Recently, country music artist ERNEST exploded out onto the scene as a vocalist, but fans have been singing along to his lyrics for years.
Notable names in the industry such as Chris Lane, Sam Hunt, Kane Brown, Florida Georgia Line, Lauren Alaina, and more have turned to the savvy songwriter to bring a vision to life or steer their storyline. Now, the Tennessee native has developed an ear-grabbing collection of his own, and it has his songwriting style written all over it – "Flower Shops (The Album)."
"I think that this is a great one to stamp my name on and say,' I'm here, and this is me,'" the Big Loud entertainer exclusively told CMT. "As far as the body of work goes, this is my favorite one. Some of my favorite songs I have ever written is in this collection. I think it is just a fresh stroke in country music," he added.
Throughout the 11-song project, ERNEST honed in on his traditional country sound. However, he incorporated modern twists to elevate the LP sonically and introduce a fresh yet innovative blend to the honky tonk genre.
Following the record's completion, the hitmaker confessed that he couldn't get himself to turn it off.
"I love listening to my album. Maybe it's an arrogant problem, but I have listened to my album a lot, and I am really happy with it. There's not a song that I don't think is awesome," ERNEST said while also pointing out that he worked around the clock to cultivate the intriguing narrative that is evident within the lyrics.
Alongside producer Joey Moi, the chart-topping crooner spent more than one year reflecting on his personal life to pull inspiration for each thought-provoking melody. With imagery, ERNEST attracts listeners in and illustrates what it was like almost to lose the love of his life.
"I have been able to just dig deep and shamelessly kind of tell my story through songs. Not that people don't do that, because that is what songwriting and storytelling is. It's just for me personally – I haven't found a bunch of guys being able to sing such introspectively," he said. "It is a pretty introspective album beyond just the first three songs being love songs. There's struggle and pain in any love story. I feel like that side doesn't get told often… I'm shamelessly putting myself out there and telling mine," he vocalized with pride.
He mentioned that he strategically placed each song on the tracklist, so his fans could easily follow the rollercoaster-like relationship.
"I put them in order on purpose because it does tell the story of a good love that was almost gone for good," he confirmed. "The last song on the album,' Some Other Bar,' is kind of a playful song that leaves the door open. So, we can pick it back up," he added by leaving a slight hint that new music is on the horizon.
With a wide array of polished tracks at his fingertips – ERNEST disclosed to CMT that he didn't realize that he had a full-length record until the birth of "Flower Shops" featuring Morgan Wallen.
"I didn't know I had an album really until the song' Flower Shops' existed. I kind of danged it as the centerpiece to my project," he gushed. "So, all the songs kind of related to it sonically sounded like it, and connected to that character in' Flower Shops,'" he stressed about the man hopelessly fighting for a girl.
"Some happy songs that match that character are in 'Tennessee Queen,' 'Sucker For Small Towns,' and 'Comfortable When I'm Crazy.' In' If You Were Whiskey,' it talks about the alcohol relationship and how destructive it could be to a good thing…I don't think that people touch on that often because we have a drinking culture in country music."
ERNEST then recalled the country hits of the '70s and '80s and how the sing-songwriters of that time used their platform to underline the harsh realities of antidepressants.
"They are singing about real hurt by drugs and alcohol. I just think that If we're going to have so many drinking songs, I don't mind being the guy that shows the other side of that coin," he fearlessly added.
The rising star declared that he kept the project hush-hush, besides bouncing off ideas with his respected co-writers Jordan Schmidt, Jacob Durrett, Ben Burgess, Mark Holman, Ashley Gorley, Lily Rose, and more. Although, he sent the masters to his good friend and Nashville newcomer, HARDY.
"Honestly, I have kept this project to myself. Like it wasn't until I got all the masters back that I sent the project to HARDY," he said. "I kind of went into my own world to put this project together and kept it to myself about it until it was done. I didn't necessarily need a ton of outside opinions or influence on it."
While listening to the record back and preparing for live shows, Moi thought ERNEST's traditional country sound would shine through if they incorporated a steel guitar. The artist agreed but expressed that it would be challenging to find an instrumentalist to feed off his energy.
That very night, the singer shared that he was browsing through TikTok when he came across a young steel guitarist.
"He looks like one of the boys, and he is just playing the steel guitar. He was playing like a Josh Turner intro, and I sent him a message.' Where are you?' and he goes' Nashville,' and I was like 'OH MY GOD, you're in my band now.' He is a fan of me, Morgan, and HARDY. He immediately sent me a video of him playing the steel solo on' Flower Shops.' Last year, this kid graduated high school, moved to Nashville, bought a steel guitar, and taught himself how to play. He has been a guitar player, but he wanted to stick out," he shared, full of excitement about his hidden gem named Chandler Walters. "Now, he is hopping on our tour bus. I don't know how many times that has happened, but that is what it's all about right there."
ERNEST said it felt good to pay it forward and provide a music hopeful with an opportunity, as several country music stars in the industry have been in his corner cheering him on from day one.
"I wouldn't be where I'm at if it wasn't for Florida Georgia Line taking a chance on me early on. Several people took a chance on me. So, I love that I can bring him on with me – he's a good songwriter too," he declared before rattling off more names. "Early on, The Warren Brothers, Delaney's dad Robb Royer paid me like a thousand bucks a month to not have a job and just work on music when I first met them. Thomas Rhett has been good to me. Obviously, Morgan and I came up together, and Keith Urban's been really nice to me. I don't wear them out, but having people that have gone through what I'm getting ready to go through is really nice," he concluded with gratitude.
ERNEST revealed that the last couple of years have felt like a whirlwind as he slowly stepped out of the writing room into the limelight as a vocalist. While he is used to hearing tracks he has songwriting credits on consume coliseums, the "Feet Wanna Run" singer said that he is still adjusting to fans singing back his material.
"It doesn't get old for sure," the performer laughed. "When I play 'Flower Shops,' they are singing it back, and they are starting to sing some of the new stuff that I just put out. I have always wanted to entertain. That's what I've always wanted to do. I just took the songwriting path to it…because I'm a songwriter at heart and always will be. But, there's the entertainment bone in me, and I am finally getting to use it."
The breakout artist stressed that he plans on playing "Flower Shops (The Album)" for quite some time and confirmed that he is already booked about a year out with live shows. ERNEST is currently out on the road on Chris Lane's FILL THEM BOOTS Tour and will be preparing for several headlining shows soon.