When Ashley Gorley was growing up in Kentucky, he wanted to be like Babyface. Years later, he ended up having quite a lot in common with the R&B superstar — when it comes to penning No. 1 hits.
In 2006 Gorley registered his first smash with Carrie Underwood’s “Don’t Forget to Remember Me,” and since then, seldom has a week passed when he hasn’t had an entry on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. (This week he has five.) Among his No. 1s are Darius Rucker’s “It Won’t Be Long Like This,” Keith Urban and Brad Paisley’s “Start a Band” and Trace Adkins’ “You’re Gonna Miss This,” named song of the year by the Nashville Songwriters Assn. International in 2008. His current hit for Luke Bryan, “That’s My Kind of Night,” is currently setting the record for the longest run at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs in 50 years, as it spends its 12th week at the summit.
In high school, the songwriter, who signed with Combustion Music in 2001, listened primarily to pop, R&B and hip-hop, even programming his own tracks in those genres. “I kind of found country late in the game,” he says. “My parents listened to it, I listened to it some. But as country evolved and changed, I really got into it. It was more fulfilling to me than making a track. I really felt at home writing country music and went all in on it.”
Gorley also enjoys nurturing new songwriters, including Zach Crowell and Matt Jenkins, both of whom he has signed to his publishing company, Out of the Tape Room Music, a co-venture with Combustion.
You graduated from Belmont University in Nashville in 1999. It was seven years before your first big hit, Carrie Underwood’s “Don’t Forget to Remember Me.” Did you ever think about quitting?
I got signed a couple of months after graduating. I got a deal probably before I should have-that accounts for a lot of those years [laughs]. One of the first five country songs I wrote was a single for some girl on DreamWorks named Joanna Janét. It reached the top 50. When that happened I thought, “I’ve got this under control.” Then came the reality that this is not going to be that easy. But as long as I didn’t have a boss or a real job, I didn’t get too discouraged. I was pretty confident it was going to happen.
What’s your perfect scenario for writing?
If I have me, someone like [co-writer/producer] Chris DeStefano in the room to make the record and the artist. We did [Underwood’s 2012 single] “Good Girls” that way: me and Chris and Carrie. We could hear her sing it so you can audition the melodies on the spot. [Brett Eldredge’s 2013 single] “Don’t Ya,” the version that’s on the radio, we tracked it while we were writing it. Brett sang it on the couch holding the microphone. Two passes, that’s what’s on the radio. Chris maybe added a steel guitar, but everything else he played there.
What’s the best example of an artist taking one of your songs and turning it into something better?
Hearing Trace Adkins’ cut of “You’re Gonna Miss This,” I thought, “Gosh, look at that!” It had a whole new kind of power. Something about hearing that one really knocked me out. That one in particular, I didn’t think, “Oh, this is going to be huge” at all. I just thought, “Hopefully someone will like that.” That song almost wasn’t recorded; it wasn’t supposed to be a single.
Did you know that Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” would be a smash hit when you wrote it?
I don’t ever know when something is going to be a hit, but I know I like it. I’m never the guy that’s like, “Every song I write should be recorded.” When we listened back to that one, we were pretty excited. We threw a little party in the room.
Zac Brown called “That’s My Kind of Night” “one of the worst songs” he’s ever heard. His comments snowballed into people talking about how too many songs on country radio are about girls in boots and pickup trucks. Do you agree?
No — it’s a natural thing. We’re not going to write about things that aren’t real. I worked on a farm, drove a truck. Everybody I wrote with that happened to. Sorry if that sounds repetitive. I think the reason some of them have a similar theme is because a lot of country Friday nights have a similar theme in reality. All of that [criticism] was really, really interesting to me. At first you want to let it hurt your feelings or you question the character of what you’re writing, but if you have “You’re Gonna Miss This” [and] “That’s My Kind of Night,” I’m very comfortable with running that spectrum.
What do you do when one of your songs comes on the radio?
I turn it up real loud. I still can’t believe any of it at all. And the guys I write with are like that too. It’s like we’re all in high school trying to win the state championship.