Standing lean at 6-foot-6-inches tall and with bright red hair, Eric Paslay is tough to miss in a crowd. And after listening to the singer-songwriter's music, he's even harder to forget.
With his current single, "Friday Night," having peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's country airplay chart, the Texas native recently released his self-titled debut album on EMI Records Nashville.
Even if you don't know his voice yet, you certainly know his music. He co-wrote the Eli Young Band's "Even if It Breaks Your Heart," Jake Owen's "Barefoot Blue Jean Night" and Love and Theft's "Angel Eyes," to name a few. Additionally, "Even if It Breaks Your Heart" earned him songwriting nominations at the Grammys, ACM Awards and CMA Awards.
Paslay describes his nominations as "mind blowing," but accolades aren't something he gets caught up in.
"I never won any of them, which is fine," he said during a visit to CMT's offices in Nashville. "In a way, I'm glad that I know the feeling of being nominated and not winning. I can't wait to hopefully win one -- one day -- but I think I've realized that most big songs and records never won awards or accolades."
He describes himself as a "mumble writer" when it comes to songwriting.
"It just starts off usually with playing something on the guitar, some form of chords and saying to yourself, 'If this was the soundtrack to the movie, what would they say?'" he explained.
That was the approach he took when co-writing "Friday Night" with Rose Falcon and Rob Crosby.
"I either started playing that guitar riff where it starts off the song, or Rob did and just kinda started mumbling how that verse goes, kind of that monotone but rhythmic thing talking about all the things that you don't like, that you wished was the weekend," he said. "And then we thought, 'Oh, wow, there's so many songs about I wish it was the weekend, how about if we're somebody's weekend? You're someone's Friday night.'"
The tune has served Paslay well. Lady Antebellum recorded a version for their Own the Night album, and Paslay's version is the first release from his album. Last year, his recording was also featured during telecasts of ESPN College Football Friday Primetime.
Beginning in late March, Paslay will spend plenty of Friday nights on the road as he joins Thomas Rhett on Brantley Gilbert's Let It Ride tour. The combination of the three artists seems like an ideal situation to Paslay.
"Brantley's written so many songs for other people and has hits himself," Paslay said. "Same with Thomas, and I kind of fit in that same crew, so I think it'll be a lot of fun."
Since moving to Nashville 10 years ago, Paslay has written more than 750 songs. So when it came time to pick songs for his own debut, he simply dug into his arsenal.
"There's definitely plenty of songs that I would've loved to have on the album, but these just fit together," he said.
He further explained, "Life's not the same heartbeat, so it's not just up-tempos and it's not just ballads."
Though his album is an assorted mix of tunes, Paslay's underlying message throughout the project is one of optimism.
"I'm glad God's allowing me to believe in hope," he admits. "I don't ever want to be an influence of making people feel like life is miserable and awful and you'll never make it. I'm always reaching for the good ending.
"And that means you go through some hard stuff, and you go through some times of wondering who you are and where you came from and all that. I'm definitely guilty of putting some deep stuff in songs, but I also love putting just some fun, sexy lines once in a while. I like moving people -- whether it be a love song, a Friday night rockin' song or a song that might get you closer to God."
Paslay accomplishes all these goals with his debut, including "Country Side of Heaven" (featuring backing vocals from Little Big Town) and "Less Than Whole" (co-written with Big Kenny of Big & Rich).
Over the course of writing "Less Than Whole," the song's theme evolved from forgiveness in a relationship to one of spiritual forgiveness.
"Whatever you're going through in life, it kind of can relate," Paslay said. "Whether you didn't get the job or someone fired you to someone broke your heart or you broke someone else's heart. You've got to be able to forgive yourself for it and also knowing that you're forgiven by God if you want to be."
Paslay admits some of his songs are autobiographical, but others come from simply observing.
"We all have a heart and a soul," he said. "We're all human. So I think we all know what it feels like to feel this way or that way. There's a truth in every lyric I write."
Honesty in songwriting is a task Paslay doesn't take lightly.
"In a scary way as a singer and as a songwriter, you're kind of helping people say things that they don't know how to say," he said. "We all want to tell someone we love them or tell them we're sorry or tell them, 'Hey, let's go rock it tonight.' But it's hard to say that in a cool way that they want to listen to and moves them. And when you put something you want to say to music that moves you even more, it's just an awesome combination.
"It's easy to tell somebody how you feel when it's in a song because you can just say, 'Ah, it's just a song, I made it up. ... Maybe.'"