Women in Music 2019

Makin' Tracks: Noah Schnacky's Debut Is 'One' Upbeat Introduction

Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Big Machine Label Group
Noah Schnacky attends Big Machine Label Group celebration of The 53rd Annual CMA Awards in Nashville at The Bell Tower on Nov. 13, 2019 in Nashville, Tenn.

Twenty-two-year-old Noah Schnacky built a fan base online before he ever considered approaching Music Row about a recording deal, and part of his game plan was to surprise fans with unannounced drop-ins. In those one-on-one encounters, he discovered a lot of teenagers and fellow twentysomethings living lives in isolation. They had made connections on social media, but with fewer face-to-face friendships in their world, turbulent stretches in life are harder to weather.

Thus, “I’ll Be the One,” Schnacky’s debut single with Big Machine, fits in neatly with his personal mission. “I noticed a lot of my fans don’t have very many people that they can call, that they can cling to, when the times get rough and they feel like the world is against them,” he says. “I wanted to write a song to let them know that I’ll be the one to hold them up even when there isn’t anyone there.”

The song's cheery melody, “Sara Smile”-like guitar tone and good-guy lyrical stance all work together to craft an optimistic offer of commitment. “I’ll Be the One” makes a pledge of fidelity with utmost confidence, and with the same sort of bright attitude Schnacky projected when he was introduced to programmers during a Country Radio Seminar luncheon in February. It’s likewise the personality he brought along when he co-wrote “I’ll Be the One” earlier in 2019 with Seth Ennis (“Hooked,” “Call Your Mama”) and Jordan M. Schmidt (“God’s Country,” “What Ifs”) at Schmidt’s glass-walled office in Florida Georgia Line’s Tree Vibez compound.

“He definitely smiles, and he’s like that in the room all the time,” Ennis says of Schnacky, who he had not met before that writing appointment. “So I wanted to do something upbeat for him.”

“I’ll Be the One” was a somewhat pre-selected title for the day -- Schnacky had thought of it when a woman caught his eye in a Nashville restaurant. He didn’t approach her, but he did envision the way the conversation might go if he had introduced himself.

“I remember thinking like, ‘How cool would it be to let a girl know, I’ll be the one to show you chivalry isn’t dead — I’ll be the one to hold your hand and hold the door,’” he says.

Schnacky’s father gave the song’s title a thumbs-up prior to the appointment, and it got threaded into a bit of conversation with Schmidt and Ennis about his musical roots. John Mayer was a common influence among them, and Schmidt introduced a chord progression that resembles Mayer’s “Daughters.” Schnacky chimed in with the opening lines — “Ever since you could remember, girl/You’ve been waiting on a gentleman” — launching into a white-picket-fence portrait of romance with languid, drawn-out phrases. A short, bouncy pre-chorus changed up the phrasing before the chorus rolled out the positivity: “I’ll be the one that you’re calling, talking to your mama all about.”

Before it was over, that chorus put the relationship on hold — not a pause, but a whole series of hold-out phrases: “I’ll be the one to hold you up/Hold your hand, the one to hold the door/The one you’re holding on, that you’ve been holding out for.” “That’s some clever Seth Ennis stuff right there,” says Schnacky.

“That’s something that I feel like I do in a lot of writes,” adds Ennis. “I’ll take a word like ‘hold’ and just see how many different ways I can use it. I think that that’s what a lot of my favorite old country songs do, and we all know that in country there’s always a twist on a phrase or twist on a word.”

As the song coalesced, Schnacky and Schmidt started hammering out the vocals and instrumental support for what would become the demo while Ennis plowed into the second verse. He found one more chivalrous reference — “You want my jacket? Well, you can have it/You want my love? It’s automatic” — and that went into the final version, though there were other places where they pulled back on the nice-guy imagery.

“We changed a couple of things because we were like, ‘Yeah, that’s a little cheesy,’” recalls Ennis. “There’s just like a point where you want to walk right up to it, but you don’t want to cross it.”

They added in a bridge, employing the same phrasing that had appeared in the first-verse prechorus. It referenced the woman’s father, balancing out the “talking to your mama” part in the chorus. All told, the song was written in about 45 minutes, though they spent a lot more time creating lush background lines and harmonies for the demo.

Schnacky brought that recording to producer Dann Huff (Keith UrbanRunaway June), whose music he had studied intensely prior to signing with Big Machine. Despite his youth, Schnacky had some very specific ideas about how the end product should sound.

“He wanted the choruses to explode, and he wanted the intimacy of those verses, and then wanted that — he called it that big sound that he heard on a bunch of records, I guess, of mine,” says Huff.

Schnacky also wanted to balance out the programmed sound of the demo with real musicians. Drummer Aaron Sterling, known for his work on multiple Mayer albums, was a key member of the studio band at Blackbird, along with guitarist Tom Bukovac, who crafted much of the primary guitar sound. (Huff replayed the intro at a later date to get that “Sara Smile”-like tone with a Gibson 335.) Steel guitarist Paul Franklin provided a country ambience to the cheery hybrid sound.

But Huff also encouraged Schnacky to streamline some of the background vocals from the demo to bring a little extra focus to the message. “He spends a lot of time arranging his background parts on his demo,” says Huff. “Some of it was so pertinent; some of it was distracting. Where I really gave him some pushback was when it sounded like a band, a vocal band, as opposed to a single artist. I said, ‘I don’t want to lose the intimacy of your personality.’”

In the end, Schnacky redid most of his harmonies for the final with a bit of extra assistance from vocal pro Russell Terrell.

The upbeat aspect of the production caught on, too. “I’ll Be the One” rolled up a reported 3 million streams in its first month of availability. Big Machine released it to terrestrial radio on Aug. 9, reaching Billboard’s New and Active chart dated Oct. 19. If it works as Schnacky plans, it could provide a little surprise connection — plus a shred of confidence — to a fan base that’s otherwise isolated.

“It feels timely for our culture,” he says. “I respond to [direct messages] all the time — tons and tons and tons of what I see as a lot of people that are alone and may not have other people there, myself being one of them. With a song like this, it’s reminding them what they’re worth.” 

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