Country-rapping songwriter Colt Ford has spent most of the last decade building a solid foundation of fans, despite an almost complete lack of radio play. So when it came time for his fifth self-released album, the larger-than-life Georgia boy had two goals -- to say "thank you" to those longtime believers and offer something new without rocking the boat.
"I was really conscious on this record of giving those fans -- the ones that got me here to start with -- the stuff that they love," Ford told CMT.com during an office visit. "And then pushing them a little bit further where they go, 'Oh, I didn't know he could do that. That's pretty cool, too.'"
Ford named his project Thanks for Listening with that first idea in mind and then pushed forward by doing all the singing on his new track, "Workin' On." In the past, he had recruited his buddies to sing the chorus hooks.
To be sure, famous friends like Lee BriceJustin Moore, Randy Houser and Keith Urban all appear on the new album. But now Ford is confident enough to really put himself out there.
Now that hip-hop has gone from the fringe to the mainstream, the "Dirt Road Anthem" co-writer takes stock of his place in country music.
CMT: How happy are you to hear all the hip-hop influence on country radio now?
Ford: I'd be happier if it was more of me! (laughs) Nah, I mean, I am happy with that. I didn't set out to do anything. And I've had quite a few interviews where the guy's like, "I think that if you hadn't put out Ride Through the Country and then 'Dirt Road Anthem' came along, there'd be a lot of these songs that probably would not be on the radio." So that's cool and flattering for someone to say that ... but also frustrating for me because I hear songs that I'm going, "Wait a minute. This is exactly what I do. Why are you playing that, and you won't play me?"
Why did you want to call this album Thanks for Listening?
It's because I don't know that I'll ever win an award or do anything like that. Which is fine. I never made music to win an award. But that's mostly the time you see fans get thanked. It's one of those things like people say, "I should have told them while they were alive."
And that's where this title and this song came from. I really meant "thank you." Because without them, we don't exist. They are the music, the fans are. It's not me. It ain't Jason [Aldean], it ain't Carrie [Underwood]. It's the fans. We go away. The music's what lives on, and that's what's really cool.
Can you tell me a little bit about the first single?
The song's called "Workin' On," and it's completely [my vocals]. So that's very different. I sang the chorus. It's one of my favorite things I've ever recorded. It's hard to put pain and hope in the same song. And what it's about is talking to the man in the mirror. I think everybody can relate to that. The one person that you constantly have to deal with every day is yourself, and you have to look at yourself in the mirror, and you have to try to get a little better.
It's saying, "Yeah, I have screwed up some things, but I'm workin' on laughing at myself, admitting that I'm wrong. I'm doing a little better at losing my temper and my tools." There's some pain but there's hope in there, too. I don't know what it'll do. I don't know if they'll play it. But I'm damn proud of it, I can tell you that.
What was it like to work with some of the stars that helped out on the record?
Everybody I've recorded with, I could call them on the phone right now. I mean, I have their numbers. We talk. We're friends. Me and Randy [Houser] have been buddies since the beginning. Jerrod Niemann -- we've been buddies since I first came to town. So having them was easy. Me and Justin Moore talked about it. We finally just found the right song. Lee Brice -- been a friend since the very beginning. I got him on a real personal song.
Honestly, the one that people are a little bit shocked about is Keith Urban. I've been a fan for a really long time. He's such a complete artist -- elite singer, elite guitar player, elite songwriter. He's the complete package. And he's also one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. He has been very nice to me since the day we met. He gave me his number, and we've talked, and I've always said, "I want to do a song with you." He's like, "Find the right song. We'll do it." And when I found this song, "She's Like," I played it, and he heard it one time and started singing it. He was like, "I like this. I could do this."
How did you and Keith meet?
I met Keith at the CMT Music Awards in 2010, I think. I'm walking down the hallway backstage, and he's walking over here, and I see him veer off and start coming toward me. He's like, "Hey, Colt, I'm Keith Urban." And I'm like, "Yeah, no shit." And he's like, "Man, I'm just a huge fan of what you do, and I love that 'Chicken and Biscuits' song." And I was just like, "Wow! He knows my music!"
Then we had a show together. It was actually me and him and Charlie Daniels that had a show together in Florida. He watched the entire show. He never left. I walked offstage, and he was the first person standing there. He's like, "That's one of the best live shows I've ever seen." And I was blown away and unbelievably humbled by that.
Afterwards he says, "I know you've got that song. Come over to the bus and play me that song." I went over and played it. And I got Keith Urban on my record, which is pretty cool. That's bucket-list stuff for me. He was like, "Hey, I think a banjo part would be cool. Do you care if I play banjo?" I was like "No, dude, you can play whatever you want to play. You can play spoons."