It’s been just about 20 years since Kendell Marvel moved to Nashville. And just about three months since he released his first album Lowdown & Lonesome.
What he’s been doing in the meantime — between the move and the release two decades later — is writing country songs. In fact, he wrote Gary Allan’s “Right Where I Need to Be” the day he moved to town, with Casey Beathard, who he’d met through Rodney Atkins.
While all of that time in songwriting sessions was very well spent over the years, Marvel has also been busy amassing a list of influential songs that is as vast as it is varied. There is the stuff from way-back country singers like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, and from southern rockers like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band.
But Marvel’s not hell-bent on making his playlist a short one. If anything, he told me, he’s the opposite. Starting with K.T. Oslin, and ending with the Foo Fighters — and citing Miranda Lambert and Kenny Chesney songs in between — Marvel has an open mind and an open heart about the music that’s made its mark on him.
“I grew up in the 80s, so every time I hear ’80’s Ladies’ from K.T. Oslin, I just think it’s such a great song. And she was such a great songwriter. It’s like, ‘Damn, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a more honest song.’ She was always a songwriter’s songwriter. She’s singing about herself, because she actually lived that song. Songs like that just turn me on.”
“I used to write with Luke (Bryan) way before he was famous, right when he moved to town. He is a great, great songwriter. He wrote ‘Good Directions’ and then Billy Currington cut it. There probably hasn’t been a better country song in the last ten years. That is country. I’m playing his Crash My Playa show in Mexico in a couple of weeks, and I can’t wait.”
“There are a lot of songs that just take my breath away, like the way Miranda (Lambert) did when she cut ‘The House That Built Me’.”
“When Kenny Chesney did (Bill Anderson’s) ‘A Lot of Things Different.’ That song was one of the best I’d ever heard.”
Foo Fighters‘ Chris Shiflett
“A friend of my daughter’s was a big Foo Fighters fan, and she knew that Chris (Shiflett) did these podcasts about music. So she tweeted Chris telling him, ‘You should check out Kendell Marvel.’ He reached out to me on Facebook and told me to call him. We kept missing each other, and then finally the Foo Fighters came to Nashville. But when Dave Grohl’s mom got sick, they canceled their show, and so Chris came to play at my Honky Tonk Experience show at the Exit/In. We got to be buddies, and actually, we wrote twice last week. He is a huge country music lover, but he comes from a whole different world of songwriting than I do. The way he writes for Foo Fighters is they’ll go in and make up riffs, and then Dave Grohl will put words on it. So they record music with no words. It’s just totally ass backwards to me. That’s not the way I do things. I always start with a title or something, but Chris had never heard of doing it that way. So it was the perfect storm for me to see their side of the world, and for him to see my side.”
It may sound like Marvel gets a little bit of inspiration from everyone, but it also seems like he answers to no one.
“When you write and write and write every day, you run out of stuff to write about,” Marvel told me. “Then the music suffers.
“And that’s a lot of what’s wrong with today’s music. It’s over saturated, and people just write the same song over and over again. I know a lot of artists don’t like it, but it’s what’s working. I get it, but I’m too old for that, to be pressured into doing something that I can’t do.”