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Thomas Rhett Gets His Turn in the Spotlight

Thomas Rhett
Courtesy of Big Machine Label Group

Thomas Rhett, the 21-year-old son of country singer-songwriter Rhett Akins, is quickly following in his famous pop’s footsteps as Big Machine Label Group’s newest star on the rise. The younger Akins inked his deal with label, headed by veteran Scott Borchetta, earlier this year and has been hard at work in the studio recording songs for his debut album.

Prior to signing his new record deal, Thomas Rhett received his first-ever artist cut when Jason Aldean recorded ‘I Ain’t Ready to Quit’ for his ‘My Kinda Party’ album (you can hear Thomas Rhett’s version by visiting his Facebook page). Like his father, Thomas Rhett has been establishing himself as a gifted songwriter. He recently had a song cut by Joe Nichols and has even scored himself a cut on the highly-anticipated Scotty McCreery album with the song ‘Write Your Number on My Hand.’

Taste of Country got to know the newcomer recently, and we are excited to introduce you to country music’s emerging star, Thomas Rhett!

Obviously music was always part of your childhood growing up the son of Rhett Akins, but did you ever foresee yourself going down the same path in life?
The story of how I got here is not normal. It is completely a God thing that I am here today, because for the first 17 years of my life, I never thought I would ever do music professionally. I’d always liked what my dad did, but I never thought that I wanted to do it, just to be different. You know how you are growing up … you either do the same thing as your dad or you do something completely different.

When did you start your journey in music?
I played in a punk rock band in high school called the High Heel Flip Flops. I was the drummer. I played drums for like four years. After that happened, I went through a bunch of weird music phases in high school. I finally got to college and went to [Nashville’s] Lipscomb University. When I got there, I majored in kinesiology. I wanted to be a physical therapist because I had torn up my knee and thought it was interesting with the rehab and whatever. I did kinesiology, and after the first four days of class, I dropped out because I was like, “This ain’t the class for me!” [laughs]. I picked up a business major, wanting to do something in sales, but I found out I had to take an Excel spreadsheet class. I was like, “Well screw that … I’m not doing that!” So I dropped my business major, too, and finally ended up doing communications, not having a clue what I wanted to do. I started praying about it and seeing what God wanted me to do because I had no idea, just like most college kids don’t have a clue what they want to do.

So I started a cover band, Brassfish, and we were terrible, absolutely horrible! We’d play a couple of gigs in Knoxville and did some live stuff around some college towns. My dad called me one night and asked me if I wanted to open for Frankie Ballard at 2nd Avenue Live, downtown. He wanted me to try and get as many of my college buddies together as I could to come see Frankie. We packed up our gear and loaded up through the back. I ended up getting a parking ticket while we were loading our stuff in … that’s how un-legit we were [laughs]! So we went up there and played a 35-40 minute set, and my voice went dead after about five songs. I mean … we were seriously terrible. I’ll reiterate that as many times as I can!

We played our show and got some good response from the crowd I guess, because my [now] publisher, Ben Vaughn [who knew me from my dad], walked up to me after the show and said, “Hey man, I really think you’ve got something.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He was like, “I seriously think you have potential to be a country music singer.” He asked me if I had ever written a song before, and I was like, “I’ve written dumb songs in high school, but nothing that was ever any good.” He said, “Do you think you could write a song? Would you want to sign a publishing deal?” I didn’t even know what a publishing deal was. I was like, “Well does it pay?” He said it did, and I asked, “Well does it pay better than me laying hardwood floors in the summer, which I have done for the past couple of summers?” He said, “Yeah, we can make that happen.” I had met Ben before. When I was in college, I asked Dad if I could have a meeting with Ben, because I wanted to work in the tape room at EMI … just get an internship for a class. It’s funny because that happened, and then five or six months later, I actually ended up working there, being paid as a songwriter.

Was it a pretty easy transition to go from life as a college kid to a songwriter?
My friends had no idea what I was doing. It was like a foreign country to all my friends. I’d come home tired every day, and they were like, “Dude you don’t even work!” It’s just hard on your brain. It’s like you’re taking a test for five hours. I’d come home tired every day because I’d have to change mindsets from going to class, then switch over to creative mindset and go work, then come back and do homework. It was kind of a weird life for the first couple of years, but a couple of months later, I got my Jason Aldean cut, and I was like, “Well. maybe I can do this for a living.” Then I started getting more cuts.

When did you start pursuing a record deal?
A little bit down the road, Ben started taking me to labels, just to get my name out there by playing an acoustic set for the A&R people at the labels. I played at Sony, Warner Bros., Universal, Big Machine, Capitol … after I played every one of those places, everyone offered me a record deal. I was just like, “Who am I? Why do I even deserve this?” There are people busting their butts on Broadway doing this hardcore, playing three hours a night for tips, and I didn’t even ask for it. It was completely a God-given thing that I’m doing this. I finally narrowed it down and went with Big Machine Label Group because I just felt so at home with Scott Borchetta and all the people at the label. We don’t know which branch I’m on yet, whether it’s Big Machine or Valory. We’re going to go in and cut this record, hopefully some time this fall and hopefully get out on a radio tour early next year, and hopefully we can put a record out sometime in 2012.

What kind of things has your dad pointed out to you about this business to either do or to avoid?
Well the good thing about what Dad has done, is he could have totally been a dad-ager. He could have totally taken the reins and made every decision that I needed to make and let me make no mistakes that he made when he was coming up doing it. He really let me make my own mistakes. Every cut that I’ve gotten has been without him. Obviously there will be some songs on the record that he wrote with me, but I kind of want to do it by myself so people can’t really say that Thomas Rhett rode in on his daddy’s coattails, you know what I mean? He’s been really big in letting me do my own thing … make me write my own songs and make my own friends in town and make my own connections. He is definitely a humongous reason why I’m here, just knowing Ben Vaughn and knowing all the writers and taking me in and showing me the reins, but then letting me take it from there.

So you’ve already started writing for your album?
I’d say I’ve got about three-fourths of my album written, so we’ll see what happens. I guess if I can’t write them, then I’ll find them, because I’m all about picking the best song, whether I wrote it or not.

What can we expect from your debut album?
I wouldn’t say that I’m 100 percent commercial because my biggest influences growing up were Hank Jr. and Waylon and Merle, but I always loved listening to [Led] Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, and I love rap music. It’s kind of a combination of a lot of different genres. I would say that I’m really front-porchy, if you will. I love kind of being laid back and writing some laid back tunes, but also just rockin’ them out, but it’s still country, for sure. When I played for Scott Borchetta, he described me as “Rhett Akins’ son and Little Feat,” so take that however you want to take it [laughs]!

Watch Thomas Rhett Perform ‘I Ain’t Ready to Quit’ Live

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