Easton Corbin is a native of the Sunshine State, but that doesn’t mean he’s a beach bum.
“Most people think of Florida as palm trees and beaches and the whole Miami scene,” he says. “Where I’m at in north central Florida, it’s very rural. A lot of farmland and nothing like you would think. I live about a mile from the Suwannee River. It’s a small-town, country atmosphere.”
His raising in rural Gilchrist County is reflected in his first hit single, “A Little More Country Than That.” Following a visit to Top 20 Countdown, Corbin stuck around to discuss musical heroes, guitar lessons and packing up his trailer for Nashville.
CMT: What was it about “A Little More Country Than That” that grabbed your attention?
Corbin: For me, it really described the way I was brought up, where I’m from and who I am. For a lot of songs, you just have to find that song that speaks to you, and it really did. The whole thing just really paints a picture.
What was on your mind the day you wrote “Leaving on a Lonely Town”?
I got invited to go out to Colorado to write with Mark D. Sanders and Carson Chamberlain. Great writers, very talented folks. That was the last song we wrote out there. I was just looking for a song that George Jones would sing. It’s got that feeling. That’s what I wanted to go for. That kind of country music has always moved me. The sadder the song, the better for me. I don’t know why. My three big ones are Merle Haggard, Keith Whitley and George Jones. Their voices and the songs are phenomenal.
What’s the experience like of going out on a radio tour?
We’ve been doing that for the past seven months or so. It’s been a learning experience. When we first started, that was the first time I had done any real radio interviews. The first day on the first show we did, I actually hosted the morning show with the morning crew so that was a challenge. It was in Des Moines, Iowa, on the Hawk [KHKI-FM]. It was a lot of fun. It’s one of those things — you have to learn to relax and do what you do. It’s a learning process. I think you get better at it the more you do it, as with anything else.
What did you know about the music business before you got to Nashville?
Not a whole lot, just what you see and hear. I didn’t really have big time show business like this playing around home.
What sort of places did you play at home?
I used to play a lot of festivals. I didn’t play a whole lot of bars coming up when I was playing in bands because I wasn’t old enough to get in, most of the time. So we’d play anything people would let us play. We played some originals, a lot of cover tunes, and we kept it to a traditional country thing. You know, it was country music.
Do you get compared to George Strait a lot?
I have heard that a little bit. People ask me how I feel about it. It’s a great honor. It’s really a great honor to be compared to that guy. He’s a legend in the business, but like I always tell them, there will never be another George Strait, just like there will never be another Haggard. I just get out there and sing songs the way I sing them and record the songs that move me and that I can relate to.
When did you know you had that country voice?
Well, with my accent, it’s all I can sing. (laughs) I’d sound funny trying to sing a rap song. That’s what I’ve always sung. You’ve just got to be you, and that’s what I do.
How long have you played guitar?
I started taking lessons when I was about 15 from a guy named Pee Wee Melton. He was in his late 60s or early 70s. He said he first started on the road when he was 16, so he played a lot of music in his days. He had a lot of experience with session work and was just a great teacher and a great mentor. He was teaching at the music store after he retired and moved to Florida.
How long did you take lessons?
There comes a point where you can start learning on your own, but I loved taking lessons and learning how to read music, so I kept taking lessons for four or five years. I loved the process of learning and I loved music.
When you were in college, did you have Nashville in the back of your mind?
Oh, yeah. I started coming up to Nashville when I was in college, playing some writers nights. I was always encouraged to go to college, and that was a smart thing to do. My folks would encourage me to do that, just in case the music thing didn’t work out. There are a lot of great artists out there that never get heard.
You came to Nashville right after college in 2006. Why was that important for you to move here?
Oh, you’ve got to. Like a buddy of mine said, it’s a “must be present to win” situation. You’ve got to be here to do it. Another key thing was to meet good people who were willing to help me and make those connections. You’ve just got to go with your gut. A lot of times, that’s the right way to go.
What do you remember about your first month or so in Nashville?
It was tough for me and my wife because everyone around us at home lived within a 10-mile radius. So it was tough moving up here, being away from your family for the first time. That was the toughest part about it …. I got a job pretty quickly, and we kept our nose down and worked and tried to save. You know, it’s tough when you first move up and you don’t have a lot of money. I was doing a few songwriter nights around that time and trying to write.
And you had just gotten married, right?
We got married a month before that. We pretty much loaded up a trailer with all of our stuff and brought it up. We actually came up before we got married and took the time to look for a place and a job, and we found it.
What does your wife think of all this now?
She’s very excited. There’s been a lot of stuff to get used to … as far as me being on the road and being away from home. But it’s a very exciting time, and there is so much opportunity out there. It’s one of those things, getting used to being away, but you take your focus off of the negative aspects and look at the bright side of it and all the wonderful things out there.
But she knew you were following this dream all along.
She knew it all along. She knew that if she married me, she was going to have to follow the music.