Catching Up With Billy Gilman

Young Singer Talks About New Album, Voice Changes and Learning to Drive

Billy Gilman is getting back to normal — which means the 16-year-old singer is stepping into the media spotlight for the first time since his voice changed. During a recent trip to Nashville, Gilman visited with and talked about the inspirations behind his new album, losing his confidence during the break and what he didn’t receive for his big birthday.

CMT: When country radio programmers ask you about your new album, what do you tell them?

Gilman: Their response has been so great. They’re really liking the new sound and the style that I’m going with. I just tell them it covers all aspects of the country genre, which it does. There’s rock-country, there’s bluegrass, there’s inspirational like One Voice. I’m really honored and proud to have a project like that.

Do you consider the new album, Everything and More, to be a more mature version of One Voice?

Yes, because the CDs have the same messages, but the new one is more “grownup,” if you will. Some of the songs are about my life. Before, on One Voice, I used to sing about other people, like a boy with a foster father who finally meets his real father. But now there are some songs about me, like how hard it was to sacrifice so much and then go away and not do anything because of the voice change.

What was your reaction when your voice change was over?

My initial reaction was, “Finally!” Recording the album did take a while in the beginning because my voice was still changing. And then when it started to become really strong, we did every song over again. … I had to do a couple of songs three times [in three different studio sessions]. And you do the song 25 times, each of those three times. It was lengthy, but it sounds good. It’s really different, but I’m comfortable. I like my new sound. It’s all good.

I hear Andrew Lloyd Webber influences in the album.

Really? Do you hear something like that?

Toward the end of the record.

Yeah, toward the end of the record. … Always on my CDs, we had a funky song on it or a weird song. The first record had “The Snake Song,” which was really different. Then, the second CD had “Shamey, Shamey, Shame,” which was done ragtime with horns. People loved it! So I said, “Let’s do a weird one on this record.” We approached the aspects of Queen, with the strings and the loud guitars and the harmonies [on the last song, “Awaken the Music”]. I said, “We’ve got to make a big finale.” It’s not a song. It’s like an event. I’m glad it came out so well. People are saying, “Whoa! That sounds awesome!” It’s good to know that people are liking it.

I notice that Sandy Linzer wrote a lot of the material this time and also produced the album. What does he bring to the project?

He worked with me on past records, only a couple of songs here and there. I really liked what he was doing. He was working with Lorrie Morgan, so I really liked what his fresh ideas were. He basically wrote all the songs for me, tailor-made, which is cool. You don’t usually get that. He produced the record and got me my new record deal, which is Image, which is amazing. He’s the backer of this album, 100 percent. … The last track, when I heard it first as the demo, I said, “No, I don’t like it.” And we always doubted him, but in the long run, he was always right.

What is the hardest part of having success at such a young age?

The hard part? I would say that even though I have a great personal life, it’s very personal. I have two lives. So many kids in the music business nowadays, their mothers are their managers. My parents are my parents. They want to make sure I’m doing all right and that I’m safe, but they want to support me with what we’re doing. They don’t push. But the personal life is harder. People are always looking at you and wondering what you’re doing. It was hard to go through the voice change because we tried to keep it private, but it was hard. People wanted to know what it was sounding like. And, “Have you squeaked yet? Have you squeaked onstage?” They always lean toward that. … I think the personal life has been the toughest.

Is it hard to come back now that your voice sounds different? Are people skeptical about what it’s going to sound like?

Actually, people are intrigued. They’re curious now, because I’ve been away for so long — two and a-half years. People say, “What does Billy Gilman sound like?” I say, “This is what I sound like,” and a lot of people are liking it. I think it’s just as hard as it was the first time, if not a little easier, because I have a name for myself now. But like you said, my voice was so different back then. I think it will be a lot easier to prove myself because country radio wasn’t hip to playing a kid — and rightly so. And now they’re taking it into consideration a lot more because my voice is a lot more mature. It doesn’t have that kiddie sound anymore.

Was there a time in those two and a-half years where you thought, “Do I really want to do this anymore?”

Oh yeah, there were many times. Many times. I’d think, “It’s not worth it.” But every time I would think that, something would tell me to think positive and think of a record. There would be many times I would go out and think, “I’m never going to sing again.” My confidence level went to zero. It was really scary doing 90 concerts each year to doing nothing at all. It was tough. But as the voice change was ending and it was getting stronger, it was like, “Thank you God.” What we worked so hard to get suddenly had to be stopped. Finally, it was getting back to normal.

You say you had a lack of confidence, but for a 16-year-old, you are incredibly poised.

Well, thank you. But when I say “confidence,” I have a hard time singing in front of people now. As opposed to when you could have given me a boom box on the side of the road and I would sing for whoever. Now, it’s harder for me because there were times I’d do it by myself. I’d try to sing and it would be there. It would sound awful. I’d get hoarse. So the confidence level to go out and sing in front of people is harder now. … It’s really back to normal, but it’s harder for me. Stage fright is coming into play a little late in life. It’s a lot tougher for me in that aspect. Not for talking! That’s fun.

You got a new car for your 16th birthday, right?

No, I didn’t. … I wanted to. We were so close, but I don’t have a permit. Every time I want to sign up to get my permit, I’m always away. Maybe that’s a sign. (laughs) Nothing right yet.

Are you a good driver?

Um, yeah. I can parallel park. But I’m known to put it in park and walk out and keep it running and forget to turn the key off. I’m always in such a rush. Oh well, I’ll learn. So, I have trouble in some spots. (laughs)

CMT Radio’s Miranda Williams contributed to this story.