He’s not yet a household name, but Eric Paslay has already spent a lot of time atop Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, having co-written three No. 1s: Jake Owens’ “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” Love and Theft’s “Angel Eyes” and Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” But as “Friday Night,” from his self-titled debut album due Feb. 4 on EMI Records Nashville, spends a second week at No. 6 on Country Airplay and rises 13-12 on Hot Country Songs this week, the lanky Texan finally has a hit to call his own.
“It’s awesome to have a song go up the chart as a writer — but the reason why I ever wrote songs is because I love singing them,” he says.
Paslay left Texas for Nashville in August 2003 to attend Middle Tennessee State University. He interned at Cal IV Entertainment, but was let down when a full-time grunt-work office job opened up a month before graduation and he didn’t get it. Paslay remembers his supervisor’s explanation clearly: “‘I came to Nashville wanting to write songs and I got a job and stopped writing. I don’t want to be the guy who makes you stop writing songs.'”
In fact, Cal IV did the opposite, signing Paslay to a publishing deal in 2006. With its help, he’s become one of Music Row’s hottest songwriters, working with Amy Grant, Love & Theft, Lady Antebellum and others, and later signed with Universal Music Group Nashville (UMGN) in 2010. But despite his hits for other acts, Paslay’s first two singles as an artist, “Never Really Wanted” (2011) and “If the Fish Don’t Bite” (2012), languished at country radio, peaking at Nos. 48 and 58 on Hot Country Songs, respectively. “All I know is they weren’t supposed to [make it],” Paslay says.
“If you look at most artists right now, it’s the third single that hits,” he adds, citing Brett Eldredge’s “Don’t Ya” and Tyler Farr’s “Redneck Crazy” as examples. “It’s like you’ve got to go on a few dates with someone to see if you really want them to stick around or not.”
“There have been some really hard times during the life of this project,” UMGN senior VP of marketing Cindy Mabe says. “But Eric started to change the sound of the country format with the songs that he was writing, even though he was getting little airtime on his own. Now, after two misses, a lot of soul searching and wood-shedding, he’s finally shining through.”
“Friday Night” was previously recorded and released by Lady Antebellum for the trio’s 2011 album “Own the Night,” but never released as a single. Paslay knew the song had hit potential, thanks to a TGIF message that’s easy to relate to. “[Friday] is what everybody is thinking about all week long,” he says. “A lot of times people talk about the party and what it looks like, but they don’t ever say, ‘I want to be your party.’ That’s what ‘Friday Night’ is all about. You want to be someone’s Friday night.”
Paslay’s album is a blend of uptempo tunes like “Friday Night,” which is being used in ESPN’s College Football Friday Primetime broadcasts, alongside touching ballads like “She Don’t Love You” and “Deep As It Is Wide.” Grant cut the latter for her 2013 LP “How Mercy Looks From Here” and invited Paslay to sing on it with her and Sheryl Crow. (Paslay has also recorded recent duets with Kenny Rogers and Dionne Warwick.)
After an album-launch party in Nashville on Jan. 31, Paslay will head to New York for a press run and then helm release events in Boston, Baltimore and Knoxville, Tenn. He will then re-join the Eli Young Band on its Drunk Last Night tour. Mabe says UMGN has been promoting the trek heavily to fans online, and also partnered with Fandango for a gift-certificate giveaway so fans can have their own great Friday night.
Paslay says one of the things he’s enjoying most about succeeding as an artist is hearing the audience sing “Friday Night” back to him during his shows. “This is what I came to Nashville to do,” he says. “The last three years everyone was saying, ‘You’re a songwriter — why do you want to be a singer?’ It frustrated me for a while, but now I’m realizing that’s a pretty cool club to be in. Everybody thought Willie [Nelson] was just a songwriter. Everybody thought Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson were just songwriters. I don’t mind being a songwriter in the beginning.”