In bars tonight across America — indeed, around the entire globe — men and women will be telling white lies and huge whoppers trying to entice a little action.
Whether it’s a one-night stand or the beginning of a long-term relationship, people put up all kinds of fronts in an attempt to impress. Thus, Brandon Lay’s “For My Money” has a ring of truth to it. The song has a cartoonish flavor — a run-of-the-mill guy reels in a beautiful woman with the promise of a jet-setting lifestyle he can’t really afford — but even if it seems a bit outlandish, its mix of love and deception is decidedly familiar.
“Deception,” says Lay, “is a great word for it.”
And it has some precedent in country music. Lefty Frizzell’s 1963 single “Saginaw, Michigan” portrays a young man who dupes his father-in-law with a phony gold mine in Alaska, pushing the old man out of the couple’s daily lives. Ricky Van Shelton’s 1987 release “Crime of Passion” features a dumb-struck patsy who gets double-crossed when he helps a beautiful woman knock off a gas station. Kenny Chesney’s 2009 chart-topper “Out Last Night” plays up a string of barroom falsehoods all designed to score a roll in the hay.
“For My Money” dates to 2015, when Lay and songwriter Andrew DeRoberts (“The Weekend”) booked an evening co-writing session. Given the time of day, they specifically wanted to write something on the light side, and Lay brought up the title “For My Money.” DeRoberts started fooling around with a bluesy bassline that Lay associated with the caper flick Ocean’s Eleven. It led them into a storyline built on a high-rolling lifestyle: “She likes to fly in private jets/ Ride in black Cadillacs.”
The woman has ultra-expensive tastes, and the man wants her to believe he can satisfy them. Whether he’s simply telling her a story or he actually has started buying stuff he can’t afford isn’t defined, but it’s clear that he can’t continue the charade forever.
“Either he’s going to get the money that makes the girl stay or she’s going to figure out that he’s lying,” says DeRoberts. “Or, option three, she might actually fall in love with him. You kind of feel bad for the singer. You recognize that he’s maybe not [as honest as] a preacher, but you also kind of root for him.”
The chorus uses a compact phrase and an upbeat, energetic tone to camouflage the raw truth: “She only loves me for my money.” The next phrase employs almost the exact same melody for its confession “I ain’t got none, honey,” but the blues-based progression adds some tension to the mix.
“Because the chord goes to the four minor, it changes both what the harmony vocal does and the way the original melody feels against that harmony,” says DeRoberts. “It makes it feel like a totally different thing.”
By the end of that chorus, the singer reveals the full game he’s playing, hoping he can “find some paper [so] we can really fall in love.” “It’s referred to as paper in a lot of rap songs,” says Lay. “I don’t really go around saying, ‘Hey, let me get some paper,’ but I’ve heard it in a lot of songs.”
DeRoberts fashioned the bulk of the first demo on the night they wrote it, creating an arc in the track by alternating between big, acerbic guitar tones and dropout sections where the arrangement was little more than a vocal on top of drumbeats and hand claps. “That was indispensable when it came time to cut it,” says Lay.
“For My Money” was in his catalog as EMI Nashville introduced him to radio with “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers” in 2017 and “Yada Yada Yada” in 2018. Both songs peaked in the 40s on Country Airplay, but they brought opportunities. They played well when he opened stadium dates for Kenny Chesney, and he was asked to do a Vevo DSCVR performance in New York, where he broke out “For My Money” for the first time.
Producer Mikey Reaves (Caylee Hammack, Emily Hackett) thought that song had a unique edge, and when Lay cut three tracks for an Amazon Originals session in January 2019, they put “For My Money” on deck. DeRoberts supplied the stems from his demo, and Reaves reworked it as a reference when he booked drummer Fred Eltringham, bassist Rich Brinsfield and keyboardist Davis Nash for a Blackbird Studio session that yielded a highly rhythmic undertow.
“The thing that ended up really feeling good was that tom groove for the chorus, which you don’t find often in a country single,” says Reaves. “There are just things about it that felt appropriate because the song lyrically is almost cartoonish.”
Ilya Toshinsky layered spiky guitars on top, and Lay doubled all his vocal parts, creating a power boost to the song’s central character. Big, shouted background vocals added a Def Leppard effect on top of the blues-based chord structure. In the process, “For My Money” folds in ‘70s classic rock, ‘80s hair band and ‘90s country and hip-hop influences.
“Part of his aesthetic is not being too exact or neat,” notes Reaves. “There’s something very knee-jerk and rock ’n’ roll about him in his musical leanings and his songwriting, so I was trying to make it slam and have everything kind of feel intentional, but then again have little things that felt impulsive just stick out.”
Lay also created a spoken-word vamp that lampoons the jet-set lie as the protagonist asks his girlfriend to hold the flashlight while he tries to crank the engine on his stalled truck.
Lay and Morris Higham Management financed the sessions without securing EMI’s approval, then finally took six tracks to the label. He saw “For My Money” as a song that was “too quirky” to be a single. But with Universal Music Group Nashville senior vp A&R Stephanie Wright shepherding the process, EMI got behind the song as the next release. “Everything’s kosher now,” says Lay, “but to be honest, I don’t know what would have happened if they didn’t like it.”
EMI sent “For My Money” to country radio via PlayMPE on Jan. 6, giving listeners a wacky take on the role of deception in love. Even the most honest people typically present the best version of themselves to potential partners, so it’s tough to imagine too many music fans who can’t see at least a piece of their personality in the song. Lay certainly does.
“I’m not going to lie,” he says. “When I met my wife, I’m sure I pulled every card out of the hat to keep her interested slightly enough till we could solidify our relationship a little bit. Absolutely, I’ve used that trick.”