Trent Harmon Longs For Better Days With Powerful 'You Got 'Em All'
The former 'American Idol' winner overcomes adversity with a highly personal country single.
When Trent Harmon faced 1,000 music and broadcast executives at a Country Radio Seminar (CRS) showcase on Feb. 7, he was under pressure. He hadn’t appeared on a Billboard country singles chart in 10 months since “There’s a Girl” ended its run on the charts dated April 16, 2017. He was about to introduce an extremely personal new single in front of an influential audience, and the electronic keyboard wouldn’t make a sound.
He stood there in the awkwardness, offered a bit of patter to fill time, then delivered a hair-raising performance that earned an instant standing ovation.
“How do you act in that situation?” says Harmon rhetorically. “Just be cool, but it’s hard to be cool in those moments. It’s really hard.”
Especially given the weight of the song. The gut-ripping “You Got ’Em All” came straight out of a horrendously difficult year. Harmon’s former label, Dot, folded, and Core Media Group, the company that owns 19 Entertainment and American Idol, filed a Chapter 11 restructuring plan that left Harmon in limbo. Just as the fog over his business began to lift, girlfriend Kathleen Couch announced in a phone call on June 4 — as Harmon was about to go onstage in Portland, Ore. — that she was heading to Thailand for a work opportunity.
“The only thing that I hear is, ‘I’m moving to Thailand to teach forever,’ ” recalls Harmon. “I think I just let her go. I said, ‘Well, great. Have a great time.’ ”
Two mornings later, Harmon found himself back in Nashville, emotionally fragile, drained from the travel back to town, apparently single and ready to cancel a songwriting session at the Word Entertainment office of Justin Ebach (“Sleep Without You,” “Singles You Up”). Ebach talked him into keeping the appointment, suggesting that songwriters are often their most productive when they’re uncomfortable.
“Those are usually the days where the devil is trying to get you not to write,” says Ebach. “Because something’s ‘on’ that day.”
Harmon spilled his guts to Ebach and co-writer Jordan Minton, and after pursuing several other ideas, Ebach pulled out “You Got ’Em All,” a song he had started about six weeks before. He had the opening line to the chorus — “Girl, I’m still waiting on life to begin again” — and he knew where the key twists to the title belonged. The opening verse would address the woman’s dreams, ending with the wish “I hope you got ’em all.” The chorus would close with the guy’s shattered dreams: “I feel like all my better days are gone/And I think you got ’em all.” And the bridge would cinch it with a reflection on all the memories they had built when they were together: “I hope you got ’em all.”
“We had some of the melody stuff and those kind of things, then we went into Trent’s story, and he was like, ‘This is me, this is how I feel right now,’ ” remembers Ebach. “Then it became Trent’s song. We really just plugged his story in.”
The trio finished the song in about 45 minutes, breaking periodically for an emotional respite.
“We would stop writing for five minutes and just kind of talk and hang out,” says Minton. “When you’re writing a song that’s that heavy, you’ve just got to breathe for a few minutes.”
Once it was completed, Ebach produced three different demos for it, ranging from a stripped-down piano/vocal approach to a full arrangement with a string section. He eventually turned in all three versions to his publisher, though he felt the bare-bones rendition was best.
“What needs to be focused on is the vocal and the lyric,” says Ebach. “When you capture that right, honestly, you don’t need to add a lot of elements.”
That was the setup when Harmon sang “You Got ’Em All” live for the first time on Oct. 19 at his alma mater, the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. With the piano mostly plunking out the spare chords, the performance was posted online, and Crouch — the woman who had inspired the song — spotted it over in Thailand.
“She may have sent me an email,” notes Harmon, “that just said, ‘New song tonight. Wow.’”
Before the year was up, Harmon’s label issues were resolved, and he re-signed to Big Machine Label Group. President/CEO Scott Borchetta pegged “You Got ’Em All” as the single that would reintroduce Harmon.
“The song just killed me,” says Borchetta. “That lyric in the chorus — you know, ‘All my better days are gone/and I think you got ’em all’ — if that doesn’t connect and if that’s not a hit, I’ll never produce another record.”
Borchetta did, in fact, co-produce the song with Jimmy Robbins (Canaan Smith, RaeLynn) on Dec. 20 at Ocean Way Studios. They booked the date for just the one song, which — like Harmon’s CRS performance — meant working under the gun.
“There’s some pressure with Scott being in the room,” admits Robbins, “but at the same time, there’s a lot of good that goes along with that. If he likes it, there’s none of that ‘Well, I hope they like it’ feeling when you turn in a record.”
David Dorn slipped the single-note piano motif into several parts of the arrangement, and the band created an instrumental arc that built slowly without stealing attention from Harmon’s lead. Drummer Nir Z flicked a shaker in the background of the intro, but never hit the toms until verse two. Derek Wells wedged in a pivotal four-bar guitar solo before the break, temporarily taking the spotlight from Harmon.
“There wasn’t any exhale in the song between the second chorus and the bridge, so I really pushed to get that proper guitar solo in there,” says Borchetta.
His history as a mentor to Harmon on the 2016 season of American Idol helped, too. Crouch and Harmon had reunited, and she was actually in the control room as he took on the final vocal. The first attempt was passable, but Borchetta knew he had a better take in him. Borchetta asked him to take a couple minutes, return to the emotional state he was in when he wrote “You Got ’Em All” and try again. With the lights turned low and Crouch in the background, Harmon nailed it on that second pass.
“You can hear a switch flip between take one and take two,” says Robbins. “He just went there.”
Harmon did it again at the CRS performance, finding the song’s emotional hot spot despite the disruptive piano malfunction and the pressure of an industry audience.
“I felt like I had never heard the song before, even as someone that wrote it,” says Minton. “I was just blown away.”
Big Machine officially released it to radio that afternoon, and it topped the New & Active chart dated Feb. 25, hinting at the possibilities for “You Got ’Em All.” Harmon hopes it cements a bigger place in the genre. And he similarly hopes it’s a stepping stone for him and Crouch in whatever future they might have.
“I didn’t want her to go have a great time and me be here blue and miserable,” says Harmon of her experiences in Thailand. “But she had a great time, enough that she’s going back. She’s going to do her thing, and I’m going to tour and do music. We don’t really want to be with anybody else, but we’re not going to hold each other back, either. It’s a good place, just uncharted territory.”
Meanwhile, expect “You Got ’Em All” to be charting soon.