Thomas Rhett nabbed a coveted spot on Jason Aldean's upcoming Night Train tour -- just one more thing for him to be thankful for. Another is the early success of his new single, "Beer With Jesus."
Despite its odd title, the second-generation artist says his new single is a serious effort. It imagines what questions a person might ask the Son of God if given the chance, and for Rhett, the most important issues have to do with forgiveness and family.
The son of Music Row songwriter Rhett Akins ("Honey Bee," "Take a Back Road" and more), Rhett graduated from his own publishing deal into an artist role in 2011 and has since honed his skills as a performer and released a self-titled EP featuring "Something to Do With My Hands."
Always ready with a joke and an easy smile, Rhett was a hit onstage during Toby Keith's summer tour, and he makes a bright impression in person, as well. In a recent interview with CMT.com, he describes learning the ropes of stardom from Keith, the inspiration he receives from his dad and where he got the nerve to write a song called "Beer With Jesus."
CMT: You played for fans all over the nation with Toby Keith. How was it being on such a big tour?
Rhett: It was awesome. I think we hit 40 cities by the time the tour was over. It was just crazy. Watching Toby play shows is pretty ridiculous. Watching a show where a guy can sing two straight hours of hit songs is incredible. For him to ask me to go on tour was an honor, and it still is. I got to see America! If it was not for him, I would not have gotten to do that.
Have you learned a lot about performing for a big crowd?
Absolutely. On a lot of tours, you don't get to use the headliner's gear, like catwalks. I went to the first rehearsal [for Keith's tour], and the stage manager said, "Dude, if you don't use the catwalk, we will kick you off our tour." I've played in clubs and I have done writer's rounds, but trying to capture 17,000 faces is a different animal.
Does it come natural to you?
I think so. I've always been "that guy." If someone told me, "I dare you to go up there and sing something" in a karaoke bar, I would be like "OK." I thrive under pressure. So being an entertainer, I think, was my calling.
That must run in the family since your dad was an artist and is now one of the Peach Pickers and a successful songwriter. He must have influenced you. What do you admire the most about him?
One of the biggest things is that when he was an artist, he definitely had his success and his failure, and I think every artist goes through that. It really shows a lot about a guy how he recovers from those situations. When my dad lost his record deal, it wasn't a couple of days later that he went in to a music publisher and said, "If you give me a chance to write songs here, I'll be the best songwriter you've ever seen." That was four or five years ago, and that was when he was introduced to the Peach Pickers. Since then, dad's written seven, eight, nine No. 1 songs and has 60 cuts. It's pretty admirable to watch a guy that could have quit music and done something else recover and go on to be an awesome songwriter.
What did he teach you about songwriting?
In the beginning, I didn't have a style or direction. When I first started writing songs, I didn't really know what was going on, so I would keep quiet in writing sessions with other people. I've kind of found out who I am now.
Is that what gave you the guts to put out a song called "Beer With Jesus"? I figured it would take more of joke route, but it was pretty serious.
Every time I play that song, I'm like, "This song is called 'If I Could Have a Beer With Jesus," and you always get the chuckles and the ha-ha-ha, you know? And I get it because it sounds like a funny title, but it's a really real song. It's just about questions that us writers would ask Jesus if we had 20 minutes to sit down and talk to him. So it's a very deep, emotional song.
Was it hard to come up with those questions?
It was because there are so many things that I would ask Jesus.
What did you end up coming up with?
Well, there are three different choruses and they all start out with the same line -- "How did you turn the other cheek to save a sorry soul like me?" We felt that question was one of the main things. Like, "How in the world did you do what you did when you were here?" There's a question in there ... "What's on the other side? Are my mom and dad all right? And if it ain't too much trouble, tell them I said hi.'" I thought that was a good question for people who have lost parents, siblings and brothers. It's a song of questions, like "How did you do all this stuff? Am I doing OK? Am I on the right track?" Getting the feedback that we have gotten live is pretty amazing. It gives us good affirmation of why we wrote the song in the first place.