Justin Moore found another reason to love his hometown last week when his latest single, “Small Town USA,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard country chart. And the residents of Poyen, Ark. — population 272, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau numbers — probably love him even more for shining the national spotlight on their community in the song’s music video.
Moore’s debut single, “Back That Thing Up,” was released late last year and made it to No. 38 on the country chart, a respectable start for a brand new artist. “Small Town USA,” which Moore wrote with Dean Maher and Jeremy Stover, made a much stronger connection with country music fans.
“The struggle as a new act, I think, is to go out there and have people know who you are right off the bat, rather than just going, ’Oh, I like that song. Who sings that?'” he tells CMT.com. “We put songs on the album that we thought would give people a good idea of who I am as artist, but it’s just as important for people to know who you are as a person.
“With ’Back That Thing Up,’ people got a good idea that we like to have a good time and that I don’t take myself too seriously. It had a Southern rock feel, which is a big part of my record and my live shows. With ’Small Town USA,’ I think people got a better grasp of what I’m all about as a person.”
Regarding his upraising in Poyen, Moore says, “I grew up middle class. Basically, the only things that matter there are church and family and whatever sport it is that night.”
For years, his family operated a restaurant there.
“We had catfish, barbecue and home-cooked stuff,” he says. “Each night, they’d cook something different. It was all my grandma’s recipes. My grandparents owned it for 10 years, and then my mom and dad owned it for 10 years. They got rid of it about five or six years ago because my dad works for the Postal Service, and it was about to kill him having both jobs.”
Unlike many others who grow up in small towns, Moore never had any burning desire to live anywhere else.
“I always knew I loved it there,” he says. “I was one of the guys who never wanted to leave. There are a lot of people who are like, ’I can’t wait to get the heck out of Dodge.’ I never wanted that. But in order to do what I do, it was absolutely necessary. I missed it from day one.”
He moved to Nashville in 2002 and was signed to a song publishing company shortly thereafter.
“I had a publishing deal, but I wasn’t getting paid any money hardly,” he explains. “I was new, for one, and I was holding all my songs for myself, so I wasn’t getting any cuts. So I sold meat out of the back of my truck.”
A company purchased the meat in bulk and then distributed it to employees who sold it to individuals. But don’t bother asking Moore where the meat came from in the first place.
“I have no idea,” he laughs. “Your guess is as good as mine. But what was funny is that I’d be selling meat one day, and I’d be writing with some big-time songwriter in town the next day. I didn’t want to knock on somebody’s door I might be writing with the next day, so I’d drive out of town about an hour or an hour and a-half when I did that. I didn’t want anybody to see me in that light.”
Moore’s self-titled debut album was produced by Stover, who co-wrote and produced Jack Ingram’s hit single, “Wherever You Are.” Stover’s songs have also been recorded by Martina McBride, Lonestar, Wynonna, Emerson Drive and others.
“The first time we met, we hit it off really good, and we’ve been good friends ever since,” Moore says. “We pretty much wrote the whole record together. It was just a great fit for both of us. I couldn’t tell you where I’d be without him. He helped me find my vision as an artist.”
Moore met Big Machine Records founder Scott Borchetta around the time he created the label in 2005.
“We both wanted to do something together, but he had some priorities he had to get to before he could get to me,” Moore says. One of those priorities involved launching Taylor Swift’s career. Moore was eventually signed to Big Machine’s sister label, the Valory Music Co.
Understanding the need to be patient, Moore says, “At the time, I was 19 or 20 years old, and I thought, ’If I only get one shot at this, I want it to be with him.’ I also thought it would give me more time to write more songs and hone in on what I do, even more than I’d done in the past. It worked out well.”
When discussions began about the video for “Small Town USA,” Moore knew it was imperative to shoot it in Poyen. The video includes cameo appearances by his wife, parents and grandparents.
“We shot in the church I grew up in,” he says. “We shot around the school I grew up going to. I begged and begged to go back home to do that. I just didn’t think we could recreate that same emotion anywhere else. There are a lot of things I’m proud of in my career, early on, but that’s one of the most proud things I’ve been able to do. I could be around for 20 years, if I’m lucky, or I may not be, but nobody will ever take that away from me.”