Jimmie Allen may or may not joking that you can expect anything from drum lines to Tarzan swings when he’s warming up the crowds for Michael Ray this fall with CMT on Tour. But one thing’s for sure — you’ll hear his breakout No. 1 hit, “Best Shot.” In this interview with CMT.com, Allen talks about switching tempos at the last minute, staying focused on melodies, and getting sick of his own song — in the best possible way.
CMT: Let’s talk about “Best Shot.” Why did you choose that song to introduce yourself to country fans?
JA: When “Best Shot” was first written and the label heard that song and another song called “Blue Jean Baby,” they put “Blue Jean Baby” out. And it did well on socials, I think it made the viral chart of all genres. But the head of radio promo heard “Best Shot” and he was like, “Man, there’s just something about this song that connects.” There’s an underlying message and melody, and it feels like the hook of the song really connects with people. That song changed my life. I wouldn’t be here talking to you without it. [laughs]
At what point did he hear that song? I’ve read that it used to be an up-tempo, rock ’n’ roll song
Yeah, he heard it towards once we got it done. When we first wrote this song and did a first demo of it, it was up-tempo. It was kind of like Matchbox20 meets FGL. And then we played it at the Bluebird Café, just acoustic, and my manager, Ash [Bowers], was like, “What song is that?” “It’s ‘Best Shot,’ the song I sent you.” He said, “You didn’t send me that song!” I said, “Yeah I did!” He said, “You did not send me that song!” And we went back and forth for two minutes…
So, we recorded it, and originally it had a little bit more instrumentation in it, and then Ash and the other producer, Eric [Torres], were sitting back like, “Man, let’s pull it back a little more. Just really focus on the lyric and the vocal. Have the music sit back and just be a bed for the lyric and the vocal to lay on.”
Did you have to be convinced?
No, I was a fan of it.
Do you really focus on melodies when you write?
Yeah, melody to me is important. To me, the melodies are more important than the lyric, because you can have a great lyric over a melody that people don’t care about, and they won’t listen. But the melody is the first thing people hear, and when people say, “You know that song?” they don’t sing a lyric, they go, “uh-dun-dun-dun-uh,” they do the melody. Because that’s the part that they get stuck in their brain first, and then I feel like once you get a cool melody then you can put a great lyric over top.
How did you pick up playing guitar?
I got tired of paying somebody $50 to play it! My first instrument, I grew up playing the drums, I was a drummer. I played trumpet in band. I played harmonica, I played piano. And I got to Nashville and I would play these writers rounds and I would have to pay someone $50 to play, and I’m like, “Yeah I’m over that.” So I went and bought a guitar and figured out how to play my songs.
You just sat down and learned it?
Pretty much, I just sat down and tried to figure it out. I was like, well if I put my fingers on somewhere eventually it’ll start to sound good. So that’s what I did.
When “Best Shot” was new, and the more shows you played, the more people would sing it back to you. What’s that experience like, watching a song catch on?
It’s great man, because you see all your hard work and sacrifices start to make sense. There’s so many nights when I’m like, “Why am I doing this? I’m missing out on so much.” I’ve missed weddings, anniversaries, and funerals, and birthday parties, and time with my son… and you’re like, “Why am I doing this?”
And then you have those moments where you play an arena and ten thousand people are singing your song back to you. And then you get messages from people saying, “Hey, this song saved my marriage. My husband’s away in the military, and we type the lyrics back and forth and it feels like he’s next to me.”
Things like that you realize, “You know what? I’m sacrificing my time from the personal side, but this song is doing so much for so many other people.” And it’s great in life to sometimes sit back and relax, just everything’s not about us. I feel like, as humans first, I feel like my first job is to serve. You know, how can I help other people? And it’s been great, seeing a song do that.
Have you always felt that way, that need to serve?
Oh when I was a kid, yeah man.
Where did that stem from?
Probably my grandma. I grew up in church, and just overall, some of my favorite people ever were servants, and servants in the word of putting other peoples’ needs above themselves.
Before you had “Best Shot” and “Make Me Want To,” what was your onstage experience like? How did you get onto shows and playing?
Luckily, before I had my deal, I was in a few different bands and we did colleges. I still didn’t have a deal but I signed with UTA, United Talent Agency. And I might be biased, but to me they’re the best talent agency out there. They put in extra effort in caring about their artists, and being honorable when it comes to relationships they built with festival buyers and music venues.
They go out and work for you. I know friends where they said they don’t always make outgoing phone calls where they’re at, but my agency every day they’re calling. They don’t just sit back and wait for people who want Jimmie Allen. I think that’s kind of a little narcissism — I’m nowhere near the level where people really care about what I’m doing.
So I feel like it’s our job, and everybody on my team, to go out and try to implant ourselves in different areas where we’ve been trying to get booked. So UTA every day is making phone calls to see, “Can Jimmy play here? Can he do this TV show?” From my booking agent to my publishing team to my management to my label, they’re always finding ways to spread me around until people get sick of me.
Yeah, but you want that. You want people to get sick of you, so to speak.
Yeah, my dream was… I used to hear songs on the radio and be like, “Man, I’m sick of that song.” And I finally got it with “Best Shot.” I used to get tweets like, “Jimmie Allen, I love you but I’m so tired of hearing ‘Best Shot’ on the radio.” I was like “Yes! Now I’ve got it, I’ve made it! It happened!”