Justin Tranchita Talks Ben Carson Campaign Theme 'This Is America'

Justin Tranchita
Courtesy

Justin Tranchita

The singer-songwriter also praises Adele & Nirvana, details upcoming country album.

For Justin Tranchita, Dr. Ben Carson’s rise in the polls has come with an added bonus: growing exposure for his campaign-endorsed song “This Is America,” which climbed to No. 1 on the weekly Billboard + Twitter Emerging Artists chart the week of Nov. 28.

Tranchita, a 34-year-old singer-songwriter and actor, notably from the Discovery Channel’s Game of Pawns, is preparing for his first country-leaning effort, American Man, out in January. As the release nears, Billboard spoke with the budding country singer on his track’s success, Dr. Carson’s involvement -- including a campaign Christmas album -- and his love for Adele.

"This Is America" is starting to take off now, but it’s been floating around since nearly February of last year.

What came out last February was a bootleg. If you listen to the YouTube version, and then you listen to the song on SoundCloud, it’s different. The words changed. A whole section of the song was cut out. The song evolved over this year. Any musician will tell you, you start a song a certain way, then you come back to it four, five times. Some people say, “He didn’t really write the song for Carson,” – that’s not true.” Did I do a special version for Carson where I said “Carson’s for me” instead of “Hell yeah, it’s me?” Obviously. Campaigns want you to personalize it. The album version of the song is different that his version.

How did Dr. Carson’s campaign get involved with the song?

My manager got the song to Carson. I told him, “I really feel strongly about this election.” I really want to help the country somehow.” I don’t know exactly how it went down, but Carson heard the song, loved the song, and wanted to use the song. But he asked us, “Can you make it a little more special for me? Can you put me in the turnaround?” Of course I said yes, because I think he’s a hell of a guy. So, we did that, he liked it and ran with it within a week. When he put it out on his Facebook and Twitter, I almost had a stroke.

In the weeks since, how has your relationship with the campaign developed?

Our relationship grew from there, to the point where now I’m doing a Christmas album for him. It’ll be me, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Tony Orlando, The Crabb Family. Candy [Carson, his wife] is going to be doing some stuff on it as well. Candy and Ben have been tremendous and very kind. I’ve really loved it. The Carson supporters, the Republicans and even some Democrats, they love the song.

Are you concerned that people are going to completely identify you as a Republican and certain type of person since you’re affiliated with them?

I don’t worry about them, because, let’s face it, Carson’s a nice guy. Carson’s not the kind of guy that’s out there running his mouth or being rude. If your average, everyday American hears that song, they relate to that song. It speaks for itself, and Ben Carson listened to the song, and thought it was legit. That’s why he likes it -- that’s why he’s connected with it.

Besides, anytime you open your mouth, somebody, somewhere’s not gonna like what you’re gonna say. You can be Mick Jagger, Madonna. You can be Justin Timberlake or Justin Tranchita -- somebody’s not gonna like what you wanna say.

For those who may have heard your earlier work, including “The Devil’s Song,” it has a more rock-influenced vibe. But “This Is America” is pure country. What inspired the switch?

My music is a blend of rock, country and blues. I love Johnny Cash. I wrote “The Devil’s Song” after watching Walk the Line. I watched the film, drank a six-pack of Coors Light beer and wrote that song in about 10 minutes.

The album is a blend of rock and country. To a certain extent, rock is transforming into country music. It’s like rock started in country and kind of went out and did its own little thing, and now it’s back. Country music is being honest. It’s not a pop song where you’re trying to commercialize your sound or write a song to take over the world. My last album, minus “The Devil’s Song,” was very commercial. I wrote pop-punk songs. But I wanted to write something from my heart, and I think country music allows you to do that.

I love Adele -- listen, I am in love with that woman and that writing. That girl opens herself up and says, "Look at me. Here I am. I’m naked in front of you." And you listen and go, "Whoo. I believe that." The first time I heard her sing, I about wrecked my car. The first time I heard Nirvana sing, I about wrecked my car. That’s why people love music. It moves us. And I’m so happy, as a singer, when someone hears you.

Thank you to Justin Tranchita for writing his new song "This is America", which is inspired by our campaign and message...

Posted by Dr. Ben Carson on Thursday, November 5, 2015

 

American Man, as you’ve said, is a very personal record. What other subjects do you open up about throughout the album?

The record is a reflection of me. I just opened up and wrote about who I was and what I’ve been through. I wrote about my cocaine use when I was a kid. I wrote about me not believing in God for a while. I wrote about love. I wrote about -- I went to the Academy Awards after-parties with my manager, Robbie Vinton, and I was with all these celebrities, and I went home and wrote the first song on this album, called “Thank You.” It was just thanking God, the universe, and everybody. I think sometimes we just forget to be thankful.”

I worked for a year-and-a-half to finish this thing. I’ve got a song on there called “Saturday Night” that’s about a preacher’s daughter that I ran around with from my hometown. I wrote called called “Country Boy,” which is about growing up on a farm in Illinois. “This is America,” if that particular song can spin a good light on America again and help a country focus on America, focus on us moving forward and standing up for one another as countrymen, it was worth every night spent in a car, without any cash, it was every minimum wage job I worked.

What other things are highlights for you on the next album?

“This is America,” obviously, is a standout for me. I never thought that was going to be the one to take off like a firework. I just quoted what’s her face… Katy Perry, right. I’m tired.

To me, the most commercial song is “Saturday Night” or “She Only Calls Me When She’s Drunk.”. I re-cut The Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl” – that was a hell of a lot of a fun. I got to do a song with Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers [Band] called “It’s Too Late To Go Home Early.” It’s too hard to pick –like one of your kids over the other.

The song that speaks to me the most is “Thank You.” From my heart, I wanted to tell people, ‘Thank you.’ I wanted to thank God as well, “You’ve done me a solid.” Life has been good. It’s hard -- but it’s been good.”

THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.