Granger Smith brings somewhat of a unique perspective to this week’s New Faces Show, which closes the Country Radio Seminar on Friday in Nashville. Though his Wheelhouse debut Remington became his first top 10 album upon its release in March, he’s far from your average newcomer. He had released eight full-length studio albums prior, with Dirt Road Driveway hitting No. 15 on the Top Country Albums chart back in 2013.
Still, the success of Remington’s first single, “Backroad Song” — which hit the pinnacle of the Country Airplay chart in February — put his career in the fast lane, and he’s very grateful to radio programmers who have put him on the New Faces lineup. “It’s an unbelievable feeling and a testament to all of the great relationships that we’ve made over the last year and a half or so,” he beams to Billboard. “It means that some of these people that I thought were my friends really are.”
Though an artist never wants to single any one radio personality out, Smith says his rise can be traced directly to one special relationship. “When we first started with ‘Backroad Song,’ Brian Michel in Atlanta started playing that at The Bull before we were on a record label and before anyone else knew who we were. He had heard it in the office somewhere. The station is weighted so heavy that it started to chart on that basis alone. There’s a really good argument that without Brian taking that chance when nobody knew me — because he liked the song, and the story behind who I was, we wouldn’t have gotten any traction or gotten the record deal or anything that happened after that.”
Though Smith earned his road stripes in the Lone Star State, where fans can be rabid with their excitement, New Faces offers somewhat of a different challenge in playing to a crowd of industry insiders who have seen it all. “We’ve been thinking about that a lot. This is a show where you really have to play to the room. That’s what I’ve heard,” Smith says. “I feel like over the last 12 months or so, I’ve had a lot of challenges in teaching me to learn how to do that. I came from nowhere at the beginning, and I had to play to the bartenders. There was zero crowd reaction. As time went on, we developed this cult following, and it became so much about the crowd. Then, about 2013, we really seemed to hit our stride where we called it the ‘Yee Yee Nation,’ where they became the sixth band member on the stage. We could play a good show, but the crowd really made the difference between a mediocre show and a great show. It was all about us feeding off them, and that energy.”
Success meant that Smith had to adapt his live approach a little. “By 2016, we were of a lot larger relevance across the nation and playing all sizes of venues. We really learned then how to go back and play the show — even if you didn’t have the energy from the crowd. We might be playing festivals sometimes in the middle of the day in the VIP tent, which was roped off, and those people might not even come until it was 8 o’clock in the evening, and we were playing at 3. The first fan might be in the general admission crowd, which was 50 feet away. We had to learn that it’s not about the front row anymore. I’m going to have to take that into CRS New Faces, because everyone says that people will just stare at you like fish in an aquarium. We’re going to build a show where, hopefully, the music and the show flow kind of take care of itself.”
Smith is quick to credit his BBR/Wheelhouse promotion staff, who have been there since the beginning and continue to push his music. “It’s been such a good family atmosphere, with a real constructive team. We can call each other out when there’s a problem and praise each other when something great has happened. There’s a lot of people on the team where ‘Backroad Song’ was their first No. 1 single, and we shared that together. There were also some veterans who had many singles. We all just fed off that energy. We couldn’t have had the national relevance without them, hands down.”
And will his infamous alter-ego “Earl Dibbles Jr.” make the trek to the stage with him on Friday night? Smith doesn’t hesitate. “Earl has confirmed his invitation to be in attendance on the stage at CRS. New Faces will never be the same,” he says with a laugh.