Thomas Rhett on his new album ‘Where We Started’: ‘I had to write a party’ | Music | Entertainment

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“We thought we’d be meeting people who were crazy – psychopaths. I was trembling when I shook the first guy’s hand

“We thought we’d be meeting people who were crazy – psychopaths. I was trembling when I shook the fi (Image: GETTY)

It’s particularly unnerving when the convicts are on Death Row… “I admit I was scared,” says Thomas Rhett who performed in front of forty men awaiting execution at a Nashville penitentiary last year, with fellow country stars Tyler Hubbard and Russell Dickerson.

“We thought we’d be meeting people who were crazy – psychopaths. I was trembling when I shook the first guy’s hand.  But the conversations I had with them were entirely normal. We talked about football, fishing, hunting, college, ex-wives, ex-girlfriends, Jesus and forgiveness. They loved country music…

“When you’re in solitary like that you have a long time to feel your guilt. A few said ‘I wish I could tell people about my shame and apologise’. They weren’t monsters, they were normal people who had made bad choices.”

The three singers collaborated on the song Death Row, arguably the stand-out track on Rhett’s new album, Where We Started.

It’s been ten years since he released his first single. Since then, the easy-going star has notched up an incredible 21 US hits, 18 of them chart-toppers, as well as five Top Ten albums, 12 billion streams, and five Grammy nominations. In the States, he’s massive. Yet you wouldn’t know it from talking to him.

“Funny, looking back, I don’t remember the guy I was back then. Maybe that’s something to do with my kids

“Funny, looking back, I don’t remember the guy I was back then. Maybe that’s something to do with my (Image: GETTY)

“I pinch myself every day, I definitely do, man,” he tells me down the phone from his Nashville home. “Funny, looking back, I don’t remember the guy I was back then. Maybe that’s something to do with my kids.

“I remember the venues we used to play, crossing the country in a Sprinter van playing bars to twenty or thirty people…now we play arenas and I’m talking to you in the UK…it’s mind-blowing. It doesn’t feel real. I am grateful for every left turn in my life, every right turn, I am so grateful for the last ten years.”

Georgia-born Thomas, who turned 32 on Wednesday, is so down-to-earth fans ask him for favours. “I get hit up every day to play someone’s wedding,” he laughs. “If I didn’t have kids maybe I’d think about some of that…”

He has four daughters with his wife Lauren Akins (née Gregory), ranging from Willa Gray, 6, to four-month-old Lillie Carolina. The couple were childhood sweethearts, meeting in year one, dating in year ten and, after detours, marrying in October 2012.

“My fans feel so deeply for my family”

“My fans feel so deeply for my family” (Image: GETTY)

You might think that’s a love story worthy of being a country song, but Thomas has beaten you to it. Die A Happy Man, his passionate 2015 love letter to Lauren, went seven times platinum.

“My fans feel so deeply for my family,” he says. “They bring teddy bears for the kids or snacks; they bring letters for Lauren. Hiking in Utah recently we got stopped several times they wanted to have their picture taken with her. She’s become a mother figure for young girls. It was so cool for me to see; my wife is now famous for being herself.”

With 2.6million Instagram followers to prove it.

Born Thomas Rhett Akins, Rhett is the son of 90s country star Rhett Akins – famous for Don’t Get Me Started and That Ain’t My Truck – and his first wife Paige Braswell. But his musical horizons are broad.

She’s become a mother figure for young girls. It was so cool for me to see; my wife is now famous for being herself

“It was so cool for me to see; my wife is now famous for being herself” (Image: GETTY)

“My dad was a big rock ’n’ roller. I’ve seen the Rolling Stones more times than any other band,” he says. “I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, the Ramones, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, Ricky Skaggs…but my musical journey began every morning when my dad took me and my sister [Kasey Lee] to school, it was a new genre every week.”

Lowestoft’s own The Darkness were a huge hairy influence. “I never forget going to that concert in Nashville Municipal Auditorium, and thinking I have to learn how to play guitar solos like Justin Hawkins!”

Thomas was four when he first sang in public “wearing red cowboy boots and a diaper, singing country songs, making sure people were watching, that was when I caught the bug,” he laughs.

At eight he went on stage with his father and sang That Ain’t My Truck. “I loved it! I tried to go on the road with him as often as I could after that.”

“I started a covers band in college playing Eric Church and Jason Aldean songs¨

“I started a covers band in college playing Eric Church and Jason Aldean songs¨ (Image: GETTY)

His first solo performance was a high school talent show. “I sang Letter To Me by Brad Paisley. I was 17 and I messed up all the words but quickly learnt how to recover from that.

“I started a covers band in college playing Eric Church and Jason Aldean songs, and a promoter asked my dad if we’d open for Frankie Ballard. We got $45 gas money…”

He got a developmental publishing deal at 19, writing “horrible songs for a year”; but he learned fast. At 20, Thomas co-wrote I Ain’t Ready To Quit for Aldean’s quadruple-platinum 2010 album My Kinda Party.

He landed his first recording contact soon after. Rhett’s first two singles, Something To Do With My Hands and Beer With Jesus, were US country hits; his debut album went platinum.

The new one packs in a few surprises – a duet with Katy Perry, a burst of Doris Day, and even a soupcon of reggae on Anything Cold. It’s livelier than last year’s Grammy-nominated roots record Country Again: Side A.  “We need upbeat songs after the pandemic, I had to write a party,” he says.

Lockdown threw several spanners into Rhett’s plans, “For a touring musician, it’s worrying how quickly you feel irrelevant. You ask yourself, ‘Does anyone care who we are anymore?’ I could have thrown myself a pity party but a year off did me some good.

“I’d been on the road for ten years, barely spending more than a week at home between shows, and suddenly I was given the gift of time. It helped me balance my priorities, and appreciate what I have.”

In Growing Up, Thomas sings “a little less Jack in my cup, a little less jack-up truck…a little less temper and a lot more love.”

He also regained his passion for fishing and camping, and “learnt to be more patient.”

A romantic soul Rhett had proposed to Lauren with a wine bottle with Sinatra playing in the background. He’d written ‘Marry me?’ on the label. She wrote back, ‘Well, duh, yes!’

“Making records was my way of not following rules. I was trying to create a path” (Image: GETTY)

The newly-weds spent 285 days of their first year sharing a tiny single bed on his tour bus. They initially struggled to conceive, but in the middle of adopting Ugandan orphan Willa, Lauren discovered she was pregnant with Ada James. Their third girl, Lennon Love has just turned two.

They keep the marital passion alive with date nights and trips to the breathtaking Utah mountains.

Born in Valdosta, Rhett says he was “a good kid, but making records was my way of not following rules. I was trying to create a path, never wanted to cut my hair or shave my beard.”

He’s pushed back boundaries too. “Artistically, I like to bend in different directions.” This rattles some traditionally-minded fans but Thomas says Church and Aldean also took chances, and cites Luke Bryan’s pop country success.

Thomas Rhett’s New Album, ‘Where We Started,’

“You have to be fresh, and not be like anybody else. If something starts banging in your heart you have to go with it.”

Rhett expects to release another new album Country Again: Side B later this year. He’s excited that tours are opening up. “I can’t wait. Our concerts are extremely high energy, level ten for two hours.

“I really want to put a stadium date on the tour. I want to shoot pyro and flood crowds with confetti. But I don’t want to do it prematurely. I feel I’ve got some growing to do. My best songs haven’t been written yet.”

  • Where We Started by Thomas Rhett is out now. 



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