Honesty is a powerful magnet that always draws an eager audience and it has proven to be a potent tool in Eric Paslay’s creative arsenal. Sometimes playful, often poignant and always thoroughly entertaining, the 6’ 4” singer/songwriter with the fiery red hair and easy smile has quickly earned a reputation as an artist that knows how to capture the attention of an audience and hold them in the palm of his hands.
All it takes is seeing Paslay perform once to become hooked, a fact that has become obvious as he’s toured the country, opening for Little Big Town, The Eli Young Band, Jake Owen and others. Prior to the release of his EMI Nashville debut album, fans have been able to purchase a five-song sampler at Paslay’s shows. “The very first night we got to sell them I gave the merch guy two boxes and he sold out,” Paslay says in a tone that exudes a mixture of humility and awe. After Paslay did the math, he realized that one in 12 attendees went home with his CD. “I’m just excited that I made some fans and they got to take me with them. I’m excited that my music is out there.”
When country music fans see Paslay perform, they want to take his music home and make his songs the soundtrack of their lives. Whether he’s performing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry or taking his place this summer on the Country Throwdown Tour sharing his new hit, “If the Fish Don’t Bite,” Paslay always knows how to reel a crowd in.
His music has substance and depth, but his debut album is every bit as entertaining and accessible as it is meaningful, and therein lies Paslay’s charm. “It’s hopeful music,” he says describing his style. “There’s only one sad song on the whole record and that’s ‘Amarillo Rain,’ but there’s still a beauty behind it that makes people feel alive somehow.”
Paslay has the ability to paint vivid portraits in his songs and he does just that with his new single, “If The Fish Don’t Bite,” a sly, sexy romp about a guy who has plans for his girl beyond casting a line in the water. “A lot of guys are annoyed by chicks coming to fish when it can be a lot of fun,” he says with a smile. “If the fish aren’t biting, why not cuddle up a little closer?”
Whether he’s serving up a light-hearted up tempo tune like “If The Fish Don’t Bite” or delivering an emotionally riveting song like “Deep As It Is Wide,” Paslay proves to be a compelling storyteller and versatile performer. It’s a gift he comes by honestly. “My granddad was a musician,” says Paslay, a native Texan, who was born in Abilene and raised in Waco and Temple. “Granddad and his brothers had a band called Arnold Schiller and the Moonlight Serenaders. My grandfather was Arnold, and they played at dance halls. I was two and a half when he died. It’s interesting how it rubbed off even though I didn’t really know him very well. He had red hair and it’s kind of funny because I like all the things he liked.”
Paslay says his family never pushed him to play music, but supported his interest when he began playing guitar at 15. “I love melodies,” he says. “My dad always had oldies on, and listening to that music growing up influenced me. There’s so many cool melodies and it was great ear candy. It still resonates with every teenager, every grown up, every grandmother because it’s human. That type of music really stays with you.”
By the time he began performing around Texas, Paslay had studied some of the great singer/songwriters and learned how to make a song memorable. “I was influenced by Rich Mullins,” Paslay says. “He was one of those guys I really listened to because he was real. He was a Christian artist, but it was cool to hear someone mix their beliefs with real life. He was honest and it was almost scary honest. I’d listen to his songs and think, ‘Did you really mean to say that?’ It was cool. Then there was Rodney Crowell. I love Rodney Crowell. Johnny Cash has influenced me from his storytelling. He was such a cool storyteller and you really believed him.”
He also studied what made an artist command a crowd’s attention while they were on stage. “I watched Austin City Limits and the Grand Ole Opry,” he says. “I was into everything from country artists to rock artists to Southern rock artists to jazz players. In high school I definitely went and saw quite a few Dave Matthews Band shows and that was always an experience.”
Though most aspiring artists playing clubs routinely perform cover tunes, Paslay learned to lead with his strengths and played his original songs. Even though he was building a reputation for his live show, like most artists, he briefly flirted with a more stable career and during his early days in college, he planned on becoming a pediatric endocrinologist. “I had diabetes and I thought I could help kids with diabetes because I could relate to them and talk to them,” he says.
However, music was too strong a passion to be ignored and following a friend’s advice, he moved to Nashville. Paslay attended Middle Tennessee State University. He also volunteered for anything just to get his foot in a door on Nashville’s famed Music Row. He did everything from help out at a charity golf tournament to change light bulbs in the NARAS office, a feat made easier because of his height. “I’d just go help anywhere I could because I thought if you have a job to do and you do it well, then if they let you be creative and make a record, at least they know you’re going to do it well,” Paslay says. “They’ll know you are going to put all your mind, strength and skill into doing whatever job they give you.”
Paslay landed a deal at Cal IV Publishing. His songwriting credits include Jake Owen’s hit “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” as well as the title track for Donny and Marie Osmond’s country set “The Good Life” and cuts by Lady Antebellum and the Eli Young Band. Though appreciative of the songs that others have recorded, Paslay will be the first to admit he didn’t move to Nashville to be a songwriter, but to be an artist.
He has a passion for using his voice to connect with an audience, and there’s a warm, earnest quality that commands attention, particularly on potent anthems such as “Deep As It is Wide.” “It’s about the hope that there is something bigger and better than us,” he says. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel and there’s something out there. When I finished this song I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a disconnect between each verse, so I went down the street to play it for a friend. The way I was sitting, I couldn’t see her while I was playing. When I was finished singing, I turned around and she was crying, so I figured I was done.”
“Less Than Whole” is a thoughtful treatise on grace and forgiveness Paslay co-wrote with Big Kenny that Kenny included on his 2010 solo album. “Sweet By and By” is an infectious number Paslay penned with his friend Sarah Buxton. “That was the first song we ever wrote together,” he says. “I saw her the other night and she didn’t even know it was on the record. She started crying and saying, ‘I’m so happy it made the record!’”
Though Paslay enjoyed recording the album and has an affinity for the studio, his true love is the stage. “I turn it on when I get on stage. I love to entertain,” says Paslay, who has opened for Dierks Bentley, Clint Black, Eric Church, Blake Shelton and Little Big Town, among others. “The songs on this record are the ones that really connect when I played them live. When I write, I’d rather there be a little bit of hope in every song, even in the sad songs. There’s still hope in there. With all the negativity everywhere these days, I’d like the positive to come out. A song can give you a little boost in confidence or make you fall in love deeper or dream higher. I’m not writing and singing this stuff to be cool. I was never the cool kid. I was the kid standing in the back of the room watching.”
Off stage, Paslay has a gentle, everyman quality that endears him to all who meet him. He loves performing, but is just as comfortable remodeling a bathroom or getting in the kitchen with his mom, Donna, and making kolaches, a pastry that is a favorite among Texans. Most of all, Eric Paslay loves forging that special connection with people that can only be made with a song. “I just love making music. I love how much you can say to someone in a song,” he says. “I want to be a part of the soundtrack of people’s lives.”