Riley Green: The Songwriting Q&A
Fresh off of his 2020 ACM Awards nomination for new male artist of the year, Riley Green is ready with some new music. And he's ready to talk about it.
The five-song EP If It Wasn't for Trucks is due out on Friday (Sept. 11), and right after his nomination -- but before the release -- I had the chance to ask Green a few questions about the making of the music. Specifically, the songwriting.
Because so far, Green has proven himself to be outstanding on both ends of that songwriting spectrum: he shines in co-writes, and he shines on his solo songwriting. A few such songs from his major-label debut (just one year ago) were "I Wish Grandpas Never Died," "Runnin' with an Angel" and "Numbers on the Cars."
So that's where we started, with Green's poignant song about NASCAR and dementia.
"I’ve always been kind of protective of writing by myself. There are things about my life that no one else is gonna understand. 'Numbers on the Cars' is great example: nobody knew my grandpa, they don’t know where Nesbitt Lake is, they don’t know that he could find a lure in the pitch black dark," Green told me. "There’s something important about where I grew up and how I grew up, and how I tell that story that people seem to relate to.
"I don’t think it’s because I’m one of the best songwriters in the world, I think it’s because I say things pretty plainly. I’m not too complicated."
Then when it comes to getting in a room with other Nashville veterans, Green admitted that at first, that wasn't even a possibility for him.
“I’d written a lot of songs early on in my career, and I didn’t have co-writes because nobody would write with me. I mean, I was nobody. I was just playing shows and writing songs. So co-writes were never something that crossed my mind," he explained. "And when I first started coming to Nashville, my goal had become: I think I should get a publishing deal. I didn’t think I’d ever sign a record deal or have a song on the radio."
His only goal, he said, was: "I think I should be able to make a living writing songs."
He did get a publishing deal, and started writing. His second time writing with Erik Dylan yielded Green's breakout hit "There Was This Girl." And then the songwriting sessions kept on coming. "I started meeting guys like Rhett Akins, and I’m like, 'It's crazy I’m even in the room with him.' And then I stumbled upon a lot of my best writing partners early on, and I don’t really stray too far from that. Randy Montana, Jonathan Singleton, Tyler Reeve, Erik Dylan: my core guys," he said. "The benefit of writing with those guys is that they are great songwriters, and those days when you don’t have it -- it’s not every day you wake up and can write a song -- those guys can pick you up."
The entire EP sounds like it came right out of the late 1990s, including the title track "If It Wasn't for Trucks."
But there was another song in this batch of music that I wanted to know more about. It's called "If I Didn’t Wear Boots," and it's not just another song about cowboy boots. It's about the swagger you have on every time you pull them on.
"I just remember wanting to write a song that was like, 'Man, because I’m this guy who wears these boots, I did a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have done.' Like I probably wouldn't have gotten in this fight or gotten arrested. But if I wasn’t that guy, I would’ve never met this girl. We wrote it in a way that was relatable for a lot of people. Not just in a Western sense. It’s like when you put your cowboy boots on, you mean business. And that’s the person you are," Green said.
When Green made the journey from his home in Alabama to Nashville, though, he didn't see as many pairs of genuine cowboy boots as he thought he would. "Everyone wears those boot shoes, because their jeans are too tight that they won’t go over the top of the boot. They got me some for my first ACM Awards, and I’m not gonna lie, I wore the rest of the outfit, but I wore my Wranglers and my boots. Mine are usually dirty and have been kickin’ dirt around on the farm," he said, "so I thought I should have a song for me to say that my boots are actually boots. You can pull my pants leg up and they’re actually boots."
Full track list for If It Wasn't for Trucks:
1. "Jesus And Wranglers"
2. "If I Didn’t Wear Boots"
3. "Better Than Me" (featuring Randy Owen)
4. "If It Wasn’t For Trucks"
5. "Behind The Times"
Next up for Green is his performance on the upcoming ACM Awards show in Nashville on Sept. 16.