Welcome to Emerging Country Artist Spotlight, a Billboard series where we highlight an up-and-coming act who is making a splash in the genre. This week’s pick is country singer-songwriter Adam Doleac, who began performing in college at the urging of his roommates.
Adam Doleac never chose the easy path. The independent artist had a full ride to college on a golf scholarship before deciding to pursue baseball instead. When several shin stress fractures hindered his dream of a baseball career following graduation from the University of Southern Mississippi, the drummer taught himself guitar.
“I thought about doing the minor leagues, but I was over baseball and ready to come to Nashville,” the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, native tells Billboard. “Two weeks before the end of the season [junior year] I hurt my shin pretty bad and it pushed me to not getting drafted. The same thing happened my senior year.”
He adds, “Baseball was already pretty random to me. Music was the new exciting thing. I’m not very happy unless I’m chasing after something that is almost impossible. It’s doable, but almost impossible.”
Impossible, maybe, but Doleac has made a name for himself in Nashville as an adept songwriter. In addition to penning his own material, Doleac has had his songs cut by Kane Brown, Darius Rucker and Hootie & the Blowfish on their upcoming album. His latest two-pack of songs, released Friday (June 14), includes the infectious “Wake Up Beautiful” and new single “SOLO.”
Co-written with Jason Gant and Chris Gelbuda, “SOLO” highlights Doleac’s mesmerizing vocals and includes ear-grabbing guitar parts that recall one of his major influences: John Mayer. Below he talks with Billboard about the new song and what he’s learned about the music industry since coming to Nashville.
When was the moment you knew you wanted to be an artist?
I played drums my whole entire life. My dad played drums, my brother played drums, and that’s all I ever did. I had no idea I could sing, no idea I could play guitar until I got to college. My roommates all played guitar. When they would leave the house my sophomore year of college, I would just pick up their guitars and noodle around and try to teach myself. I didn’t think much of it other than a hobby.
When was your first public appearance?
August 10th of 2011. I was 23. [My roommates] would hear me singing around the house and basically made me go book shows. I didn’t want to sing in front of anybody at first — I actually went around and booked three shows in Hattiesburg, the city where I played baseball and where I’m from. I played the first night and 600 people showed up and I had an incredible time. Same thing with the second one. Then the third one, when the record came out, 1200 people showed up and the bar sold out of beer. It was a really cool feeling.
What was the first song you wrote?
The first song I ever wrote was called “Travel On.” It was in the Dominican Republic. We took a family vacation. This was December 29, 2010 — I have a bit of a photographic memory. I remember, because I was on the balcony and had never left the country before. It was me and my brother in a room, and my mom and my dad were in a different room, and we were waiting on them to get ready. I had brought a guitar with me, and so I wrote this song in 45 minutes about being somewhere I’ve never been before. I put it on YouTube, and it got 500,000 views pretty quickly. That was another reason I was excited [and thought] maybe I should do this.
Who’s career do you admire most and would like to pattern yours after?
I grew up listening to John Mayer and Amos Lee, and all these people that you knew who they were when you heard them singing. That’s what I’m still trying to do today. The comment that I got every show I played [early on], no matter where I went, was, “Hey man, you have a really unique voice. You have a really cool voice.” That’s what I latched onto, and tried to figure out how to use that to my advantage in a market with so many male singers all trying to do the same thing.
Who is your dream collaborator?
The artist I’ve listened to most in my life is John Mayer. I love Amos Lee, he’s one of my favorite singers. Those two I’ve listened to probably more than anybody. Shawn Mendes would be really cool. All my favorite artists [have] always placed a big importance on the storytelling. [Country music is] the only place to go for that — when you really want to jump into the writing side.
What’s the story behind your new single, “SOLO?”
“SOLO” is simple. It’s saying to somebody, “Hey I’d rather not spend this day without you, so can you not leave yet?” In a world where everybody is trying so hard to play it cool, this song seems refreshingly vulnerable to me, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.
What song of yours best describes you as an artist?
“Whiskey’s Fine” is the first single I ever put out. It tells the story of how I like to sing. It’s very bluesy — kind of has that Mississippi thing in it — so that shows off that artistic side of what I like to do with the microphone.
What’s the most autobiographical song you’ve released?
“Mom and Daddy’s Money” is the most personal thing I’ve ever put out for sure. The first line is, “It was a red go-kart, a big backyard.” I had a red go-kart growing up. It was what I think of when I think of my childhood. That is a very personal song to me as far as the way I looked at life and the value that I put on parents. I think the best thing you can give a person in the world is two good parents and feeling lucky to have that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about the music industry?
Enjoy it one day at a time. It’s very hard. In sports growing up, if you’re trying to make a team people are like, “Oh, you won’t be able to do this.” All my life I’ve been able to just go, “No, I’m going to do it. It’s going to be quicker than you think,” and I’ve been able to do it.
Music, you have to move to Nashville. It’s going to be five, 10 years before anybody knows who you are, and it’s going to take this long, it’s going to be this hard. It was the first thing that was as hard as advertised. I’ve been here six years now and it takes that long and it is that hard. It’s obviously very frustrating, but I think what comes with the frustration is you lose sight of how cool it is that this is your job and I get to do this every day. Take it one day at a time and love what you’re doing. I’m not good at it all the time, but when I can do that, that’s when I’m happiest.