Co-Writers Help Vassar Deliver 'American Child'

Excerpted from the magazine for

"It's hard to write a sad song right now," Phil Vassar admits of his life these days. "It's pretty incredible."

Indeed, Vassar has a lot to smile about. His eponymous debut CD, released in 2000, was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association for U.S. shipments of 500,000 copies and has spawned five hit singles, including "Just Another Day in Paradise," "Six-Pack Summer," and "That's When I Love You." In May, the piano-pounding singer/songwriter won the Academy of Country Music's top new male vocalist award, and he's been steadily adding to his fan base with high-energy performances on Kenny Chesney's No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems tour. On the personal front, he recently married longtime girlfriend/frequent co-writer Julie Wood.

"I feel good about everything," Vassar says. "I feel I've worked hard for it. I don't feel like anything was just given to me. It's a great time for me and my family. We thank God every day."

Vassar is riding high as he looks forward to the Aug. 6 release of his sophomore effort, "American Child" (Arista Nashville). Was he nervous or worried about the sophomore slump? "I don't think so," he muses. "I felt really good about the songs. I cut three of the songs that were [originally] going to go on the first album, so I'm excited about getting a chance to cut them [now]. Some of the stuff is new. It was a journey, but it was fun."

One of the things that made the journey to completing the new album so enjoyable for Vassar was the collaborative process. He co-wrote all 12 cuts on "American Child," and in addition to composing with successful Nashville tunesmiths Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols, Vassar also co-wrote with Miles Zuniga of Fastball and Rob Thomas of matchbox twenty.

"It's interesting to see what everybody is doing," Vassar notes of co-writing outside the country community. "You never know what you are going to get. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it totally doesn't work. It really worked this time, and I had fun. I think it's cool because they bring something totally different, a different perspective from a different genre. It's neat to do it every once in a while-to step outside the lines. It's fun to see what you come up with."

Vassar penned "Time's Wastin' " with Zuniga. With Thomas, he penned the insightful "Someone You Love," a song that has something of a matchbox twenty-ish lyric filtered through Vassar's own inimitable style. "We both use a lot of words," Vassar says of Thomas. "That's one of the things I love [about] writing with him."

Another song that holds a special place in his heart is the title track. "It talks about me growing up and about [my daughter] Haley," says Vassar. "I didn't know what to write in the bridge of the song. Then I started thinking about how my dad never met his dad [a soldier who died in battle], and I didn't know how to tie it in and solidify the whole song. Then it just worked out in the studio."

Before launching his artist career, Vassar was already known as one of Music Row's top songwriters, having penned such hits as Jo Dee Messina's "I'm Alright" and "Bye, Bye," Tim McGraw's "My Next Thirty Years," and Alan Jackson's "Right on the Money." He was named ASCAP's country songwriter of the year in 1999 and ASCAP's country artist/songwriter in 2001.

Vassar will headline a tour of theaters and small arenas this fall with Carolyn Dawn Johnson joining him on the bill. In addition to the exposure on the road, Vassar has garnered extra visibility via his participation in Wal-Mart's campaign to promote literacy. Vassar wrote and performed the single "Words Are Your Wheels" for the fundraising effort and was joined by special guests Chesney, Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride, and Sara Evans. The song is available exclusively at Wal-Mart locations.

Excerpted from the Aug. 3, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the members section.

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