2016 has started out right for Granger Smith. The Texan recently topped the Billboard Country Airplay chart with “Backroad Song,” and released his debut album Remington for Wheelhouse Records on Friday, March 4. However, the disc is not his first rodeo. Smith has been releasing music since 1998. The singer took time to chat with Billboard recently about five steps that proved critical in building his career. Each of these has their spot, says the singer: “If you take away either of these, my career is in a much different place.”
1. Signing a publishing deal and moving to Nashville in 2000.
“It was the first time I committed to making music a full-time job. I didn’t have any other hobbies, responsibilities, or even school. It was music — only. I learned about the craft of songwriting during this time — the way to think about both songs and lyrics, and I also learned about hooks. I listened to some of the older guys who ingrained that into me. They would pull out a line and ask me what it meant, and I had never thought about it on that basis. I just thought about if it rhymed. Another pivotal part of that was learning the ins and outs of the studio. I watched engineers put together a demo, from recording all the way to mixing. That turned out to be very instrumental later when I stated recording my own stuff. Also, the relationships I made, like Frank Rogers — who is my producer now, bringing everything full circle.”
2. Moving back to Texas in 2004.
“That came at a time when I had enough songs, and I was ready to go apply these songs to the crowds — to play them, start a band, learn the ins and outs of travel, to learn how to hook up a trailer. That was the beginning of the journey that I’m still on all of these years later. We haven’t stopped since 2004. Everybody in Nashville told me I would regret the move, and I was giving up music. ‘We’ll probably never see or hear from you again.’ I knew for a fact at that point that this was only the beginning. There was no way I could convince people of that, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t moving back to take over Dad’s business. I was going to go to work. I’ll never forget moving to Nashville, and I’ll never forget moving away. Both steps are equally just as important in my career. It was such an exciting time for me. I just thought. ‘We’re going to do this — me and my guitar!'”
3. Writing “We Bleed Maroon”
By 2006, I had put out two albums, which were collections of demos from Nashville. I had exhausted the songs I had written while there. It was time to record again. I cut an album at the house, but nobody paid any attention to it. The gigs weren’t coming in. In fact, it was getting worse. Then, one day I had a conversation with a fan named Benjamin Knox, who was a local artist, and he told me of the importance of giving back. A little while later, I was driving back to College Station following a show, and I realized that I had never written a song about or for Texas A&M. I thought about what it meant to be an Aggie (Texas A&M student), and the traditions. If I did that, and gave it to the right organization, that would be something to be proud of. I wrote [“We Bleed Maroon”], and did a quick guitar vocal. I was behind on the rent, and didn’t even have gas money. I emailed the song to someone at ‘Aggie Muster’ — an event held each April that celebrates those that have died that were Aggies. The next day, I was driving around, and it came on the radio. I ended up re-recording it, and it blew up. I coupled it with four other songs from the EP, and right off the bat, I sold a thousand. I borrowed some money from Dad, and we printed up more, and people were buying it. I learned for the first time about the power of one song, and what it could do. That saved me.”
4. The ‘Invention’ of Earl Dibbles Jr.
“It was 2011. We’re at a similar spot, but a different place. I’ve had a couple more albums, and some regional hits, but nothing was really popping. We felt like we had a good product musically, but we didn’t have a good way to get it to the people. If enough people heard it, they would like it, but we needed something more. We were digging around trying to learn about what would make a video go viral. We thought if we were able to, that would be the vessel to get the music to more people, and they would tell their friends. We came up with the alter ego of Earl, and we thought it was funny, but wondered if anyone else would. It turned out to be our first million-viewed video. It did just that, and Earl took us out of Texas. That did it.”
5. Signing with Wheelhouse Records (a subsidiary of Broken Bow)
“Once again, we had hit another ceiling. We were touring and selling out 500-1,000 capacity rooms, but we knew it was about as big as it was going to get without major radio play. There were a couple ways of doing that — you could hire a promotion staff, and pay them out of pocket, which could be extremely expensive, or you could sign a record deal. It was at that point that BBR came around. They said all the right things, followed it up with a whole lot of history, and understood where we were coming from, and where we wanted to go, and the rest was history.”
“I was in a small town in Virginia with my wife the night before Valentine’s Day. It was 3 a.m. We had been refreshing the chart, and there it was — ‘Backroad Song’ was No. 1. My first thought was ‘Ok. Are we sure about this?’ It’s one of those things like the other accomplishments — you can never take it away from me, no matter what happens. On Feb. 14, 2016, I had a No. 1 hit. I’m so proud of that. That’s a piece of country music history that is mine, You can’t beat that.”