- 11 Aug 21
Grammy-nominated songwriter and performer Billy Currington is taking great lengths to branch out on his genre-fluid 7th LP, incorporating everything from country-pop, R&B and tropical house to dance and ‘80s synth-pop.
Six years is an indisputably long time in the music business. With the dawning of the streaming age, the Covid-19 pandemic stalling world tours and the boom of social media platforms in garnering a powerful fanbase; a TikTok performer can now land a No.1 hit and a record deal with a major label in a matter of hours.
For Billy Currington, his 2015 album Summer Forever is worlds away from Intuition, a surprise full-length project dropped on August 6th. It embodies an unusual amalgamation of genres for someone who grafted endlessly for his spot on the Billboard Country charts over a number of years.
Now 47, the Georgia native first broke into the tenacious music sphere back in 2003 with the release of his self-titled debut album and first single ‘Walk A Little Straighter’. Written about his relationship with his stepfather - including a chorus that Currington wrote when he was just 12 years old - the track allowed Currington to become a major country performer in Nashville.
Pouring concrete and working in a gym by day, singing in Nashville bars by night, eventually one of Billy’s personal trainer clients led him to recording demo tapes. He soon had cuts by George Strait, Tracy Byrd, and Marty Raybon. After near-success with RCA Records, Billy signed to Mercury Records in 2003. 12 No. 1 hit songs, six successful albums and a noteworthy duet with Shania Twain later, the UMG Nashville signee has tightly secured his stature in the country sphere.
Speaking to the soft-spoken musician from the US, his earnest excitement to speak about his brand new body of work is contagious. With his laidback demeanour, you’d never guess that his first ever Zoom interview was on the morning of our chat. Luckily, Currington was able to open up about his new project without any technical difficulties cutting off his rhythm.
“I've heard about people writing songs through Zoom, the whole deal, you know? Hopefully I'll get used to doing media on the platform,” Billy grins, his Southern drawl echoing through the screen. “It’s one of my favourite things to do - just talk to people, especially from around the world. That's something I've never done before.”
“It was always a dream, ever since day one, to get to this point. It just took a while, but it’s finally coming true,” the singer-songwriter smiles. The high of speaking about your art form clearly hasn't worn off for him.
Since the release of Currington’s previous six albums, in 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2015 respectively, much has transformed within the country music realm. The way in which fans consume music itself has also taken a sharp turn. The charismatic singer's most recent radio single was 2019’s ‘Details’, but the performer has rarely shied away from delving into experimental soundscapes. Was Billy ever concerned about putting out an album with a tilt towards new stylistic terrain?
“Oh, for sure. I mean, the industry has changed so much. How we put music out now is so different than when I started, but I've adapted to it. I love how streaming allows you to find so many new artists and songs that you couldn't before. I feel blessed to be a part of that now. It’s definitely a different time, though.”
Producer-songwriter Rob Persaud, with whom Currington co-wrote all 12 tracks on Intuition, explored the singer’s potential to leave the classic country flourishes behind in favour of shimmering synths, warm ‘80s beats and slapped bass.
“Before we put the album out, Rob and I had many, many days of talking about how people are going to think I’m whacked, that whole attitude of going off the deep end by recording music that doesn’t sound like the box I’ve been in for all these years. But to us, that was the most exciting part about the whole thing. It wasn't planned,” the musician says, reflectively.
“You never know who you're going to meet in life and how you're going to meet them – but meeting Rob, he was from London’s pop side of life. We just got together one day and wrote a song. He's great at lyrics – well, he's pretty much great at everything. I added what I felt was needed or sent him my ideas, and it meshed together perfectly and came out to be what I feel is just genre-less music. It just is what it is. It’s nothing but that – just music.”
In his two decades as a musician, Currington earned Grammy nominations for Male Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song for ‘People Are Crazy.’ Given the competitive edge required to stick with such a ruthless industry, how aware is he of chart positions, accolades and sales in terms of his seventh full-length venture?
“I do remember the side of me that always wanted to win awards for my team - I really believed it mattered for my career. Then another year would go by and I wouldn't be up for anything. I’d be stressed out, wondering if we were failing, but then it got to a point in my life two or three years ago where it thankfully just faded. It's like it didn't matter anymore. It just became more about making music and making a good living and being happy with what I was doing and not needing some kind of acceptance. I was definitely in a place where I was in love with the music we were making. I knew the time was right to put 12 songs on an album and send it out into the world. We just felt that, if we appreciate the work this much, someone else is going to cherish it too. I’m so glad we made that choice.”
The global Covid-19 pandemic has unquestionably led many in the arts sector to reconfigure their current standing, given the loss of revenue resulting from live performance and tour cancellations.
“Have I ever thought about leaving the industry? I probably haven’t 100% said ‘I'm out of here’, but during Covid there was definitely a natural feeling of being ‘out’ for a minute. I took comfort from the fact that everyone around me was also taking a step back. But before that, I had always wanted to make music. Everything has its ups and downs. For me, personally, it's mostly been up. I hope to stay connected.”
Does staying connected to the music realm insinuate that a Billy Currington world tour is on the cards?
“I want to go everywhere! Ireland, you name it,” the vocalist beams, his honey-toned voice rising with excitement. Despite Ireland’s long-acknowledged joy for country music, Currington has never stepped foot on our soil. “I want to be out there. We've been gigging quite a bit over the past month, everything's pretty much wide open here now. You don't know how closed off everything else is until you talk to folks like yourself in another nation. But open it back up, we're ready to perform! I want to come over there and play, but I definitely think that next year will be the time.”
Intuition shows a multi-faceted side to the musician, with lyrics inspired by the Rincon-born act’s former partner. Finding the motivation to continue down the path of songwriting often comes with emotional turmoil in the personal lives of artists.
“After going through life as a songwriter, in and out of two or three different relationships, heartbreak, falling in love, heartbreak, falling in love again – you eventually come up with enough material inside of your heart and soul to write an album like this. All of a sudden, being in a vulnerable state and using it for creativity allows people to hear what you've been through. The songs were all about someone that I experienced some form of life with. From one to 12, every song.”
'Lighthouse' traces the ending to a turbulent relationship where the subject can feel the inevitability of its eventual demise - but is ultimately powerless to change the outcome.
“Going through a relationship of around 10 years, that ain't just a one-month relationship, two-months, one year – that's time put in,” Currington says, pensively. “You have your ups and down toward the end that obviously start showing cracks, but you keep trying to save it. When it falls apart, it's heartbreaking - no question. You weren’t in something for 10 years just for your health. You're in it because it meant everything to you. I hope you feel that one, because I did.”
Given his impressive range of experience, what pearls of wisdom would Billy offer his younger self and fresh artists desperately trying to break into the business?
“We're all going to be on a different path of how we start and where we end up. No matter how we get there, what moves we make, what people we meet naturally who change the course of our lives: stay true to yourself," the Nashville-based creative says after a pause.
"A lot of the time you'll see some formula that's working, and you're all of a sudden thinking ‘well, maybe that's what I need to do to win: what they're doing.’ Those winners are more than likely just sticking to what they believed in. So I'd just say to stay true to what you feel. Everything happens in time, and our moment isn’t necessarily the same as anyone else’s. Don’t think about when it's going to happen or how long it takes to get a record deal, stay on your course.”
Listen to Intuition in full below: