Songwriter Shane McAnally's Immediate Reaction to Best Country Song Grammy Noms: 'Is Taylor Swift Nominated?'

Shane McAnally
Ford Fairchild

Shane McAnally

The good news for Shane McAnally is the country producer/songwriter received two Grammy nominations on Tuesday morning (Nov. 28). The bad news -- if there is any -- is that he is competing against himself. But then he’s been here before. 

This year, McAnally is up for best country song for co-writing Sam Hunt’s massive smash “Body Like a Back Road” (with Zach Crowell, Josh Osborne and Hunt) and Midland’s breakthrough hit “Drinkin’ Problem” (with the band’s Jess Carson, Cameron Duddy and Mark Wystrach, as well as Osborne). He found himself in the same situation in 2014, when he was nominated in the same category for co-writing Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go Round” and Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart.” That year, he won for “Merry Go Round,” as well as for best country album for Musgraves’ Same Trailer Different Park.

He jokes that his initial reaction this year wasn’t concern that his nominations might cancel each other out; rather, it was, “Who else is nominated? Is Taylor Swift nominated?” (Yes, she is, for writing Little Big Town’s “Better Man.”)

McAnally, who was celebrating by decorating his Christmas tree before his 4-year-old twins got home from school, found out about his nominations when his phone started blowing up with texts as he was in the car. “This sounds so cliché. This was probably the first time ever for an awards nomination that I did not know they were happening,” he says. Crowell, Wystrach and artist manager Jason Owen (and McAnally’s partner in Monument Records) reached out. He first called Owen, who offered congratulations. “I said, ‘I know this is going to sound like an asshole thing to say, but what did I do this time?’ And he goes, ‘Are you serious? The Grammy nominations just came out.’"

McAnally’s entries could not be more stylistically different. “Drinkin’ Problem” is a traditional country tune, while “Body Like a Back Road” is a sultry, spoken-word ode. Writing the two songs provided two different experiences as well.

“‘Drinkin’  Problem’ is the kind of song that Josh and I have been writing for years. When Midland found us, we just found it was kismet. We finally had this place for this love of traditional music that right now just wasn’t in fashion. They were doing the same thing in Texas,” McAnally says. “All five of us were in the room together, and we wrote it the first time we wrote together. Josh had the hook: He’d heard it in an old episode of ‘M*A*S*H.

One of the characters said, ‘People say I got a drinking problem, but I got no problem drinking at all.’ He’d held on to it forever. We finally found a vessel. It was a pretty easy day; we knew where it was headed.”

Conversely, “Body Like a Back Road” took months. “It’s the longest song I’ve been a part of in terms of how long it took to write. Sam had the idea, but he knew in order to write an idea like that and it be taken seriously, it had to sound very conversational; it had to sound as if we wrote it in five minutes,” McAnally says. “That proved to be very difficult for working songwriters. Every line we hear, we want to twist it. We kept writing and writing and Sam would chisel away. The magic in that song is you know the chorus after you’ve heard it one time.” 

While McAnally will not receive a statue if they win, he also contributed songs to three of the five albums up for best country album from Lady Antebellum, Kenny Chesney and Thomas Rhett.

If he wins for best song, McAnally already knows where he will place his new gold hardware. “My two Grammys right now are in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but when they are home, I always have a tradition when we go to the Grammys: I move them over and make a place for another one. I would put it right in the spot I’d cleared for it on the mantel. Right between its brother and sister.”

2018 Grammy Awards