Back in 2008, Keith Anderson was enjoying his biggest hit yet as an artist with "I Still Miss You" not long after "Lost in This Moment" -- which he wrote -- topped the Hot Country Songs chart for Big & Rich. His debut disc Three Chord Country and American Rock & Roll had been certified gold, and the follow-up, C'mon!, was selling briskly.
Then, Anderson disappeared from sight. It was something he tells Billboard he had to do.
"A lot of people don't know why I took time off. It was really for personal reasons. Right about the time I was making C'mon!, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer, and we ended up losing her pretty quick."
As "I Still Miss You" climbed the charts, the lyrics took an emotional toll on the singer. "It was a tough time to go through it and have to talk about it every day and sing it every night. So as soon as we finished that tour, I took some time off to deal with the grief I was going through. That was the best thing I could have done for me to heal."
Time -- and love -- helped that process. "I ended up marrying my longtime girlfriend, and we have two beautiful babies, which brought the joy back to my life. I started writing and performing again and have never had so much fun touring. I'm just having fun."
That fun and attitude comes shining through in Anderson's new EP, I'll Bring the Music, his first new set in seven years. Being back in the studio was a welcome feeling, Anderson tells Billboard. "It was exciting to start recording again. We started performing some of the new songs live, just to see how the crowd reacted. That's what the EP is -- songs that have just gone over so well in the live show, like the title track and 'Wild Girls.' People really seem to be reacting well to them. They're singing it back to me, which is always nice. It feels like 'Pickin' Wildflowers' did at the beginning."
Though he's not officially released a radio single yet (SiriusXM has played the title cut), Anderson says a potential hit from the set could very well be "Tight White Wife Beater," which is about a familiar fashion style. "It's funny, because I guess in country music, everyone knows what the wife-beater is -- a tight ribbed shirt. It's just a fun song about seeing a girl in this shirt and falling in love."
Picking the pen back up was tough for the singer, but he's glad he did. "It was tough to reach for the pen again, because I was so sad, and it was such a dark period. I just lost that creativity and that desire to pick up a guitar again. But once I did, it felt like I was supposed to write these songs of healing. There were a lot of other things that inspired me and helped to bring that back. Then you have that joy and desire to get back out on the road and start playing again."
Songwriting was one thing, but performing those songs on stage again was something Anderson wasn't too sure about. "I was in such a weird state that I didn't know if I was ever going to hit the stage again. A couple of buddies of mine were doing some songwriter shows and asked me to come out and do some songwriter shows with them. That's what brought the spark back -- going out there, just me and a guitar and telling stories. It all came back down to the song -- it doesn't have to be this huge production. That's what brought back the desire. It all just came down to the songs."