On his first visit to Nashville, at age 12, Joel Crouse got to see the Grand Ole Opry. Ten years later, he’ll celebrate the release of his debut album on the hallowed stage.
An Opry favorite, Crouse has already performed there more than 10 times. He’s also toured with Taylor Swift and charted a Top 40 single with “If You Want Some.” His new project, Even the River Runs, will be released Tuesday (Aug. 19).
“I’m anxious to get it out to the fans. They’ve been waiting for a while,” the Massachusetts native said during a visit to CMT. “Really it’s not so much nerves, but it’s hard to calm down in a situation like this. It’s definitely exciting and definitely a dream.”
CMT: At what point did you move to Nashville?
Crouse: I was 17, and I was coming down here and staying in hourly-rate motel rooms, just trying find a place to live and meeting some writers. I’ve been here just about five years, I guess. I’m working on my sixth coming up.
Were you living out of motel rooms?
Well, my dad would bring me down, and because I was under 18, I couldn’t get an apartment anywhere. So we would stay in these motels for months at a time and write with people and commute from Nashville to Massachusetts. And right when I turned 18, I was able to get my own apartment. I slept on the floor for a year and a-half. I ate mustard-and-cheese sandwiches. So it rocked.
You must have really wanted it.
I did. I did want it — and I still do. I love that story, and honestly it’s made me the stronger person that I am today.
So, what did you and your dad talk about on those long drives?
Well, the title track of the album, Even the River Runs, is actually a song about my dad. After we’d been traveling to Nashville, he said, “Look, you can’t do this from home in Massachusetts. If you really want to go to the next level, you’re going to have to go to Nashville and live there.”
At 17, that’s a really big jump, especially being 17 hours away from family. It’s about my dad saying, “This is your home, but you need to leave to pursue your dream.” My parents are very supportive, and that song is about my whole venture down here.
I read that your grandfather had given you a guitar. Was that your dad’s dad?
Yeah, he’s from Alabama. He introduced me to Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. He bought me my first guitar at 12, set me up with lessons, and by 15, I had a band and we were going up and down the East Coast playing dive bars.
I remember playing this dive bar at 15 and my mom was there at the gig. It was like 9 o’clock at night and these girls shouted, “Let us buy you shots!” (laughs) And my mom was horrified! Like, her 15-year-old son’s up there and these girls are trying to buy him shots. But like I said, my parents have always been supportive. From early on, it was always a job.
How did your grandfather go about teaching you that style of country music?
We just hung out a lot when I was a young kid. He would literally teach me how to play Texas Hold ’Em — really, any kind of poker you can play — at 8 years old. And I don’t know why I needed that knowledge at 8, but it helps me during ACMs in Vegas. But he would just play the music. That’s all he really ever knew. He would listen to Ray Stevens, too. Definitely a ton of influence came from there.
Also, being from up North, my guitar teacher exposed me to a lot of classic rock. The Eagles, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac. And growing up, I really attached myself to Keith Urban, John Mayer and some other folk artists. So really there was a lot of inspiration to the sound of the record and there’s a lot of influence that comes from different types of country, some classic rock, some folk.
How much time do you spend playing guitar or writing on guitar or rehearsing guitar?
It’s weird, man. There will definitely be times when I don’t pick up a guitar for a few days, and that gets weird after a while. I hate that. Writing’s different, too, because I write a lot of songs at the same time. Sometimes I bounce back from songs. I can sit down and write a tune and put myself through it, but a lot of times, for the better tunes, I sit down, get inspired, write half of it and step away from it so I’m not just trying to complete the song. I’m actually trying to complete the story. Songwriting’s been a huge part about why I’m in Nashville.
Can you tell me the story about how your song “Don’t Tell Me” came to be?
Yeah, I was living in Nashville already. Growing up, I was a pastor’s kid. I really never went to high school parties or anything, so I hadn’t experimented with alcohol at all. I was visiting back home and I was with two of my high school buddies and I was in their parents’ basement. We ended up drinking a few PBRs and a couple of shots of Kahlua. My hangover was spot-on the next day.
But that night I was supposed to call my girlfriend at the time and go over to her house, like at 10 or 11, to watch a movie. Well, I had too much to drink, I forgot and I ended up calling her in the middle of the night. She was pretty ticked off, obviously. It makes sense. So that’s where the inspiration for “Don’t Tell Me” came from. I think there are a lot of guys that can relate to me on that song.
You don’t mind putting your foolish behavior on display like that?
Oh, dude, no! (laughs) Probably at first, when I first started out, I was a little more self-conscious. But nowadays, dude, you’ve just got to be yourself. Take me as I am, I guess.