JT Hodges grew up surrounded by music -- literally. His mother is a singer who turned down a recording contract to raise him and his brother, while his father happens to be a classically-trained pianist who opened the first modern recording studio in Fort Worth, Texas.
It stands to reason that Hodges would pursue a career in the family business. But instead of rushing straight to Nashville, the handsome singer-songwriter wisely paid his dues in the bars, clubs and coffeehouses on the West Coast. He's now on Toby Keith's Locked & Loaded tour, along with Eric Church, and excited about his chance to live the dream his mom so graciously gave up.
He admits that finding his voice took time, but once he was able to make his way to Music City two years ago, he was quickly scooped up by Keith's Show Dog-Universal record label.
"Hunt You Down," Hodges' first single, tells the story of two random passersby who share a perfect night in Memphis, Tenn., before promising to find each other again one day. A video for the bouncy (and whistle-able) track recently debuted on CMT.com, featuring scenes from the perpetual party that's found on Memphis' famous Beale Street.
Hodges stopped by the CMT offices to talk about the single, as well as its dream-like video and how to get along with Toby Keith on the road.
CMT: What was it like growing up in such a musical household?
Hodges: Well, I was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. I grew up in a studio. My dad started the first multi-track recording studio there. It was called Buffalo Sound Studios. And music was never forced upon me, but my brother and I loved being down in that studio, and they always loved it when we took an interest. And we took an interest a lot.
What's your first memory from inside that studio?
There was a moment when my mom was cutting a song that went on to be a No. 1 with Highway 101, it was called "The Bed You Made for Me." I remember being in there sitting on the ground, and my brother was there, too, and the song was like, "Did you tell her she was sleeping in the bed you made for me." My brother started crying because he thought my mom was ... you know. He thought my dad was cheating on my mom. So my brother starts crying, and I start crying. But I remember my mom picking us both up and kissing on us, saying, "It's OK. It's just a song." That was a moment I'll never forget.
You're traveling with Toby Keith and Eric Church on the Locked & Loaded tour. What was your impression the first time you met Toby?
The first time I met Toby Keith, I walked on to his bus. He was signing a bunch of posters, and he goes, "How ya doin' JT? I like you're stuff. I like your songs." And I was like, "Thank you, man. Thank you." And all of a sudden, I turn around, and he's got this whole bar with a keg in there and everything, and I'm like "Holy crap! Can I stay here all day?" And he starts laughing, like, "Yeah, get yourself a beer." It was too early. It was like 11 o'clock in the morning. But after having more conversations with him, he and I are a lot alike in the fact that we can sit and talk football all damn day long. He's a sports nut.
Does he run a tight ship on the road?
He's relaxed. It's funny. Everybody said it was going to be a tight ship. Not at all. He lets you do your thing. Just don't cause any issues for him, and you're all right.
Do you remember what was going on that day you wrote "Hunt You Down"?
It was the night before that inspired it. I went to Memphis and got a private tour of Graceland. Then we all went out on Beale Street. It was a late night, and I had a writing session the next day back in Nashville, and when I walked in a little red-eyed, they all laughed. So I picked up my guitar and just started working on this riff and said, "Let's do a little song about Memphis."
I recognize Memphis in the video, and it seems like a really fun place to film.
Oh, man. Well, Beale Street ... they don't usually let you have cameras on there. We got a favor from the mayor, so it was awesome.
What were the people like?
They were all drunk and having a good time. ... It had been pouring down rain, so the neon lights in the mist of the rain were shining, and it was just like a dream.
One thing that stood out to me about "Hunt You Down" was the whistling. Are you a really good whistler?
I have become one. (laughs)
Do you have to do that every time you sing it?
Yeah. (whistles) I can do it. Still need saltine crackers before I go onstage, though.
I was going to say, there's got to be a trick to doing that every night.
I know. I'm always a little bit nervous right when I get to that part. But, yeah, I'm going to be known as "the whistler" for a while. ... Whatever gets you through the door, you know?