Grew up near Cedar Falls, Iowa. You learned how to drive a stick shift at 9 years old and, as a teen, you worked on a family friend’s farm, in the early morning and again after school. What seems like a fitting past for someone moving to Nashville in 2013. Yet, in your early days in Music City — “They would tell me I wasn’t country enough. And back then, I tried to conform and create what they were looking for.” What was the turning point when you were able to convince them to break this ‘mold’?
People started connecting to me and my music when I started being vulnerable. I wrote a song for my mother when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and that was the turning point. The way I began to see life as something more important than my own experience translated through that song and has become the backbone of my artistry.
Sirius XM’s “The Highway Find” with “Sounds Good To Me” in 2017. What’s the backstory to the song?
I wrote “Sounds Good To Me” with Phil Barton and Lindsay Rimes. They’re both super fun guys and had me laughing the entire day. The end product felt so good, and we loved the energy behind it, so Phil sent it over to The Highway. I was completely caught off guard when they asked me to be the Highway Find, and still, to this day it’s the song I end my live show with — it’s a total rock-out song.
Alzheimer’s. You wrote “Blank Stares” in 2018 after seeing the suffering your mother, Sherry Rich, was going through. You have toured the country as an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association, with the song helping to raise over $100 million to help fight the disease. Can you share where fans can go to get resources to support their family who are battling the disease?
Visit alz.org or reach out to your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. There are countless resources and professionals available to assist.
The Voice. Blake Shelton. Gwen Stefani. “I wrote “No Present Like The Time” after barely making it through the grieving process of losing my mother. It was 2019, she was my world, and only 54 when Alzheimer’s devastated our family. What I experienced during those years was a sort of sadness and doubt that almost broke my spirit, but what I gained was an invaluable lesson — time is precious. If I could go back, I would answer every phone call, say “I love you” every day, take a lot more pictures, and just spend time with her. I know my mother wouldn’t want me to live with regrets, so instead I believe she gave me this song to remind me how to live.”
Back in 2016, your mother came to a show, and, after hearing your music, told you she missed you — this after starting to not recognize you. The power of music and connections. You shared that your mother would sing country songs on long car rides. Which songs were her favorites?
My mother LOVED country music, and those special moments of us singing along to the radio together are ultimately why I ended up in Nashville. When I close my eyes, I can still hear her singing songs like “If The World Had a Front Porch” and “Forever and Ever Amen.” I think it was the heartfelt ones that really got her, and I’m proud to say that she left that part of her with me.
Written alongside Nate Kenyon, Blake Bollinger, and (at the time fiancée) Kylie, you shared that the song, “Mustang on Mud Tires,” describes you. Kenyon came into the write — “He was like, ‘You’re shiny like a classic muscle car, but you know, you also like to get your hands dirty and party.’ And I was like, ‘Man, that’s a cool way to say that.’ So that’s where it started.” If you were to write a song that describes Kylie, how would it start out?
I kind of already did… the very first song she inspired me to write is a song I released two years ago called “Bulletproof.” The second verse goes, “You’re like a flower growing out of a double-barrel, bringing peace to the rage of my enemies’ guns.” I went through some hard times before I met Kylie, and she was the one person that finally brought me a sense of comfort. With her, even when it feels like the world is against me, I know I’ll always have her to call home.
Your latest. “‘No Prayer Like Mama’s’ was written after grieving the loss of my own mother. That process was a difficult journey, but now I find strength in believing that she’s still with me. I hope this song brings honor to both mothers in heaven and those still with us.”
Your song, this remark, really hit home. Finding ways to ‘see’ my mom around me when I am struggling has helped through difficult times. Do you have a playlist of songs that comfort you during trying times?
YES, I listen to worship music often. Songs like “Give Me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath or “You Say” by Lauren Daigle remind me to put my focus on the positive rather than on my problems. Don’t get me wrong, I love country and rock, but worship music is my medicine.
“Tattoos to Heaven.” 72 tattoos. “Every tattoo tells a little piece of my story. One day, I looked in the mirror and decided that I wanted to always be reminded of what God made me to be. That’s when I started getting tattoos every time I went through something life-changing or important to me. Now, every morning, I look in the mirror and am reminded what I have been through. It’s so easy to beat yourself up and think that you are not accomplishing anything, but now, all I have to do is look at my skin. It’s like looking in the rearview mirror every morning.” You shared that your friend, tattooist Don Caskey, asked you, as a last request, to write a song for him. What was the first tattoo that Don created for you?
Don actually isn’t my tattooist. He’s a close friend that just passed away a few weeks ago. It’s a hard thing to talk about, but his story inspired me greatly 🙂