No one was more surprised than Eric Paslay when he found out he was nominated for a Grammy. The EMI Nashville recording artist — whose Grammy-nominated collaboration of “The Driver,” with Charles Kelley and Dierks Bentley, is sitting at No. 51 on the Country Airplay chart — was in Sin City when he found out the news.
“I was in Vegas, and I didn’t know anything about the nominations being announced. I woke up to ‘You’re nominated for a Grammy,’ and thought, ‘That can’t be right,’” Paslay tells Billboard. But the rising country star isn’t contemplating the chances of award show recognition. “I think I’ve learned to guard myself from that. For me, it’s all about the music. If things like the Grammys were to happen, I’ll know it’s a side effect of making great music instead of chasing that. God’s just taught me to keep my head down and to keep rocking, and not to overthink it, because a lot of times with awards, there are other things that go on other than just music, and that’s okay.”
Paslay, whose current solo single, “High Class,” is No. 40 on the Country Airplay chart, feels lucky to be making music. “I’m grateful that I am getting another chapter. Not everyone gets that. I’m also glad that we are freaking people out a little bit. When you go from ‘She Don’t Love You’ to ‘High Class,’ people are saying ‘What is this guy doing?’ But, I’m still me, and we’ve got an album of great songs,” he says of his upcoming album. “My first album came out with a fun song in ‘Friday Night,’ and people love fun. I do. I get to shake it a little bit, finally, and people are discovering I’ve got a few dance moves. We’ve got a great band and crew, and they allow me to take my guitar off and hold their own. Until this album, I always had hid behind a guitar on every song. It’s fun to cut loose, and say hey to the fans, and high-five them once in a while.”
The core theme of “High Class” is treating yourself — even when people might question it. “I wrote it with Corey Crowder and Jesse Frasure, and Corey had the title. He said ‘Everybody deserves to be that every once in a while,’ regardless of what they guy at the door thinks you’re worth if,” Paslay explains. “I tend to be all deep behind songs, but it’s just a fun song. If you’re smart about it, you can take a credit card, and spend a grand on you and your baby, drink things and eat things that are way overpriced, and feel like a king and queen. You just can’t do it every night,” he admits with a laugh.
Keeping radio — and fans — on their toes is important to the singer. “I don’t want to be stuck in the image of ‘Oh, he’s that guy who sings that song all of the time,” he says of the brooding “She Don’t Love You,” which hit No. 14 on the Country Airplay chart in 2015. “I don’t write just one song. I think great music is great music. It gets boring if you never grow. Sometimes, you go through growing pains, and sometimes they don’t play your song as much as some people think they should.” Besides, he reasons, “I’m getting tired of being deep, sometimes. I can’t help but being that person.”
The follow-up to Paslay’s 2014 self-titled debut disc is completed, and he’s very optimistic that the public is going to like what they hear. “I feel it’s better than the first, but I know that everyone says that. These songs just seem to really fit together,” says the Texas native. “Some of them have been written for years, but are brand new to everyone. That’s the great thing about a song — it has forever to be heard. The album is all over the place, but in a good way. Every room in my soul is sitting on this album a little bit. I’m excited to see what people think about it.”
In addition to his success as a vocalist, Paslay has enjoyed a successful run as one of Music City’s top tunesmiths, having a hand in writing such hits as “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” for Jake Owen, as well as “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” for The Eli Young Band. Paslay performs those songs in concert, and he enjoys the sometimes puzzled reaction of the crowd who have no idea about his songwriting prowess. “It’s fun to see that. It’s still kind of mind-boggling to see people sing along with them because I remember when I wrote it, I didn’t have a clue. When you write one that you think is a hit, it never gets recorded. I’m so grateful that I get to do it. It makes it worth it when you’re gone all the time.”
One cutthat was particularly memorable was “Turn This World Around,” which Kenny Rogers recorded on his 2013 disc You Can’t Make Old Friends. “It was a very poetic lyric, and he was the perfect artist. You have this guy who has been through a lot, and has so much wisdom. I believed him when he sang it,” says Paslay of Roberts. And getting to lay his vocals on the track himself was an extra bonus. “I remember I was driving over on Charlotte Avenue [in Nashville], and I got a call from Kenny’s producer. He asked me if I would come over and cut the background vocals. All I know on something like that is that it’s not up to us. You just work hard and show up. If you would have told me that Kenny Rogers would have cut my song, I would have thought you were insane, but you never know.”