10 Questions with ... Granger Smith "Earl Dibbles Jr."
March 20, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Texas native Granger Smith had already established himself as a musical force to be reckoned with before signing with Broken Bow Music Group imprint Wheelhouse Records in August. He was already out performing in North Texas at the age of 15. He moved to Nashville with a songwriting deal with EMI Music Publishing when he was 20. After spending some time in Nashville, Smith returned to Texas to start playing live, promote his music, and to finish up his studies at Texas A&M University. He hit the ground running with social media promotion, and he and his brother created alter-egos through videos to promote his music; and thus the character Earl Dibbles Jr. was created. This past summer Granger signed a record deal with Broken Bow Music Group, and the rest is history. He just celebrated his first #1 hit single, "Backroad Song," and the release of his album, "Remington."
1. Hi Granger! Thanks for taking the time to talk with All Access! So, going back kind of the to the beginning, we hear that one of your biggest musical influences when you were young was George Strait - that he's the reason you first decided to teach yourself how to play guitar when you were a kid. Who else influenced you musically?
Well, um George-I learned to play guitar and started singing just a little bit and was listening to The Eagles originally, and I could remember a lot of 90s Country along with The Eagles, and the first song I ever sang live was "Tequila Sunrise," and so I could credit them to some extent. It wasn't until a year later when I was 15 and I saw George Strait live for the first time. I liked a lot of the 90s Country like Mark Chesnutt, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Tracy Lawrence, Garth of course, Brooks & Dunn , a lot of those guys that were really popular at the time. But it wasn't until I saw George Strait, and that's when I knew, "Oh my God, this is my calling. I'm going to do whatever it takes to be a part of this lifestyle, whether it's to be a lighting guy or a sound guy or be in the band or be a singer. I just want to be a part of it."
2. Who was the first person to tell you that you had a voice and were talented?
That's a tough question, and growing up in Dallas, there were people around me that were always better than me, and I think that helped. I was never the best on these shows. You know, I would do these Opries in North Texas and there would be several singers, and I was always kind of like the one in the middle. That was great, because it challenged me to try to be better, and to try to improve my craft and to write better songs and so I think that was a blessing. To answer your question, it was my parents that were so supportive, and if anything they just weren't discouraging. They didn't push me -they didn't say, "Oh my gosh you're so talented! Do this forever!" You know, they just said, "Hey, we love you and we love what you do. If you love it and this is your passion then we'll support you, and we think that's awesome, doing anything in life that you love is so important." And that was priceless coming from my parents, because they could've easily said, "Get a real job," or "How long is this going to last?" Or, "This isn't for real," and so that was important to me.
3. If there were to be a young child come up to you at a show or on the street and ask you about it, would you encourage them to pursue music at such a young age?
That's a double-edged sword for a couple of reasons. Now that I've been in the music business for so long and have had 17 years' worth of albums, this business is not for just anyone. It's so tough, and it's tough emotionally and physically, and you have to be very strong mentally to outlast it, to care that much, to have that much passion to continue on, and so I hate to see kids get their dreams shattered, so it's...Like I said, it's a double edged sword, because you want everyone to live their dream, and you want everybody to have that passion and love what they do. But at the same time, you kind of don't want to see what's behind the curtain and what it really is, the beast that the music industry really can be... and the years of traveling in a van and getting no sleep and nobody coming to the shows and nobody buying the album and people telling you no... And you just have to kind of be set up for that, and so if a kid is asking me advice, I kind of try to play a couple of trick questions on them. My first question I'll say is, "Well, that's great you want to pursue the music business. How long do you think you're going to give yourself to try to make it? What's your time frame?" And that's a trick question, because if they do say a time frame, the answer is wrong. If they say, "I'm gonna try to give it 10 years," or "I'm gonna give it until I'm 30," you know, and I don't tell them that that's the wrong answer, but the fact is, if you give it a time frame, if you say "I'm gonna give it to 30" that means it's just not for you. Whatever you would do at 30 just start doing that now, because the only right answer is, "You know what, there is no time frame. This is just what I do. This is who I am, whether or not I'm sitting on a street corner getting tips out of my guitar case or playing a stadium, it doesn't matter. This business, this dream, this life, is me. It has become me." And if they say that, I go, "Congratulations, you've got a long road ahead but you've got the right mindset."
4. You went to Texas A&M University for college. How did you juggle writing music, playing, producing, and selling your music with being a full-time student?
I don't know. Looking back I don't know. I just loved it so much. I loved music so much, and I loved writing songs so much. That was such a big passion that I just did it. And I got less sleep than everybody - I still do. Ask everybody that's traveled with me, I get less sleep every single night because there's just a little bit more to do, and I don't ever want to sacrifice anything in life for what I'm so passionate about. That's including sleep, that's including partying, that's kind of including everything, except family. That's the only thing that slows me down and rightly so. But I just go, and I just keep going.
5. You moved to Nashville after you signed a publishing deal with EMI Music Publishing when you were about 19 years old, and you stayed here in Nashville for four years. Was Nashville what you imagined? What made you decide to go back to Texas after four years?
Yes, it was everything - probably plus more. Those four years are some of the most important years in my entire career because that's when I learned the craft of songwriting. Or if I didn't learn it, I at least got a really good idea of the craft of songwriting, and I tried to write with everyone that I could, and a lot of it was with some of the older guys. Like a lot of the guys that had #1 hits before I was even born. And I would write with these guys and I'd be very consistent about it, and come in with an idea, and I would throw out a line, and they would say, "Ok, what does that mean?" I would think to myself, I don't know, it rhymes and it sounds awesome, and they would say, "But what does it mean?" And I never thought about that. I never thought about constructing a song that way, in meaningful ways, in more than one way, in more than just a rhyme, more than just something that sounded good sonically, and so I had learned as much as I could about songwriting, and I had made a bunch of demos at EMI. Then here I am 4 years later and I had about 50 good demos that I thought were decent demos and decent sounding songs, but I had nowhere to play them and no one to listen to those songs and no one to buy them, so I thought, I'm going to make these into albums. So I made the first album -ten songs-out of those demos. And then I had this album, and I took some pictures for it and put together some artwork and then I just - I was playing Tootsies at the time, and they don't allow you to play original music at Tootsies, so I just had this huge calling to want to go back to Texas, start a band, take the album that I had just put together, finish up school at Texas A&M, and start playing live.
6. You really built yourself up entirely - 7 independent albums, 1 live album, 2 Eps, a strong social media presence and fan base. Did you have a marketing plan or strategy going into it, or was it kind of just luck, opportunity and fate?
All of the above. Everything you said, honestly. But the marketing side of it was a slow process. It wasn't a big huge plan that I rolled out. It was a one-step-at-a-time plan. It was, what's the next thing? What's going to happen this year? How am I going to get from A to B this year? And I took it in stride, and B wasn't that far away. It wasn't a huge mountain to climb; it was just a little hill. So I would say I'm going to get from A to B, and then once I'm at B I'll decide how to get to C, but I'm not going to think about C until I get to B. And I'll put it together just slowly, one song at time, one gig at a time, one band member at a time, one social media follower at a time, one social media post at a time, and everything had a purpose, but it was a slow grind. Then when my brother joined me -my younger brother in about 2008-he became my manager, and he's like-minded, if not better in a lot of ways than I am with marketing. So he joined up and then we really came out with some cool plans when he got involved.
7. Can you tell us more about your alter-ego, Earl Dibbles Jr., and how he came about? Why do you think the fans clicked with him and accepted the fact that you have an alter ego?
Earl was a product of building social media basically. When we didn't have radio and we didn't have TV and other forms of media, we capitalized on social media as being the #1 go-to for us to find fans, better than touring, because we were touring and playing venues with a 100 people here, 150 people there, 75 people here, and at that rate it was almost impossible to grow a career, and so we thought well, we'll dive into social media, which at the time was Myspace, and we're going to work on one follower at a time, and we're going to build it up, and we're going to send the message out that way, and then we're going to use YouTube, and we're going to make a bunch of videos and we're gonna create content, content, content. And we started making one video per week, and we called it "Video of the Week" and there were hundreds of them - they're still on YouTube now - and those evolved into some more serious videos, some music videos, and they also evolved into some funny videos that we started making with different characters. These videos didn't directly relate to the music at all; they would just tag our website at the end of it. It was for the sole purpose of people sharing it and saying, "Check out this funny video!" It kind of represented some family members of ours, so we had a lot of fun with it because we grew up hearing those stories that Earl tells, so it was easy to slide into character. Then that video went viral for us.
8. How do you balance Granger Smith and Earl Dibbles Jr.? It seems that Granger is who the radio/records/industry people see, and Earl Dibbles is what the fans see.
I wish I knew an exact answer for that, but the closest I can get is that Earl really connected - he connected with people - because we have other videos on there that I think are really funny, but they didn't totally connect, and Earl did. I think everyone either has an Earl in their family or knows an Earl, or feels sorry for Earl. You know, he's very vulnerable in a lot of ways, and I think that connection ultimately is what took it off. It was like, "Oh my gosh this guy is exactly like our buddy!" Or "This is exactly like our uncle!" and "I have a cousin who is exactly like this!" And of course, Earl is over the top on everything he does, but I think that connection is what really hit it off for him.
9. On Facebook Earl Dibbles Jr. has over 2 million followers, whereas Granger Smith has about 600,000; On Twitter Earl Dibbles Jr. has about 400,000 followers and Granger has about 148,000. Are you worried about one overshadowing the other? Is there a strategy in terms of which character comes out where/when and how often?
We have a strategy, and the fact that Earl has more followers is intentional. We made it that way on purpose, because Earl is constantly saying things that are worth sharing. They're funny things or inspirational things, but his entire social media presence - the entire thing - is something that you could share or something that you could retweet, so naturally he's gonna get more followers, when the Granger account, a lot of it is, "Hey, thanks for the show last night! Thanks for coming out - this is where we're gonna be this week," or "Hey we have a new album!" so it's the more boring stuff, so naturally Earl has more followers. So I'm thankful everyday to have Earl, and to have him as kind of the ambassador who has a lot of followers that can go out and recruit for us, because it ultimately reflects back to Granger, and it's part of the live show. The very last song that I do every night-for the encore Earl comes out, and I absolutely love that, and I don't worry ever about any kind of overshadowing. In fact, I'm just grateful that we have it at all.
10. Looking back on your journey, were there ever times you thought about throwing in the towel? What kept you motivated?
Yeah, there were a handful of times when I thought, "Man, this might be it," and strictly because that usually came when I was just completely out of funding and out of money. I would look at my bank account, and I was already sleeping on somebody's couch, and I would say, Oh my gosh there's nothing left, and I put it all into this album and no one bought the album, and I'm going to these shows and nobody even knows the songs, you know, what am I going to do? But looking back, those are always the moments... every time I hit one of those instances in my life that's when I had to pull some stuff together, use some brain power, use some ideas, and throw a bunch of stuff out until something actually stuck, and that's when Earl was invented. So many times in my life when I hit that wall something really special came out of it.
1. As a family man, how do you balance the at-home dynamic? Are you able to balance the influx of work time with family time, and what advice would you offer to aspiring artists who are also family men and women concerned about the work-life balance in the music industry?
That's the hardest part no doubt. That's the hardest part about being in the music business is being away from family and there's no right or wrong way to justify that, and it could be the reason that you don't do the music business if you're an inspiring artist, because you've got to put family first. In my opinion, family comes before career, and you have to make sure that that is set. If you're having trouble at home with your wife or with your kids-hey, you've got to get off the road. You've got to deal with that. In more ways than one, because if things aren't good at home, not only is that detrimental to your future, but also it's bad for your daily mentality. You can't put your heart and soul and passion into a job like music if you're heart and soul is not in it, because you're so worried about the problems at home. At least that's the way I look at it. And when I get inspired and passionate about my music it's because I have so much support from home, and I have just an amazing wife that knows how to deal with that, and she's always encouraging to me, and that helps so much and allows me to go out and work harder for them and for them to be my inspiration for it. At the same time, I also use motivation knowing that the harder I work now - and I've got two really young kids - the harder I work now, the more time I'm gonna get to spend with them in the future when they get older. Especially in the years that really really matter, and so they're so young right now, that I definitely miss them more than they miss me. I've accepted that fact, but I hope and pray that I can build this enough where very soon I'll be able to slow the tour dates way down and slow the promotional tour way down and have an equal time with them and then go back to work when I have to.
2. You signed a record deal with Broken Bow Music Group in August, and you're on their new Wheelhouse Records imprint. You had success independently, clearly. What made you decide to seek out a record deal, and what was it about Broken Bow Music Group that made you choose them?
Well they said all the right things and they did all the right things, and they came in - they found us, which was very important for somebody to find us. Not just from a closed mentality point of view, but hey, if someone takes the time to seek us out, then that means we don't have to do all the explaining, because it just sounds-Trying to explain my independent career sounds goofy at some point. Like, "Yeah, we have this following. We have this alter ego, he runs out, and we have albums - we made them out of our house..." Just none of it really sounds cool unless you find it organically. And that's what Broken Bow did. They found us and they just said, "Hey, we love what you're doing. We don't want to change that. We just want to magnify the message and get it to more people." And we believed them - my brother and I - and then they really came through on exactly what they were saying.