Country." What was it about the song that appealed to you when you first heard the demo, and why did you decide to make it the next single?
I've been doing a lot of writing for this record, but this was one of those days where we were out there looking for outside songs and being pitched different ideas from different publishers. It had been a long day, and I had heard a lot of songs, and after a while, a lot of the songs just kind of run together and they start sounding the same. I was just about ready to head home, and right then, Brian Wright up at Universal - my A&R guy - he said, "Hold on, I've got one more for ya, if that's cool." And he played it for me, and it was just so different and unique-sounding. The melody and the verses - it was a little technical, but it's like a descending chromatic scale in the melody - you just don't hear that often. It made me kind of cock my head a little bit, and it stuck out to me. So I lived with it a little bit, and then once I realized we could make this song sound like me, for one, but two make it kind of really radio-friendly and really cool for the fans to listen to. So, it turned out cool. But it just kind of excited me, because it was pretty different sounding for me.
3. We had the pleasure of being invited to your fan club party during CMA Music Fest week this summer and saw first-hand the reaction that fans are having to new music from you. How much do you think about fan expectations when you're writing new music, and what do you hope the fans take away from this forthcoming project?
That's when we just played them a little snippet during that party, so they were just getting a little tease! We're always think about the fans, and we're hoping that the fans are loving me - or even other artists - just because they like us as a person and as an artist and our music. But you always want to make sure the fans, when they hear a song, they know it's you. And that will be the case with this album. Even though we are kind of stretching ourselves in different areas and trying new things, that's just growing as an artist. And when you start at 17 like I did, you can only hopefully grow and hopefully grow in the right ways. But yeah, we're always thinking about the fans and wondering, "Oh, will they like this in the live show? Will they like hearing this on the radio?" They're definitely a big factor in our decision making.
4. Speaking of the album, we know you've been writing with some top names in the business for this project. Can you tell us a little bit about who you've been writing with, and how this process has been different from work on your previous albums?
This has been a totally different experience for me as far as making this record! It's felt a lot more organic and natural to me. Just being out there and writing it and being kind of in the trenches making this record as the artist. The first record I made, we did it in two months. There was just no way to really have a lot of control over what was going on there. But this record, we're out there, and we're writing with a slew of different people. I'm lucky enough that the big guys in town are letting me come alongside them and write with them. We've written with folks like Casey Beathard, who has had a number of hits with [Kenny] Chesney and all sorts of other folks. Sat down with Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin, two Hall Of Fame songwriters. I tell you what, going in to a write like that, it's pretty nerve wracking, that first time sitting down with them! Going over ideas, and hoping they like your ideas, but those are the guys who also have countless hits and are the writers behind [Miranda Lambert's] "The House That Built Me." So, it feels good, being in rooms with these guys and feeling their vibes and kind of being a sponge around them. Just trying to write some good songs. Tom Douglas, just before we left, after our second write we had with him and Allen, he looked at me and he said - I don't know if this is verbatim or exactly right, but basically - he said, "Man, don't ever let anybody say you're not a songwriter, cause what we got today is poetry, man." That was a really cool thing for me to hear as an artist who is still growing and still trying to find new ways of saying things. So it's been a good thing for me, I think, being around all these guys. We've written with a bunch of others, too. Monty Criswell, who wrote [George Strait's] "I Saw God Today," but Tom and Allen kind of stick out to me as far as writing.
5. That does sound like you're stretching yourself a lot in your writing. Not only are those some big names, but they each bring a very different and unique writing style to the table. Are you using those various styles and techniques to strengthen your writing muscles for this project?
Yeah, definitely. We try to. One of the goals with my music - I grew up on the stuff like Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap, and Elvis was probably the biggest. Although Elvis isn't Country, he had Country elements to him. So I grew up with a lot of the older sounding stuff, but today I'm still loving and rocking out to all the new stuff going on, too. So for me, I like to try to blend the old and new together and mesh them, so for me, writing with folks like Tom and Allen, but then going and writing with Brent Anderson and Will Weatherly on the road, who Brent just had his first number one with Blake [Shelton's "Lonely Tonight"], and Will is an up-and-coming guy who is a crazy beast when he's writing. So it's kinda like even though it might not be every single write, I am writing with the old school and also writing with the new school. And that's good for me with the goal I have of blending the two together and getting both sides in there.
6. Scotty, you just turned 22 this month, and you've already accomplished so much. It looks like 2016 is shaping up to be a busy one for you. What can fans look forward to during your next trip around the sun?
The tour, we're all in discussions about that right now. As the tour with Flatts comes to an end, I'm sure me and all the agents and everybody will be getting together and looking at that. But we've got another really big project coming somewhat alongside with the album. It'll be a big project and something I've never done before. If I had to guess, I'll say the fans will be really excited, but I know I'm excited about it. We've got two really huge things coming out in 2016, and hopefully in a few weeks we'll have some tour dates and stuff, but it looks like 2016 is going to be shaping up to be a busy one. But in this business, busy is good, so we're excited about it!
7. You're a busy guy in the studio, on the road, and writing. But you are also a college student and a fervent believer in giving back. How do you balance your work life, you school life, and personal outside interests?
I tell you what, I did the college thing over there at NC State for two years, and this is actually the first semester I've actually stepped away from college and really focused 100% on the music. The music was always - there was never a day that business wasn't brought up, even if I was back in North Carolina or out on the road, just because this job just demands so much of you - but it was tough balancing that stuff. But nowadays, with as busy as we are, it really was impossible to do the two. So between the record, the other huge project we've got going on right now for 2016, touring with Rascal Flatts, it wasn't a good combo to have the school still in there. But I'm glad I did it. I think it was a great decision for me to go there and get those two years and have those experiences. College can do so much for you, even just outside of knowing calculus and chemistry and all that stuff! You're getting those experiences with friends and developing relationships, so I think it was good for me, but I've got that there hopefully down the road sometime that I can finish up. But for right now, it's just all music, and it's feeling good. And I'd say music is a whole heck of a lot cooler than calculus, for sure! Nothing was worse than finishing a show - I was on tour with [Brad] Paisley some, and on the road by myself - but nothing was worse than getting on stage in front of 15,000 or 20,000 people, then finishing up and getting back to the bus because you have a paper that is due by midnight. That was quite the buzzkill. So it's nice not having that worry about right now.
8. As you think about all the young people who you are helping with your charitable efforts, and the young people who look up to and respect you as fans, what would you say to anyone in school who has an interest in pursuing music? What advice would you give to children - and to their parents - who show an interest in making a career out of music? Would you say to take to the career, or head to college, as someone having done both?
Well, I'm definitely an outlier, I mean, starting at 16 or 17 the way it happened for me is not a usual thing. But I'd never tell a kid not to follow their dream because of that. You never know what's going to happen! I'd say just to work on your craft, get your music out there, play every day. That's what I was doing back then, even before "Idol." I was playing every day, working on guitar and writing songs, whether it was Country showcases or out in Podunk, North Carolina or just in my room before bed picking a song out. That was kind of an everyday thing. Just work on it. If you don't become the outlier like me and get a fast start at 17, then go to college! If you want to study the music business to learn about it, or just study music in general, if that's really what your passion is and your dream, I'd say to follow it. It doesn't always mean you're making it big at 17, but you can definitely lay the foundation for yourself at that age, so that hopefully one day, if that dream becomes a reality, you're well set up and ready to go.
9. You are also a champion of many charitable efforts both in your home state of North Carolina and throughout the country. Can you share with us some of the causes that are closest to your heart, and how you've become so involved in giving back?
It's important to me. Those who have been given should give back. I've been extremely blessed and want to spread those blessings. For me, kind of a theme along the stuff that I do, a lot of it is working with kids. I don't know if that's because I started out young, or if that's just because I've got a heart for them. But whether it's working with Operation Christmas Child - and that was, we still do that, and I've done that since I was in kindergarten - that's filling shoeboxes and helping out kids in other countries or even here that don't have the means to have a Christmas and never have gotten a Christmas present to open on Christmas morning. I was lucky enough to go to the Dominican Republic a few years back and actually hand-deliver those boxes to the kids. Seeing those faces light up when they open up their first-ever Christmas present that is just something as simple as a bouncy ball - or even toothpaste and a toothbrush - that was a huge deal for them. That's thing I did even back here around the country. I also have the opportunity to work with the MLB [Major League Baseball] RBI Program, Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities. You know, I played ball growing up all the way through my senior year of high school, and just helping those kids who don't have the means to buy a glove or buy a bat or buy uniforms, just helping them out so they don't miss out on the opportunity to play ball. And probably the thing we're working with most closely now is up there in Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut. Those kids and their families that went through that tragedy a few years back that nobody should ever have to deal with and go through. So we're working with them to help bring the community together for a performing arts center and make sure those kids - obviously, they'll be scarred by what happened a few years back - but we're just trying to make sure they reach their full potential and not let that define them. Just let them seek out other opportunities to express themselves. Music is a lot more than just chords and lyrics; it really can change a person's life. So that's what we're working for up there. For me, it's all about helping folks, but helping kids has really been my focus the last four or five years.
10. As you continue your own headlining tour dates and watch the audiences grow, what artist or artists have you toured with do you look up to as a stage act, and what have you learned from the headliners you've been out with on the road?
In the few short years that I've been doing this, I've really been lucky enough to play with every big ol' major act out there, whether it's a stadium or amphitheater or whatever. Probably the one guy who really sticks out to me is Brad Paisley. The way he does his tours, and the way his life is set up - I mean, obviously he's the goal for being a big ol' arena-headlining act - but more so, just the guy he is and the family he has. It was fun for me at a young age to see that you can be a major Country superstar but also have a family and bring your kids, and your wife, and your parents out on the road with you. Those are definitely big goals of mine. I've got a few years down the road before I'm ever thinking about settling down or anything like that! But just to know that you don't have to sacrifice the family and the friends to be a big Country star, as long as you're doing it the right way. He treated us with such respect, and so he's definitely a guy I look up to on that tour, and still do today.
1. You touched on the fact that it'll be a little while before you're interested in settling down - 22 is a little young for that! But we have to ask about your fan-voted honors: Number 2 on the "Country Weekly" fan-voted "Country's Hottest Bachelor" list earlier this year is quite the honor! You are a well-bred Southern gentleman with boy-next-door charms and sensibilities, and the ladies seem to be appreciative of that! But are there any other style secrets you can share that keep you at the top of the ladies' lists?
Lord have mercy, I don't know! It's so flattering to see that, but I'm a pretty simple guy. I don't know if folks are looking for simple style or whatever, but I'm normally a jeans and tee shirt or jeans and a button-up kind of guy. There's not a lot - luckily I've got people back in Nashville like Jennifer Kemp, she's my stylist, and she works with other stars out there as well - she probably helps that a lot more than folks realize. That's not me that's always getting my stuff ready for those red carpets at the awards shows! I've got a lot of help. I'm a pretty simple guy, except when it comes to those red carpets, and then I've got some good help keeping me at the top of those lists, probably a little better than I would if I were doing it on my own with my own style, I'd say.
2. As "American Idol" prepares to sign off this year for the final time, can you share with us your takeaways from the time on the show? And do you think you will be a part of any farewell to the series?
Yeah, I'll definitely be a part of the finale and other things as well. We got a - well, when they first announced that it was going to be the last season - we got a call that night, and so we blocked that off on our calendar right away. So we'll be there for that and a couple of other things during the season. But as far as takeaways from "Idol," I mean, I tell you what - it obviously had just a huge impact on my life, and on many others. But I think the biggest thing is that it really just touched pop culture and touched America out there with just the fact that your next door neighbor could be the next big ol' music superstar out there! That's what kind of made folks gravitate towards it. So, I mean, without the show, I'd like to think - I'm pretty positive Carrie Underwood would have been found, or Kelly Clarkson or those folks would have been found - but it's just cool to think that was the avenue and the medium that it went through. It had a huge impact on the Country scene, for one, with Carrie and Kellie [Pickler] and other folks, and it was a big thing for me. It's just cool that folks could see that. It was a family thing for me, growing up. We watched it every Wednesday and Thursday, or sometimes it was Tuesday and Wednesday. But it just kind of brought families together for television again, which that kind of had been lost. So, yeah, I'm sad to see it go, but I'm really thankful for what it did for my life and many others as well, I know. We had a Country finale in 2011 [with Scotty and runner-up Lauren Alaina]! That was fun to see Country music right there for that, and I was proud to be representing back then.