Cole Swindell: In Love With Chill Bumps

How He Fell for Songwriting

After Cole Swindell won the songwriter/artist of the year award from the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) on Sunday (Oct. 9), he posted a video message on the win, calling it the biggest honor of his career by far.

“I moved to this town to be a songwriter. All I ever wanted to do was to write songs,” Swindell said.

The next day, he elaborated on that. And, man, did he elaborate.

In a 1,152-word open letter to Music City published by the Huffington Post, Swindell had a chance to share his gratitude for the past nine years he’s spent making his dreams come true.

“Dear Nashville,

I’ll never forget the day I moved to town. Aug 23rd 2007. It was my dad’s birthday and I was breaking my mama’s heart leaving Georgia. That day was the first year Capitol Records put on the Pub Crawl on Demonbreun Street and some of my biggest artist/songwriter influences were all playing … Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley & Eric Church.

“Almost everyone I met that first day in town all said these words, ‘Welcome to Nashville!’ It reminded me so much of the folks back home and that was comforting. I had no clue if I’d ever be able to write a song like the ones I fell in love with as a kid or if I’d ever get a record deal, but I did know how much I loved music and how much I really wanted to be a part of the industry. I didn’t care what my job was as long as I got to be in Music City.

“I didn’t have much of a story at the time and felt that would be a disadvantage, but looking back now it’s a story that I probably wouldn’t believe unless I had lived it. Selling T-shirts straight out of college for new artist Luke Bryan, traveling the country, meeting fans — like myself — and seeing how it all worked on the road. What a huge opportunity! Toward the end of that gig I had written some songs that I was proud of and for some reason Kerri Edwards, Luke & everyone at Sony/ATV gave me the chance to write songs for a living. I signed my publishing deal and it has been wide open from there.

“There I was sitting in rooms with the songwriters that wrote the hits I had covered all through college. I fell in love with the whole songwriting process and it became my main priority — even over an artist career. That feeling of coming up with a line that gave you chill bumps or made you high five your co-writer had taken over from even being onstage and entertaining.”

Swindell goes on to thank the writers and artists for believing in him, enough to book that second writing session. And to the people who ultimately asked him, “Why aren’t you singing these songs?”

“I signed my record deal with Warner on July 13th 2013, and had my first single picked, ‘Chillin’ It.'”

That was best time in his life, but it’s also when Swindell got the worst call of his life. His father had died in a freak accident.

“How could that possibly be in the master plan? He was the best guy in the world, my biggest fan and was the first person I ever heard play the guitar and sing. I was in shock and lost.

“Who did I turn to? Nashville. This town. My family. Country radio … It was like everyone had my back no matter … and I’ll never forget it. I realized that some of my heroes, like Dierks Bentley, had also lost their dads and were there for me. Things like that make me proud to live in THIS town and proud to be a part of this format.”

Swindell says that the word “country” means a lot more than the sound coming out of your speakers. It’s a big family. It’s how you treat others. It’s how you were raised. It’s lyrics that can change your life.

“We are all getting to do what we love and that’s because somebody took a chance on us. I remember calling radio stations as a kid, annoying the DJ’s to play my favorite songs from George Strait, Reba, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney and every other artist that I still love to this day. Now, to think there are kids doing the same for my music is mind-blowing!

“Nine years ago when I moved to TN, I’m not sure I knew why I was taking such a big chance/risk. But now I do. I realize everything I’ve been through was all to prepare me for the journey and to help others that that have gone through what I’ve been through. To hopefully make someone feel the same way I did when I listened to songs that moved me.”

Moving songs, like Swindell’s massive hit about missing his father, “You Should Be Here,” was the one that made him realize it wasn’t just about him anymore, he says.

“It was for everyone that had been there and knew that pain. Your stories have and will continue to change me for the better,” he said, adding, “Although I don’t like the circumstances of why I had to write the song. I know for a fact if my dad knew leaving this world a little early would inspire a song that would help so many, he would’ve had no problem with it. That’s the kind of guy he was.

“That’s the kind of guy I want to be. Every night I sing that song I know he’s there, best seat in the house, no doubt.”

CMT on Tour Presents the Cole Swindell Down Home Tour kicks off Oct. 26 at the historic Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and runs through Dec. 17 in Charlotte, North Carolina,

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.