Mitchell Tenpenny Pledges Allegiance to Authenticity
Yes, "Tenpenny" is Mitchell Tenpenny's real last name. He thinks it's Irish, but it could be Native American.
“I gotta spit in a tube," he says with a laugh, referring to how you'd take an online genetic test. "Everyone asks me and I don’t know."
The Nashville-raised singer is proud of his last name and his roots in the country music business. He knows that when it comes to songwriting, authenticity is key. Tenpenny writes about his life and what's going that day. With "Drunk Me," it was a breakup. Jordan Schmidt and Andy Albert helped him write the song in two hours one afternoon, and it was an easy write except for the most important part: the hook. Then Schmidt had to pee.
"He went to the restroom, came back and he goes ‘I got it: Drunk me,'" Tenpenny recalls. "And there was just something about that title that made sense for the whole thing.”
That lyric and Tenpenny's enormous vocal performance not only helped him through a difficult time, but it's beginning to do the same for others. He'll regularly receive messages from fans who are moved by his lyrics, including one who said he was planning to commit suicide, but "Drunk Me" helped bring him back.
Being relatable is necessary to be authentic in the 28-year-old's world. “Growing up here it’s, ‘Are you authentic? Did you sell out if you wrote this kind of song?'" Tenpenny says, remembering the kinds of conversations he's fallen into and jumped out of. "I don’t understand why that’s not authentic or why that’s selling out when you’re trying to make a living in this industry, and it’s very hard to do. If that’s what the market wants and that’s what the listener wants to consume, then by all means write it. And then you can write some other stuff that’s for you, but on the side."
Hold on, Mitch! We've Got One Last Question!
Tenpenny's grandmother worked in country music publishing while he was growing up, and he had close encounters with stars like Brooks & Dunn and Taylor Swift. Through her he got an an inside look at the business, and while he jokes that he doesn't really know what he's doing, the results and his maturity as a songwriter defy his laissez faire messaging. Tenpenny doesn't just write — he builds songs. He understands that what he calls "replay value" (the repeated chorus of "Drunk Me," for example) is essential to hit-making. He accepts criticism that comes with the job (when you write a song called "Bitches," you're going to get some), but doesn't let outside perception steer his art. There are singers and songwriters 10 years his senior who still check every Twitter mention for validation.
"If someone is going to be offended by something I do, then you’re gonna be offended. I’m sorry," he says. "There’s always going to be people that don’t like what you do, or one instance they can take, and I tend to not worry about it.”
Find Tenpenny on Twitter and Instagram at @m10penny. Finding a decent social media handle is the downside of a syllabic name, but he never toyed with changing it. That wouldn't be authentic.
Plus, what would all his ex-girlfriends sing if he was a Mitch by any other name. "Well I don't deal with Mitches no more," they say. It's true!
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