Everyone has an origin story, and it’s usually anchored by their childhood home and the streets where they came of age. For country superstar Thomas Rhett, it’s Center Point Road that provides the name for his fourth, and most autobiographical album, to be released Friday (May 31) via Big Machine’s Valory Music Co.
“I wish I could say it was the most exciting thing in the world, but if you’ve ever been to Hendersonville, you know there’s not a lot to do there,” Thomas Rhett says of the Tennessee town, just north of Nashville, where he lived on Center Point Road. “That’s where all my growing up really happened. All my first memories of life were on that little street. So I feel like for this record it made a lot of sense — because the record is super nostalgic to me — to name it after something that had a lot of impact on my life.”
Though he was born in Georgia and spent a year in Texas, the bulk of his youth was spent in Tennessee. “I felt like my growing up was pretty normal in most aspects. I would say what made it abnormal was my dad sang country music for a living,” he says of his father, Rhett Akins, known for such hits as “That Ain’t My Truck” and “Don’t Get Me Started.” “Dad moved us to Nashville in 1995 when he signed his record deal. I lived on Center Point Road from the time I was about six until I was about 21. That was a big chunk of my life that I made neighborhood friends, started playing sports, started dating girls. There were a lot of things that happened for the first time there. It’s really cool to dive back into your 13- or 15-year-old self and try to derive song ideas from that.”
Those memories fueled the anthemic title track, which he co-wrote with Jesse Frasure, Amy Wadge and Cleve Wilson. “Anytime you are looking back into your past and writing a song you have to pick some highlighted moments or else you are writing a 30-minute song,” the reigning ACM male artist of the year says with a grin. “Amy Wadge wrote ‘Thinking Out Loud’ [with] Ed Sheeran so she’s a very good nostalgic songwriter. She helped me take those memories and shape them into what now is ‘Center Point Road.’ It’s tough trying to condense your memories into a three-minute song, but if you can do it well, it makes people feel the emotion that you are trying to make them feel when you wrote it in the first place.”
He recruited Kelsea Ballerini, who grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, to sing on the track. With similar upbringings, he felt she’d understand the song’s message. “We’ve become really good buddies over the last five or six years,” he explains. “It just took a text saying, ‘Hey this is a song I wrote. Would you sing on this with me?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah. I’ll be in the studio tomorrow to sing on it.’ She took it to a whole different level.”
The album also finds Thomas Rhett collaborating with Jon Pardi on “Beer Can’t Fix” and Little Big Town on “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time.” “I wrote that song with Karen Fairchild, which was really cool,” he says of penning the latter with the Little Big Town singer-songwriter. “Then I was with [LBT] when they were putting all their harmonies on that song. It was funny watching them argue with each other about who should sing which part, because then you really get to know the Little Big Town singing process. They are a family, like brothers and sisters.”
“Beer Can’t Fix” was inspired by a bad round of golf with his producer Julian Bunetta. Once they decided to crack open a beer, their golf game got better.
“We were going, ‘Well maybe it was the beer,’ and so we started talking about titles we could write around that and ‘Ain’t Nothing A Beer Can’t Fix’ is what we landed on,” he says of the track he wrote with Bunetta and Ryan Tedder. “I literally called Jon before we even finished the song. I played him the chorus on my phone and I said, ‘I need you to sing on this with me, I think it’s going to be a big song,’ and he put his vocal on it the next week.”
Thomas Rhett co-wrote all 16 songs on Center Point Road. With two small daughters and a busy career, he usually finds it easier to write away from home. “I usually do it on the road. I’ve been very blessed to have had writers who take a couple days a month to come out on the road with me and sleep on a bus. We would literally write from 10 a.m. to 5 o’clock and we’d write again from about 11 p.m. to about 2 o’clock in the morning,” he says. “We try to get as much content on the road as we possibly can because I know that when I go home, that’s my time with my family.”
His wife Lauren is often a source of inspiration, and has been the muse behind such hits as “Die a Happy Man” and “Look What God Gave Her,” the first single from the new album. “For me that song is like a big, ‘Thank you Lord for the amazing woman that you’ve created,’ and I think a lot of people have that same mindset,” he says. “People love my wife and it’s really cool to be married to somebody that your fans love and look up to, and so I think that song got that point across.”
One of the instant grat tracks that fans are already enthusiastically reacting to is “Remember You Young,” an emotional epic that encompasses childhood friends, his marriage, his children and his faith. “‘Remember You Young’ is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written in my life,” he says. “I love being able to talk about my best friends, my wife, my babies and going to heaven all in the same song. There’s a Bible verse that says, ‘Always look at your wife in her youth.’ That Bible verse stuck out to me so much and that’s where this concept for this song came from.”
He adds, “When I see my best friends now — even though they are married and I’m married and we have kids and we dress like dads — I’ll always see them [like they were] in high school or college. It’s the same with my wife and my babies. Even when my babies are graduating from college, I’m still going to look at them like they are three and one. That’s just how it works, and I love the idea of ending the song by saying, ‘One day when we get to heaven, I hope that the Lord looks at us like we’re babies too.’”
For the album’s closer, he reflects back on those days on Center Point Road and how he arrived where he is today. “‘Almost’ was the last one I wrote for this album,” he says. “I just love the concept of looking back [on] your life and going, ‘If I’d done something even remotely different on that night, where would I be today? If I had married the first girl that I thought I loved, where would I be today?’ It’s all these crazy decisions in your life that ultimately leads you to where you are today. I love the sentiment of the word ‘almost.’ I almost did it or almost didn’t do it, and it shaped me to the person I am today. I think it’s a really cool way to close out the record.”