Corey Smith might be new to many country music listeners, but he is certainly not a new artist. Born and raised in the town of Jefferson, Ga., just a few miles northwest of the musical hotbed of Athens, Corey has carved out a successful career by writing and singing not about the idealized country imagery of trucks and bonfires, but by depicting truthfully the experience of growing up far from big-city sidewalks. “Country music is all those things that art is supposed to be. It’s populist, it’s infectious and, most importantly, it’s about people,” says Corey. “So country music should be about artists holding a mirror back to themselves to reflect what they’re experiencing in their own little towns.”
Corey has amassed an unfailingly devout fan base, not only in his native Southeast, but all around the nation, simply by telling it the way it is. He has released seven studio and one live album, all written and produced by Corey himself. And his concerts regularly sell out, with audiences singing along to such favorites as the coming-of-age anthem “Twenty-One,” the nostalgic “If I Could Do It Again” and the group hug “I Love Everyone.”
Corey was in NYC this past week headlining the Movin' On Up Tour sponsored by Ones To Watch and Texas Pete. He graciously agreed to chat with us before his show at the Gramercy Theater.
You are certainly not a new artist, but you are new to a lot of people. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Yes, most people have never heard of me and when they do they usually hear about me from a friend or they come to a show. I am not a celebrity by any means, but I am very happy because I have a solid touring career and passionate fans that are now spread all over the country. I have been making music since I was a kid. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a rock star. But then I grew up, met my wife, took my education very seriously and became a school teacher. I taught high school for four years. At that time I really came into my own as a writer. I started writing for me, because it made me happy. I had a forty five minute commute to the high school every day and I would write songs on the way in and on the way home. Even at the house, I was always writing and playing the guitar. Then I started playing bar gigs on weekends. The real turning point was when I won an open mic night. The prize was twelve hours of studio time. By that point I had written 60—70 songs, so I picked what I thought were the best bets. I had to put a little of my own money, $800, in it because it took six more hours to get it finished. It worked out well. "Twenty-One," which is a song from that first record, is probably my most popular song to date and the album sold 80,000 copies. So next year I played more shows, saved more money and made another record and the same thing the following year. All the while, I was living within my means and happy to be making music.
We toured initially in the Southeast and then eventually traveled in larger circles farther from home and now eight records later we have toured everywhere in the country. And now we are on our ninth record and it feels like everything is finally coming to fruition. I certainly didn't do things the traditional route by going to Nashville and looking for a record deal. We took a longer path, but I am certainly glad that we did it this way.
When did you first pick up the guitar and start playing?
I have been around music my whole life. My dad was in a band and my keys player, Lee, played piano in dad's band when I was little kid. They would always be practicing at the house. I didn't really start playing though until I was 15years old and at my grandparents on spring break. I spent a lot of time at that house, but it was not on a beach and I was bored out of my mind. My cousin had an acoustic guitar and songbooks with chords and lyrics from artists like George Strait, Bob Seger and The Eagles. I decided that I would play the guitar and learn those. As I played, a lot of stuff I learned from my dad kicked in. I sang in the church choir and the chorus at school since I was a little kid, but it wasn't until I picked up the guitar that everything clicked. Senior year of high school I really got my act together. I started playing mostly cover songs from alot of different genres. We covered everybody from Hootie and the Blowfish to Matchbox 20, Jimmy Buffet, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson and The Allman Brothers.
So then you must pull your influences from a variety of genres?
Yes, I pull from a bunch of things. When I look back on it now I was most definitely influenced by songs I learned in church as a young kid. As a teenager I loved Strait and Brooks, but country was something my grandma listened to, so I couldn't admit to friends that I was listening to David Allan Coe and country artists. I listened to the alternative rock of 90s, like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, but I think that was more of me making a statement, being rebellious.
How did you make the decision to quit your teaching job and pursue music full time?
I'm not a big gambler or risk taker. That's probably why I never made the leap to Nashville. The reason to leave teaching was the math. I was already selling out shows in GA and SC and had regular gigs in Atlanta. Basically, I was calculating how many gigs a month I needed to do to make it. The tipping point though was when I played my first show at the Georgia Theater in Athens. Now I lived and went to school near there and saw shows there. My first show there, I was really nervous, I figured we would sell maybe 300-400 tickets. The show sold out in advance which amazed me. That's like two to three months of teaching in one night. I felt it was like God sayin' I know u don’t take risks, but you should take this one, I got this covered, don’t worry.
He definitely had you covered. You have played over a 1000 shows, with hundreds of them sold out. You have also sold 1.8million digital downloads. This speaks to a loyal fan base.
And I'm very loyal to them. I feel a sense of responsibility to them. It doesn’t mean they’ll agree with me on everything I do or every song I put out but at the end of the day I realize they’ve given me this opportunity and I take that seriously. When I'm making choices I consider them. I think they respect me for path I have taken. I haven’t always done what's popular, but I do what's authentic for me. Artists have to struggle with art and commerce and popularity vs authenticity. I try to err on side of authenticity whenever I can and I hope that comes through.
Have you played NYC before and how was crowd reaction?
I have played here before, quite a bit. I come up about once a year. I was thinking about that this morning. Out first show here was at BB Kings, but we have also played the Highline Ballroom, Mercury Lounge, Bowery Ballroom, and Rockwood Music Hall. They have all been great crowds and I think that speaks to what we do. Sometimes it may take awhile, but people keep coming back. I think people come, have a great time and feel a connection to the music. So they come back again, bring some friends and it happens that way.
Your current single is "Ain't Going Out Tonight." It is an extremely relatable song. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
It's a personal song, but not something that was personally happening to me at the time I wrote it. It's the kind of stuff I went through early on; getting married and making sacrifices. It's a song about romance, but on a deeper level it's about the stuff going on in my career the past few years. It is about honing in on and realizing whats important and making changes and setting priorities based on that. I thought deeper about my career, but had to analyze it differently taking into consideration my family, what is most important to me and what I cherish the most. My joy is songwriting and speaking from the heart. I have made a lot of decisions the past few years focusing on that and tried not to get pulled into a lot of distractions.
The song can currently be heard on Sirius XM's The Highway. What does them playing your song mean to you?
It is incredibly validating to have airplay like that across the country. I mean, it's something every artist wants, to hear their song on the radio. For the Highway to take a chance on someone like me, it says a lot about them and how important it is to them to get new music heard. I cannot express to people enough how that makes me feel. A lot of my fans, some of whom have been coming out for a decade, would ask why aren't you on the radio, so I know they feel validated as well.
However, I haven't heard it on there yet, we don't have satellite on bus. My wife does have it in her car. One time we were driving with the kids and listening to Sirius, but then I had to turn it down to lecture my kids because they were doing something in the backseat. I finished talking to them, looked down and there was my name with the song title. I turned it up and it was literally the last note, so I have yet to hear it on the radio. I joke with my kids that they made me miss hearing the song.
Do you write all of your songs or collaborate with other writers?
I have written all the songs on all of my records by myself. The kind of artist that resonates with me tends to be the pure singer songwriters. I like John Mayer, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Merle. I like knowing that I'm hearing that person's point of view on reality. I don't want to hear them agree with someone else, I want to hear their thoughts and that's the kind of artist that I want to be.
Your songs are truly about everything from drinking to relationships to things in every day life. The lyrics are honest, heartfelt and believable. Do you think this is why you connect with fans?
I hope so. I am being as honest and genuine as I know how to be because that’s what I want to sing. I'm often pigeon hold as the rowdy college party guy because my most popular songs tend to be party songs. Some can be nostalgic drinking songs with bad language. But there is a lot more to that if you dig into my records. Just don’t take one song at face value. Each song captures a certain mood in time, a snapshot of my inner world. Fun songs are great to listen to and play but it's just one sliver of who I am and of my personality. If those are the types of songs that will bring people into my music to listen to some more, I'm fine with that.
All of your previous records you have produced yourself. You are working on a 9th album, this time with a producer. Talk a little bit about that.
I've co-produced other albums with Lee, who has been a mentor to me in the studio, but the bulk of the decision making was on my shoulders. In a way, that was really good. I learned a tremendous amount especially about my limitations. Artists don't necessarily don't make the best producers because we tend to over think things. Now I am working with Keith Stegall who has produced ZBB, Alan Jackson, Merle and Randy Travis. Keith can really help get me to the level I want to be at as an artist. Having him also takes the pressure off of me to make every decision. It is been such a great process, we hope to have the album out sometime next year.
This tour finishes up this weekend. What are your plans after that?
Touring is my life, so we will just keep on doing that. This was the first time we had a tour with an actual name, Movin' On Up. We used to do 170 dates in the past. Now we do around 130. I will still be touring the rest of the month, then next year we go out with Darius [Rucker] for eight dates.
Lastly, I love to know what are you listening to now?
Actually on the plane I downloaded Hootie's Cracked Rear View and Fair-Weather Johnson. I love those records, both were a really big deal to me. I knew every song from those records when I started out. I emulated their sound because they were doing something fresh in the 90s when hair metal was the big sound. They also seemed like ordinary guys, very real and accessible. I am a fan and I have met Darius before, but I am not sure if he knows what a big deal he is to me. Darius was a huge inspiration to me. He made me want to work harder and get better. It is a blessing to be on any big tour, but fact that it's Darius makes it that much more special.
For more information visit www.coreysmith.com
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You can watch the video for "Twenty-One" and his current single "Ain't Going Out Tonight' below.
Jamie Lynn Spears moved to Nashville a few years back to raise her daughter and focus on singing and writing country music. She recently released her first single to country radio, the beautifully traditional "How Could I Want More." Jamie Lynn graciously called into TDC to chat about the single, writing and more.
You just released your first single to country radio, "How Could I Want More." Can you talk about the story behind the song and how you came to write with Rivers Rutherford?
JLS~Well, I moved to Nashville after I had my little girl because music was something I wanted to pursue. I really wanted to be in a place where I could dig in and figure out who I was as an artist. I started working with Chris Tompkins and Liz Rose and a few other people. Someone had suggested writing with Rivers. My people had set up a writing session with him and that first day that we met to write, we wrote this song. At that time, my now fiancé and I were going through some ups and downs. I had broken up with him and we were at a crossroads. I wanted to be a mom, be in Nashville and focus on music, but also wondered how could I want more when this guy was so good to me. I was in a vulnerable place. Rivers, who is a very talented songwriter, was able to pull a great song out of me. Every time I sing it I get emotional. I was in the studio singing it and I got very moody, crying, and thinking that everyone there must have thought I was crazy. Corey, my producer, appreciated those emotions. After about an hour I got myself together and said ok lets do it again, so we could get the most perfect version of the song. But Corey thought it was perfect. He said "we feel it when you sing it and honestly I like to hear your voice break." That's why he is such an amazing producer and I am so lucky to have him.
The song is very traditional sounding. Is that the type of country music you are drawn to?
JLS~I would definitely sing and write songs like "How Could I Want More" every day, that is what I want to write and sing. I just love really being emotionally connected to every song and if I could do a full album like that I would. But then again, I don't want to make a depressing album. I do have fun songs that I think can connect as well. I have young listeners and I want them to have a good time. However, my music is definitely a more traditional country.
A lot of people were skeptical to hear the song, but most everyone who hears it, loves it. It has recently charted on Billboard. What does fan reaction like that mean to you?
JLS~You can't imagine my reaction whenever Billboard contacts me about the single. There are not really words for it. Because the song was so personal, I felt I was taking a risk putting a ballad out and seeing what it would do. When I heard it was doing well, it was unreal. It was the best reaction I could have asked for.
So why was now the right time to release a single?
JLS~There were alot of opportunities that people have said "oh you should release it here or there." But Liz Rose, who I call my music mom, told me that when the music was there everything else would just come into play and it would be the right time. I just tried to focus on that and dig in and work. The music was right and that's when I felt ready to release it, it made sense.
The video for the song shows you as being actively involved in the songwriting process. Was that intentional?
JLS~Oh yes, definitely. This has been a learning process. I am 22 years old and learning was one of the main points for me when moving to Nashville. I wanted to fully immerse myself in writing and figure out who I was going to be as an artist. I went to voice lessons and guitar lessons two times a week. I love being involved and wanted to understand everything. I still have so much to learn; although the technology part is the toughest, I'm not sure I'll ever understand that. I wanted to learn so that I could better translate what I wanted to do to my producer and players. That was very important to me. What is terrific is that I landed a producer who really gets me and teaches me because he knows how important it is to me to be involved.
You were so young when you started out as an actor. When did you know that writing and singing were things you wanted to do as well?
JLS~I was nine and a half when I started on the tv show. I didn’t know what my future was going to be and I didn't make decisions for myself. I took to acting because I had a creative fire in me that needed to get out. Acting was the first opportunity for that, to channel that creative energy that I have always had. As I became an adult and started making decisions for myself, things changed. Music was a big part of my life since I was born and now that I am an adult and have a little girl, music has been my heart.
Do you have a hand in writing your songs and does having a daughter impact what you write?
JLS~Yes, I have written every song I have recorded so far. We are going to take a writing trip with my favorite writers and producer and see what we can do. But I have a large catalog of songs so I might dig those out as well.
And most definitely, children affect everything and every aspect of your life whether it's working or writing. When we were in Nashville by ourselves, we had a very special bonding time. My music has been fully impacted by her.
Has there been label interest and will there be a full album?
JLS~Yes, there is a full album in the works. We haven't really had any conversations with any labels, but I am sure at some point in the near future that will make sense.
What do you think makes a good country song?
JLS~Honesty. It transcends any genre, any person, any age. It just what makes any music good.
What did you listen to growing up and who would you consider your influences?
JLS~Well, my Daddy was a born and bred southern man. He listened to Pam Tillis and Loretta Lynn. I am Daddy's girl so I listened to whatever he listened to. But my sister and I also liked to listen to the Dixie Chicks.
Do you have a favorite country song?
JLS~That's a tough one. It's hard to pin one down, because I will think of another one later and then I'd be mad at myself. But Daddy really liked Alan Jackson's songs.
Is there a male artist that you would like to sing with?
JLS~I love Garth Brooks.
Some people comment on the lack of females in the country music industry right now. What are your thoughts on that?
JLS~You'll definitely notice on the charts that there's more men than women. I think this is just where country music is right now. There are a lot of great females out there who people are connecting with right now. But I believe that as long as I get out there and do my best and write honestly, that will transcend male or female.
Lastly, what are you listening to now?
JLS~Well, I always say this because I cover one of her songs in my set, but I like Holly Williams a lot. She's definitely a favorite. With my daughter in the house we listen to Bridget Mendler and Ariana Grande (from the television show Sam & Kat). We dance around a lot. You might not want to see it, but we have a good time.
For more information check out www.jamielynnspears.com
You can watch the video for her current single below.
From a small town and a small tin-roofed barn named Studio B, Parmalee launched their long journey to Nashville. The near-fatal robbery they experienced after a show would have destroyed most bands. But brothers Matt and Scott Thomas, cousin Barry Knox and longtime friend Josh McSwain didn’t call it quits. Instead, they reinforced their motivation, dedication and determination to succeed.
Matt and Scott Thomas grew up near Greenville, NC watching their father Jerry front a popular local southern rock blues band. The boys watched and learned, picking up their own instruments and jamming along with their dad’s band. From this they learned how to integrate their own style into the songs they were playing. Barry Knox loved what his cousins were doing and joined them. The Thomas Brothers Band, as they were first known, played the local club circuit and would often share the same marquee with a cover band that starred their friend Josh McSwain. Like the Thomas', Josh also traveled and played with his father. A fan of Josh’s musical abilities, Matt invited Josh to play with them. The foursome clicked and from that first gig in 2001, Parmalee was born.
The band's dedication and perseverance paid off in 2013. Their debut single, “Musta Had A Good Time” was #1 for four consecutive weeks on SiriusXM’s The Highway “Hot 30 LIVE” countdown and the song became a Top 40 hit on mainstream country radio. In addition, the song was featured in national sporting event broadcasts from the PGA to MLB. Parmalee was named a “Bubbling Under Artist” by Billboard magazine (June 2013) and one of Clear Channel’s NEW! Artists to Watch in 2013. Parmalee also performed as part of MTV's 2013 O Music Awards. Their second and current single, “Carolina,” became their first #1 at country radio this week, just after our interview.
We recently had the chance to talk with Matt Thomas (guitar, lead vocals) about the record, the amazing year they have had and what's ahead.
TDC~Congratulations on all of the good things that have come your way this year. You guys have been together for such a long time, how does it feel to finally have all this success after putting in so much work and dedication?
MT~ We are just trying to take it all in. We don't know how to act because it really doesn't seem real. Our mindset is to keep our heads down and keep plugging, although we do raise our heads up and smile a little bit more now. It is mind blowing to have been through all we have and all of a sudden to have these good things happen. It's wonderful and very gratifying, I just can't explain it.
After a show on September 21, 2010, Josh and Barry were packing gear in the venue while Matt and Scott were loading the RV when two armed men knocked on the door. The men put a gun to Matt’s head and demanded money. Shots were fired. Scott, who possessed a concealed weapons license, fired back. One of the gunmen died and Scott was shot three times. One bullet hit Scott’s femoral artery causing him to nearly bleed to death. “He bled out on the air flight to Charlotte, and his heart stopped twice,” Matt recalls. “When we got to the hospital, the doctor gave him a five percent chance to live.” Scott was in the hospital for 35 days and Parmalee's fans came out in droves to assist with medical bills and provide support. In 2011, Scott was well enough to get behind a drum set again.
TDC~You guys have been through so much professionally and personally. When the attempted robbery and shooting happened you guys could have given up, but you didn't.
MT~Well, anybody in their right minds probably would have done that, but we have never been those guys. If there was even a small chance we could do it, we knew we wanted to go after the small chance. We never really thought about stopping. I think we actually switched into another gear and became more determined with our music, that's what got us through that time.
TDC~Your debut record Feels Like Carolina will be released on Stoney Creek Records on Decemeber 10th. Talk about the record, why that title and how involved were you in writing the tracks?
MT~We had a couple titles we were thinking about. We wanted to use "Carolina" because at this stage people know the song more than they know us. We wanted to make sure that people could relate the title to the song to the band. It was also a place that influenced us because it was where we grew up and where our family actually came from. We had a hand writing in writing seven out of the twelve songs on album. I really love "Day Dreamin'" because it is so different and fun. I like playing "Think You Oughta Know" and "Close Your Eyes". I have a bunch of favorites, I can't really choose.
TDC~ Your Dad played in a southern rock blues band that you guys also then played in. Talk a little bit about that.
MT~ It was cool jamming with him. He was the first guy we ever played with as kids. We practiced and finally got to the point where we were good enough to play with him. I wouldn't trade any of that, it was the best experience of my life.
TDC~ Your music incorporates a lot of genres from country to rock to bluegrass. Where do you draw your influences?
MT~We draw from so much. My Dad was the Greg Allman, Bob Seger, Otis Redding, soul kind of guy. When we were kids, we listened to stuff form the 70s like it was nothing. We grew up on rock and pop and some hip hop. The country artists we liked included Garth Brooks, The Kentucky Headhunters and Travis Tritt. We literally listened to everything.
TDC~Carolina has already produced two singles. The first, "Musta Had A Good Time" was a huge hit on Sirius XM's The Highway. They really support the artists they believe in. What does their support mean to you?
MT~ I have to give The Highway credit for kickstarting our career. They truly support us and have become great friends of ours. Everything we used to do was regional and now we are seeing our first real crowd reaction from across the country. People are coming to our shows for the first time and singing the words to our songs and it is because of The Highway. We owe them so much and look forward to doing a lot more stuff with them.
TDC~The second single "Carolina" which was also #1 on The Highway's countdown, is sitting at #2 on the country charts. It looks like it is headed to be a #1 single.
MT~ Man, we'll keep our fingers crossed and hopefully the man upstairs will look out for us. We'll keep our heads down and keep working.
TDC~The Highway's countdown is fan voted as is CMT Pure on which the video for "Must Had A Good Time" reached #1. Recently, readers of The Boot voted your album the Album of the Month for December. That really speaks to the loyalty of your fan base.
MT~We really have some die hard fans who have been with us for so long that they are as invested as we are. They want it as bad as we do, even the new fans too. What we want to do is make that connection with people. I think it's happened and its crazy to see that, especially across the country. We want everyone to feel like a family, that's why our fans call themselves the ParmaleeFamalee. It is very gratifying to have such a loyal fan base.
TDC~You were the first artists selected by Southwest Airlines to perform on their Southwest Airlines Travelin' Taylor Tour Series and you played the Opry for the first time. Can you tell us a little bit about those experiences?
MT~The Opry was unbelieveable, it is like a family there. It was so special to stand in that circle. Everyone was very kind to us. Our grandmothers made that show too. The Taylor Guitar flight was crazy. We were at 30,000 feet and broke out the instruments. No one knew we were going to be there. It was a cool crowd. They loved us. (Laughing) It was a sold out show with a captive audience and nobody left! That's the best type of show to play.
TDC~ So with all of these career milestones this year, can you pick out any one thing that has been the highlight?
MT~ Honestly, over the past six months there has been a new highlight every day and we are just trying to let it soak in. We are presenting an award at the ACAs, we are so excited about that. Our song being at #2 is just crazy, unbelievable. When we got signed two years ago that was the biggest thing that had ever happened to us. Now it is incredible to see what you have been working so hard for to start happening. It is hard to believe, but we are going to be thankful, keep our heads down and keep working hard.
TDC~ What are your plans for 2014?
MT~ We are going to tour. It will be fun to gear up and officially have an album and focus on getting the show right. We are revamping the show around the album. We want to have fun and give the fans what they need. We are releasing another single, although we don't know which one that is going to be.
TDC~We love to know what artists listen to. So is there an album, any genre, that you have on repeat?
MT~Scott really likes Jamey Johnson's Tribute to Hank Cochran. I have been listening to Bruno Mars' Unorthodox Jukebox and I just bought Jake Owen's new record, so I am just digging into that. But my favorite album of all time is The Allman Brothers Band: Live at The Fillmore East. It's my go to record when I just want to relax.
Parmalee's Feels Like Carolina will be released on December 10th. The album is a true record; one you can listen to straight through without skipping a track. Those records are few and far between, so grab yourself a copy on release day or head to www.parmalee.com and order a copy (or two).
You can read our review here.
Markus Fox is from the state of Alabama, and proudly calls I-65 his hometown. He grew up living on the gulf coast in Mobile and in the pines of Elmore County, Alabama. When Markus graduated from Theodore High School, he left to attend Troy University. It was there Markus realized it was time to do something different and meaningful with his life. Having known other family members who had been United States Marine Corp, he walked into a recruiter’s office and decided to dedicate the next four years of his life to serving his country as a Marine.
Markus saw his first tour of duty in Iraq when he was 19 years old, followed by a second tour of duty in Afghanistan when he was 21 years old. Markus now dedicates his voice to not only music, but to the causes of Veterans. “If you see a Veteran out, it doesn’t matter where, take a second to thank them. You’ll never know what it means to them,” Markus explains in a recent interview with ABC 33/40. He goes on to say, “Hire a veteran. They have more experience than anyone you will interview."
Markus finished his time in service as a U.S. Marine in November of 2011, and in turn moved back to his home in Alabama. He is proud to be part of a family who since 1884 has held the longest and biggest family reunion in all of AL where they still cook in the same pots they used at the first reunion. He also enjoys spending time on his property finding happiness in hunting, bonfires and time with friends.
Markus is a true American hero as well as a singer/songwriter whose depth will touch you. We had the chance to talk with this young man when he graciously took time from his schedule to call us from his home state.
You got your first guitar at age 8. Can you tell us the story behind that?
My parents split up when I was two and my Dad moved over three hours away for his job working for UPS. Even though he lived far away, he never missed anything; whether it be a school event, a game or his weekend with us. Every weekend he made the trip to pick us up and drive us back home. We spent a lot of time together on that interstate. What we did during those drives was listen to a lot of music, like the Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison, Chicago, Hank Williams and George Jones. These are artists which were not really the typical stuff a six or seven year old would listen to. Then when I was four, we went to the Grand Ole Opry where I saw Tanya Tucker, Randy Travis and others. I told my dad I want to get up there and do that. So from kindergarten all the way up to 3rd grade I sang in a talent show. My heart was already set on what I wanted to do with my life.
Besides his regular job, my Dad played trombone in a jazz band for over 20 years. He played with B.B. King and others. So the first instrument he got me was a trombone, but it wasn't for me. I really just let it sit there. That's why after my Dad got me the guitar, he told me I would put the guitar down in a weeks time. Well, I didn't. I play a different guitar now, but I still have that first guitar and ever since then a guitar has been with me wherever I go.
Who are your musical influences?
I cannot pinpoint one or two. There are certain songs that just give you that chill, that feeling in your bones. To me, a good song is a good song. I don't listen to current country radio because it's not really country music to me; what I grew up on, what I am used to is different country. To me, the music today is more like dance songs. The lyrics are repetitive and there are a lot of songs about trucks. I have about 170 songs on my phone and they're all I listen to.
Do you write your own songs?
Yes, I do. When I write songs, my main focus is for content. Pretty much every line in every song that I write will be true. The song "I'll Be Around" I first wrote on a bar napkin. I wrote about an ex-girlfriend whom I bought a plane ticket to come see me and she didn't come. That led to a drinking binge and living out of the bottle. The song changed a bit from my initial writing of it, but I don't have a filter and I like to tell it pretty much like it is. I try and write my own songs, but there were two that were pitched to me with people saying "you have to sing this, because you lived it." Those songs were "22 Miles from Hell" and "I'm Still Coming Home" which is a song that hopefully will help people understand PTSD. The song goes along with what I am trying to do by bringing awareness to suicide among veterans.
Can you tell us about why you want to bring awareness to this topic?
I have dealt with being overseas firsthand and have seen the effects of what PTSD can do to people. I also suffer from it. Not many people know that one vet kills him or herself every 65minutes. The response I get when I tell people that 18 veterans a day commit suicide is always 'I can't believe it.' Personally, I have lost seven friends in the last year and a half, the most recent two Fridays ago. People don't know that it is something many veterans struggle with on a daily basis. It is not something you can just "get over." I have my therapy dog and my music, those are what help me.
Tell us about your time in the Marines and how it affected you and your music.
Well, my great grandfather was in the Marines in WW2, my grandfather was in the army in Korea, and my uncle was a Marine in Vietnam. After September 11th, I wanted to go and serve my country. My Dad wanted me to complete a semester of college. I gave him about two days. I waited to tell him a week before I left that I was going. I needed it at that point. I was working forty hours a week and partying, I really needed a change. In addition to serving my country, the Marines gave me direction and focus. I became part of so much more than a brotherhood. I can count on these guys at any moment. I can call them right now they'd be here for me. I left there with a better sense of who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.
When I was in the Marines, music was always there for me, it was my escape. The experience of being in the Marines helped me learn so much more about myself so that when I write and sing, I feel more deeply. The Marine Corps really brought me into that realm.
Congratulations on the release of your EP Thinkin' Out Loud which was released in November. Can you give us some background as to how that all came about?
I wrote the song "Sacrifices" for two buddies of mine who didn't make it home. That song helped us then and still helps people who hear it for the first time. I don't know who, but someone submitted it to the show American Hero Experience on NBC Sports. This is a show where they take modern heroes who share their inspirational stories as they discover the therapy outdoor recreation can provide. For example, they take guys who love to fish on a fishing trip of a lifetime. I guess they made an exception for me because although I love to fish, I really wanted to be a singer/songwriter. Someone from the show called Outdoor Music Group and said "what can you do with this guy." I got to go on the fishing trip and spend a week with the guys from the show and one of the guys from the Outdoor Music label, although I didn't know it at the time because he told me he was a production assistant. At the end of the trip he introduced himself as someone from the label and wanted to invite me to Nashville to play a show.
So I went to play at Pucketts in February of this year, but the headstock broke off of my guitar. The good people at American Hero called Gibson and the CEO of Gibson showed up and gave me a brand new guitar. That was pretty special. I still have that guitar and I'm now a Gibson artist. I have played shows for them including opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Ryman. This was also a veteran's event and we got to give away two Gibson guitars to vets suffering with PTSD. It was special not only to play that show but to also do good for people that way Gibson did for me.
It seems a lot of good things have happened in 2013. Is there a specific highlight for you?
The entire year has been awesome, a very special time for me. I am a very lucky and very blessed man for sure. I guess the release of the EP and it reaching #32 on iTunes was a highlight. It's different than what's out there on country radio right now. It is so cool to hear what I grew on my guitar and see that come to life. I am also thankful to the people who played on the record. I had wanted Chris Leuzinger, who is someone
I admired forever, to play on my record. I had figured though, that it was impossible to get him. We were in the studio and he walked in and agreed to play on my record. The label surprised me, I had no idea they had got him to do that. That was amazing to have him come and play. And now he has become a close friend and a teacher to me. It is unreal. It worked out pretty awesome.
What is in store for 2014?
We are going to continue to play music. We have played in TN, AL, GA, LA and PA. We are putting a band together and hopefully are going to try to jump on a tour with somebody. That’s my goal, but there is a lot involved in that, which we have to figure out. We will also continue to promote the EP and get it back up there on the charts. There are also things I personally want for the performance and stage. I am working on the side, re-doing boats with my uncle to earn money so I can accomplish what I want to do. I just want to get out there and play my music.
Thinkin' Out Loud is available at digital retailers. For more information please visit http://www.markusfox.com/