Thomas Rhett shares his family's Christmas traditions

7 December 2020 | 11:30 am | Mallory Arbour

Read about the lates single from Thomas Rhett, What's your Country Song? and his plans for Christmas during the pandemic in our interview.

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Thomas Rhett is an American country music singer-songwriter. His latest single What's Your Country Song? has been branded as a 'feel good anthem' and earned the highest chart debut of his career as Country radio’s most-added song with 150 stations, debuting at No. 18 on Billboard’s Country Airplay Chart and No. 25 on the Mediabase/Country Airplay Chart. It's the first single off his upcoming studio album.

His fourth studio album, Center Point Road continued was nominated for a GRAMMY-award and debuted atop the Billboard 200 and spawned three No. 1 hits including its platinum lead single, Look What God Gave Her. Furthermore, he has scored nearly 10 billion total career streams and received two CMA Triple Play awards for penning three No. 1 songs within a 12-month period, adding to his collection of trophies from the Country Music Association, Academy of Country Music, Billboard Music Awards, CMT Music Awards and more.

Congratulations on the success of your new single, What’s Your Country Song? It’s catchy and heartfelt, and what resonates most with me is, it's one of the few country tunes where I’ve felt included in as a person from the city who listens to country music. So, when penning the song, was the intention to bring people from all different walks of life together?

I think so, but it never started as What's Your Country Song? The whole idea stemmed from me being able to travel. Last year, across the world – whether I was in America, Canada, Australia or Europe – I felt like, no matter what city I went to, everybody had a smidge of country inside of them, whether they knew it or not. Everybody's got a couple of those songs in their life that, whether you're at a football game, bonfire or wherever you're at, you have your go-to songs that can transport you back to high school, first date or whatever that was.

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We decided to use a bunch of old and new country song title references in the verses that also were to tell a story and the chorus is about how everybody's got that anthem. Everybody's been happy. Everybody's been sad. That all unites us in a way, and somehow, music is kind of the centrepiece. [It is] definitely one of the coolest songs I've gotten to be a part of, and I got to write it with my Dad [singer, Rhett Akins] as well, which was special. [I’m] really enjoying the reaction on the song.

Maybe its different in the United States, but have you seen a trend where the genre isn’t now only appealing to people from the country but those from heavily populated cities as well?

Yeah, and I wouldn't even call it just a 2020 thing. I think over the last three or four years of my life I've wanted to get into more honest type music [and] songwriting, and songs that evoke an emotion [and] tell a story. It's become a trend for sure here in the states of, a lot of people are starting to enjoy bluegrass, folk, indie and country music and it seems like people are wanting some honesty.

I don't know if that translate to city/country vibe or whatever, but think overall, as a population, we want a true story and those are the foundations that country music was built on. I've been through phases where I wasn't telling stories. I was trying to make a song that felt good, but I would say the 2020 version of myself really wants to get back into telling that story and hoping my personal stories can resonate with other people's stories as well.

What’s Your Country Song? has been branded as a “feel-good anthem.” Does that echo your mindset throughout the ongoing covid-19 pandemic?

Yeah, I think so. I think through this whole pandemic, the whole slogan of “we're in this together” started to ring true and I hope this song gave people a little bit of encouragement to put a little smile on their face thinking back to songs they used to love. I hope that made them dive back into their old iPods and their old record collections and made them want to go listen to songs that they grew up with or songs that they were in school with or songs that brought them back to a fun point in time.

I would definitely go along with the feel-good anthem vibe. [It’s] been one that I'm so excited to play live whenever we're allowed to do that again. I love this song. It's really special!

Do you still have your old iPod laying around?

I'm pretty sure that they probably got crushed underneath a truck tire at some point in high school or so. What I would give to find my old iPods to see what I was listening to when I was like 16-17. When the iPhone came out, I did away with my iPod and all that kind of stuff, but maybe one day it's meant to turn up somewhere where I can find it and I'll give it a spin.

In the house, I found flip phones I had when I was younger. I’m wishing so bad I had a charger to turn them on with to see who I was talking to or pictures in my phone; it would be fun to go back through and look at.

What’s Your Country Song? serves the first taste of your upcoming fifth studio album. Based on the vibe of the track, can we expect it to be an upbeat, party kind of offering?

I wouldn't call it a party record by any means. There are definitely songs on there that are uplifting, up tempo and pretty dang country material. But, for the most part, I feel like over the last couple years, I've become way more of a simple human and just getting back into why I wanted to do this in the first place. It was to tell a story and try to share a story of mine through a three-and-a-half-minute song. This record is pretty deep and extremely honest. I talk about a lot of content on this record that I haven't talked about before, and some different scenarios of life that I've kind of thought about.

There are those songs that are gonna make you want to get up, drink a beer, dance and party and there's a lot of songs that's gonna make you think. I personally believe this is going to be my best record I've made, strictly from a lyrical and songwriting standpoint, and is something I'm proud of.

And, naturally, you’d always want your next record to be better than the last.

Yeah, for sure. I think a lot of the time, I would say, through my career, I've gone through a lot of different phases. I look at the 2010 version of myself, and I don't even recognise that person anymore. My 2016-17 self, I don't recognise that person anymore [either], but I think that's what life's about. It's about growing and going through phases. You look back at them and you're like, “Man, I'm not proud of that phase. What was I thinking?!” I feel like at 30 years old, I have more clarity than I've ever had about where I'm at musically, which is a really good feeling.

I think a lot of people give a lot of artists too much crap when they're going through certain phases because you don't know what's going to work. You can hope that it's going to work, but you start listening to other types of music and you start writing with people, and all of a sudden music starts to shift. And, sometimes it's what people want and sometimes, it's not.

I would say 30 years old; I'm done searching. I feel like I've finally found the Thomas Rhett that I was supposed to be, at least as a musician and, for sure, as a human, a dad and a husband. So, all of what I just said has translated into the songs I've been working on for this next record, which is very exciting.

What is the country song that best encapsulates you as an artist and person?

I've been asked this question a lot and it's like asking me what my favourite movie is. It's just impossible to answer. But I've done some digging and listened to a bunch of songs lately that I used to listen to back in the day, and, when I was 16 years old, Eric Church put his second record out and there was a song on there called These Boots. I would say that song describes so much of my life. That song made me want to write songs. It made me want to be an artist. It made me want to tour and play shows.

Here, in my in my studio, I'm looking at my very first pair of cowboy boots. And thinking about all the places those cowboy boots have been and the things that they've seen. Man, these boots have seen so many dive bars and dusty rooms, beer spilled all over them and cigarette ash sitting on top of them. So that song, describes a lot of my growing up and my life as a whole. Not only as a person, but also as a touring musician. And, to this day, it’s still one of my favourite songs.

Is Eric Church aware of how much he has inspired your career?

Me and Eric have gotten to be pretty good buddies over the last five or six years. Just doing this job, you get to become good friends with your idols, it's crazy! I got to write with Eric a couple years ago – which has been a dream of mine since I was 16 years old.

He walked in the room without his sunglasses on – without the chief mode going, without the Eric Church vibe – and I was like, “Dang, you're a normal human being. I thought you were a superhero.” So, getting to write with him, be buddies and see him on the road has been a huge honour.

Whether he knows it or not, he's taught me so much about writing songs, playing shows, entertaining the crowd and making a crowd feel at home at your concerts. And so, like I said, whether he knows it or not, he's made a huge impact in my life and my career.

What else have you learnt from your fellow artist/musician peers?

Our shows, it's extremely high energy. We always love to do things that make the crowd feel included. We love to be goofy, dance and jump around. Our goal on stage is to make people forget they had a bad week at work and hopefully on a Friday night, they can let all that loose. So, as a showman, I love getting to watch people like Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake put on a show. And on the other end of the spectrum, I love to see what Chris Stapleton and Ed Sheeran are doing, because it's all so different.

As an artist, the best thing you can do is see as many shows as you can, look at what other artists are doing and be like, “how could I do a version of that?” or “what would that look like in a show of mine?” Then, you get into band rehearsal, and you and your band have come up with thousands of ideas of different moments in the show. Especially in a TikTok generation where people are watching 30 seconds of a clip and they're bored and on the next thing, and, so, keeping people engaged for two hours in a concert has been a goal of mine ever since I started in this career.

I feel like me and the band have done a really good job of just learning how to audible during a show. Like, if you're about to play a ballad next, but the crowds already fading you swap that out for something different or swap it out for something that they know. I feel like I've watched the greats do that for so long, and it's been something I've incorporated into our sets as well.

We’re in December now and the holiday season is here. And seeing as you and your wife, Lauren Akins hosted CMA Country Christmas on November 30, I feel it's only appropriate to bring up Christmas. You have three daughters all under five years old – Willa Gray, Ada James and Lennon Love so, as a busy family of five, what are your plans for Christmas this year?

In years without a pandemic, we would travel to one set of my grandparents in East Tennessee and the other lives down in South Georgia, but this year we're doing it all at our house. We're gonna have some of our family over and we always spend Christmas Eve together. We have our few Christmas movies we watch. We always make Christmas cookies and hot chocolate, and drink mimosas in the morning. Everybody gets to open a gift on Christmas Eve.

This is Lauren and my favourite time of the year, because it feels like the year is coming to a close and you get to start fresh again. We've already got our Christmas lights up, watching Christmas movies and doing the whole thing and but we're gonna be at our house this year, which will be a first.

Speaking of Christmas movies, do you have any favourites?

There's a few. I love the Santa Claus (1994), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) and Home Alone (1990). There's a new animated movie on Netflix called Klaus (2019) and it has become one of my kids’ favourite Christmas movies. We go hard on Christmas [laughs]. My kids scan through Disney+ and Netflix and find stuff. I'm like, “how are you even finding these movies?!”

What’s your favourite Christmas album to listen to during the holidays?

It's not really an album, but listening to Frank Sinatra's Greatest Christmas Hits. To me, there is nothing better that can get you in the Christmas spirit than old Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin songs.

And lastly, what’s the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

My favourite Christmas gift would be, probably when I was 12 years old, my grandmother got me a Sony Walkman. Like an old CD player with speakers on the top of it. I thought that was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life!

If I could go back and find that old CD player with my terrible headphones and listen to Third Eye Blind, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Eat World or whatever I was listening to back then, that would be my favourite Christmas gift.

Keep up to date with Thomas Rhett on his Facebook page here.

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