I recently had the opportunity to meet up with Randy Houser at his label’s office on Music Row to discuss his debut album “Anything Goes.” Other topics discussed ranged from David Letterman, The “Trailer Park,” Ronnie Dunn comparisons, his roots and of course “badonkadonks.” It was a nice conversation in which Randy opened up more than the average singer will. It lead to this intervew being one of my favorite interviews to do so far.
Matt Bjorke: I’ve noticed that there have been a lot of soulful singer-songwriters to come from Mississippi over the years. What is it about Mississippi that breeds such soulful artists?
Randy Houser: I think it’s a matter of the fact that there’s a lot of pride in Mississippi. I think that people grow up trying to scratch a livin’ and things like that. There are people that are definitely boisterous and expressive. When they say something, they mean it. I think that’s where the soul comes from. When you’re singing, when you’re drillin’ it home, and you really mean what you’re saying, that comes from believing it and living and goin’ through things. It’s not just singers that are soulful; there are painters, writers, entertainers. There’s a lot of soul in that area.
Matt: You probably could’ve sung any genre of music, what is it about country music that drew you to Nashville?
Randy: Well, I’m country. I couldn’t have sung any kind of music. There’s no way I could’ve been in the pop world. I’m just a country guy. I mean, I don’t try to be country. I am. So this was the only place for me.
Matt: Some people might call you an overnight sensation yet that’s rarely ever the case with an artist. How would you describe your journey to become an artist?
Randy: How many words? (Laughing) Somebody asked me the other day, “if you would’ve been told ‘guess what Randy, you won’t have an album come out until November 2008’ what would’ve you done?” I jokingly said “I’d probably have come back in October of 08!” (laughing again). It’s been a long, long learning experience. You know, I’ve had a lot of good times learning to do what I do, you know, working in bars and studios and stuff like that. It’s been a beautiful journey.
Matt: Earlier this year I talked with your buddy Jamey Johnson and he mentioned “The Trailer Park.” What has that group of friends meant to you?
Randy: That group of friends is my family. When we all got to town, we came about the same time. We all kind of grew up together. When I say ‘grew up together’ I mean we kicked down all the doors together in town. And when you come here like that and you don’t know anybody here, you find your family, your “Nashville family.” And that’s what we were and are; a family. We always have each other’s back. We always figured that if there was any way for us to break down any walls and make our mark in town, we’d do it together. That was the only way to do it. So we supported each other.
There’s never been any bickering or any strike between us because we stay out of each other’s business enough to keep all that from goin’ on but we still supported each other. We did shows together, went on the road together, wrote together for years, cried together, laughed together, partied together, like a family. Kinda like a ‘trailer park,’ you never know what to expect. So that’s where that name came together. I’m proud of all those guys and we all love each other.
Matt: Take me back to the day you heard that Trace had cut “Badonkadonk.” How did you feel about that one?
Randy: Well, you know the neatest thing was I was actually driving in town here, we knew he was gonna cut it. One of my buddies called me and said “can’t talk” and held his phone up to the speakers as they were actually tracking the song for the first time. It gave me chill-bumps. And when I say chill-bumps, it’s not a serious song, it’s as silly as hell, but when you think about all that happened up to that point, 20 years of hard work, trying to get a song recorded…All three guys who wrote that (Randy, Jamey and Dallas Davidson), that was our first cut. So when you think about that felling…
Matt: So it was a watershed moment for you?
Randy: It was definitely one. It was the first time we got to go to the store and buy a record with one of our songs on it. You know, as a songwriter, that’s what you’re in it for, to be able to do that. It was amazing.
Matt: That song seems to have a polarizing effect on people, why do you think that is?
Randy: Well, it’s a silly song. Some people crave the deep songs but the fact is that in country music, traditionally, there has been stuff that has been funny, silly while there has been stuff that pours your hearts out. Guess what? Country fans don’t wanna be cryin’ all the time. Some of them wanna party, most of them do. It’s split down the middle because there are a lot of people who are in the home, family state who don’t get to go out and do those things so they love the serious songs that relate to their lives while at the same time there’s a crowd at a bar that wants to have fun and dance. That’s what it’s about, that’s why it’s polarized. There are different sets of listeners. The thing is as songwriters, we write stuff for both of ‘em but as it turns out, the mood we were in at the time, we were wantin’ to have fun. We weren’t trying to change the world.
Matt: Well I heard it was something near and dear to your heart….
Randy: It definitely was, it is very dear…
Matt: And now you have “Back That Thing Up” out (a single for Justin Moore)…
Randy: Yeah, a sort of theme…You know after we wrote that, a lot of people would bring a lot of similar ideas to me and Jeremy Stover actually brought that idea. And you know what, hey, they’re just fun. If you want to hear the serious side from us, just listen to our records, we cover both sides…
Matt: Like “Anything Goes”…
Randy: Yeah, we won’t get pigeon-holed to it. Honestly we don’t give a damn as songwriters. We write what we write whenever we want to. And we don’t care about being criticized about it. You can listen to one of those silly-ass songs and then turn around and hear something serious we wrote…
Matt: For example Jamey Johnson’s “In Color”…
Matt: Tell me about David Letterman. How did that all go down?
Randy: It was amazing. At the time I didn’t even have a song or ever have a single in the top 40 as a singer and didn’t understand why I was being asked to be there. Nobody knew who I was and Paul Schafer says that David heard my song on the radio on his ranch in Montana and called and had me put on the show.
Matt: What was that experience like?
Randy: An amazing experience that I thought somebody was messing with me. I thought my manager was joking, because he’s sort of a joker, he sent me an email about it and I was like ‘whatever’ and then called around and found out it was true. It meant so much more to me to be on that show because nobody on my team chased them down to beg to have me on their show. The fact that a song I sang, my single moved him enough to ask me on the show, and then to love it so much to have another verse added to it, to hear it again, meant so much more to me to get on there. It’s very hard for country artists to get on that show. So being asked and not have people fight for me to be on it was very cool.
Matt: There was another indie country guy (Tim Montana) who he did the same thing with just recently. They ran into each other at a rodeo in Montana and David booked him on the show…
Randy: Is that right? I like that he’s cool enough to do that. He’s supporting artists he believes in.
Matt: What drew you to the song “Anything Goes” as one of the few you didn’t write on the record?
Randy: I was only pitched a few songs, basically the songs I cut. You know when I first came to town I must’ve sang a thousand demos…I had never heard another song lyrically and melodically that fit my musical taste and life quite like that song and it came at the last minute. I wasn’t pitched a lot of songs because everyone expected me to cut my own songs. And I still have a lot of songs that I want to record but we cut a lot of songs for different reasons and it’s a give and take sometimes.
This song, I’ve lived through. It affected me. That’s why it’s very intense when I sang it, it’s still intense to sing it because all the feelings in the song come to me. It hits me hard everytime I sing it. I think that when a song pulls emotion out of me like that as a singer, it’s a song I’ll never grow tired of singing it. It’s something I can feel and it’s a new emotion every time and that’s why we did it.
Matt: What does it feel like when you hear people compare you to someone like Ronnie Dunn?
Randy: You know it feels good in a way because you’re being compared to one of the best but at the same time it’s a bit aggravating a little bit because I sing like I talk and I don’t try to sing like anybody else. Singers have a way in how they project their voices and I think it comes, for me, from the fact that we both grew up singing in bars where we had to be able to hear ourselves without monitors. If you’ll listen, Clint Black resonates from the same place. A lot of singers do. I do think our tenor baritones come from where it was. We’re just country boys.
I love him and he’s been really nice to me and I think he’s the best. So, I think to be compared to the best ain’t that bad. It could be something worse…
Matt…Like William Hung….
Randy: (Laughs) EXACTLY!
Matt: While an artist is always proud of their album and songs equally, they typically have one or two songs that stand out more to them than the others. Is “I’ll Sleep” one of those songs?
Randy: We all have different reasons why we’re proud of all of ‘em and I hate to use the cliché about them being like kids but it’s true. If I was a parent with three kids, I wouldn’t have a favorite for the same reason. “I’ll Sleep” is probably the most personal song on the record. It’s something that was really hard to write about. You know, you hear a lot of songs about losing a parent on the radio and stuff, and as far as I’m concerned I’ll never put that song out as a single. Because, I’m not the kind of guy that wants to put a song out there that’s BS to pull on people’s heartstrings and play on their emotions to make money.
That song’s on my album because it was a piece of my life that I experienced and had to live through. It’s hard to listen to and I can barely sing it because it has a lot of emotions that were hard to deal with, I was 21 years old when that happened. It’s a piece of my life that I’m very proud of.
Matt: If you were to give a short description of your album as a whole what would want it to say?
Randy: I think the record is a picture of my life, if I were a painter, it’s my first album. I think that the first album should reflect your life from a child up until the present. It represents a lot of years of work and different styles I grew up with…
Matt: Like “My Kind of Country,”
Randy: Yeah, that’s Mississippi Rock and Roll. I wanted to do these things because I wanted to see how fun it would to hear these songs recorded, as an artist. There are so many things that I grew up listenin’ to. There’s a Jazzy thing on there (“Lie”). It’s stuff I love. It’s kinda like Blake Shelton recording “Home,” he wanted to explore that sound. So the next album will probably be more honed in on the life I’ve lived between the albums, whether it is a stone country record or a rockin’ phase. This album is a culmination of a lot of years explorin’ a lot of different things and music.
Matt: Are there any favorite albums that you currently enjoy…
Randy: Definitely Jamey, even though he’s my best buddy, that’s my favorite album. It’s the best. Heidi Newfield’s record is really good. I always listen back to old records because I’m not into the poppy stuff.
Matt: What are some of your old favorites?
Randy: Willie’s “Red Headed Stranger,” and “Stardust.” Conway; Any of the Waylon stuff, I wear that stuff out. You know I also gotta get my blues fix, B.B. King, Delbert McClinton, Bonnie Raitt, Michael McDonald. On top of that I’ll listen to rock stuff like Fiction Plane and 3 Doors Down. But Jamey’s record is by far my favorite.
Matt: Finally, what would you like to say to people who are just learning more about Randy Houser as an artist?
Randy: Read the interview again…(laughing).
I think people should know I’m a real dude making real music. I just didn’t get into this yesterday and I started doing this when I was 5 years old. I don’t remember ever learning how to play guitar. I didn’t do this for the money or the girls or the fame. I do this because it’s all I wanted to do in life.I certainly haven’t made any money (laughs), it’s just what I love to do.
I just want people to know this is real to me.
Note: Randy recently performed unplugged versions of some of his songs for CMT’s “Unplugged at Studio 330.“