Cole Swindell Talks Nashville Firsts

What Life Was Like After the Big Move

Everyone knows how Cole Swindell is doing now: he’s about to headline his own tour, he’s been racking up hit songs, and he’s very established in the Nashville scene. But it wasn’t always that way. At one point, his future didn’t look quite this bright.

Because anyone who wants to be in country music eventually has to move to Nashville. Usually, they know no one, they have no place to live, and they are most likely unemployed. And they wouldn’t change a thing about taking that leap of faith. So I asked Swindell what it was like when he first moved to Nashville from Georgia in his mid-20s.

Stay Downtown by Cole Swindell on VEVO.

First Home: “I lived over near Germantown. I had a buddy from high school living here, and when we connected, I told him I was moving. He had a spare bedroom he let me use. But it was so small that I had to buy a TV I could hang on the wall because there wasn’t room in the bedroom for anything but the bed.”

First Job: “I had some money saved up before I moved, but I was trying hard to get a Nashville job. I was applying at bars downtown just to be a barback. I was applying for a couple months, but I had no experience. Then Luke (Bryan) said he need a merch guy, and asked me, ‘Do you want the job?'”

First Song: “I tried writing songs in college, but I wasn’t quite there yet. Once I was in Nashville, I wrote one called ‘Call Me Crazy.’ When I heard the demo — I recorded it and had it mixed — I remember almost breaking down hearing it for the first time and thinking, ‘Holy cow. That’s me.’ It was just a moment when I thought maybe this move wasn’t so crazy. But later on, when I’d become friends with Dallas Davidson, I thought, ‘Now I’ll get to write with Dallas.’ Nope. It doesn’t work like that. It took five years for that to happen, because they made me find my own way. I’m glad that songwriters I admired wanted to see if I was worth writing with. You dream of being in a room like that.”

First Gig: “When I got to Nashville, I knew I loved entertaining. But I was infatuated with songwriting. So my first show here was at the Bluebird Cafe a couple years after I moved here and had written some songs. Most people dream of playing there and work their way up to it. I never did those downtown gigs, like how Craig Campbell would sing every Tuesday on Lower Broadway. I didn’t know if I even knew enough songs to play one of those gigs. And that keeps you humble: to see that kind of talent and know that you’re not the only talented one moving to Nashville, today, tomorrow, or the next day.”

First Run-In with a Hero: “I literally had to walk away from Tim McGraw, to keep from breaking down after I met him. It was at the ACMs after ‘Chillin’ It’ was out, and I stayed for the taping the night after the awards. I knew Tim and Faith were there. I told my manager, ‘I’ve never met Tim.’ And by then I’d had a drink, so I was like, ‘I’m going to go introduce myself.’ He was standing in the hallway backstage, and he saw me walking towards him, so it was too late to turn around. He stuck his hand out and said, ‘Hey Cole. I’m a big fan.’ For him to know my name, to be the one to introduce himself, it just was such a moment that I couldn’t hold back my emotions.”

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