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10 Questions: Randy Houser
By Lisa Zhito
Mississippi native Randy Houser arrived in Nashville in 2002 and quickly planted himself on the leading edge of country’s new breed of songwriters. He garnered early attention for Trace Adkins’ hit “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” which Houser wrote with frequent collaborators Jamey Johnson and Dallas Davidson. Houser’s own performing career launched not long after, with the release of his albums Anything Goes in 2008 and They Call Me Cadillac in 2010.
How Country Feels is Houser’s third release and reveals a new maturity for the artist, who wrote six of its 15 tracks. Never one to shy away from deep topics in his songs, How Country Feels finds Houser bringing an intimate perspective to broad themes about life and the power of music -- though there’s plenty of fun mixed in to lighten the mood, too. In January the album’s title track reached number one on Billboard’s country singles chart, Houser’s first.
1) Why did you choose BMI?
BMI chose me, I think! When I first moved to Nashville I was with (another PRO) but I couldn’t get anybody there to return phone calls or meet with me or tell me where I was supposed to go from there. And then I met Bradley Collins (BMI senior director, writer/publisher relations), who was my artist’s rep in Nashville. He just took really good care of me and always has.
2) What’s your favorite live music venue?
I usually think wherever I’m playing tonight is my favorite. But if I had to pick I think I’d say Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. It’s the vibe, it’s just a peaceful place. The weather is usually great when we’re there, too.
3) What advice do you give aspiring songwriters and performers?
I guess the biggest thing is, you really need to move to Nashville. If you want to make commercial music and try to get songs cut by artists who are on a country label, you basically need to be there. I remember I had written several songs before I ever moved to Nashville that I thought were really great, but when I moved to Nashville and started hearing what everybody else was writing, I realized my songs weren’t up to par. When I moved there I really got hooked in to some of the best songwriters that there are, ever, in the world. I learned so much from that. So that would be my advice if you want to be a songwriter.
4) What was the most important lesson you learned when you were starting out?
To do more listening than talking. I think especially in songwriting, because you can mess up somebody’s moment of brilliance just by running your mouth in a writing room. Sometimes you have to talk to get ideas flowing, I’m not saying don’t talk. But I think I just had to learn to not blurt out something when I had the idea going.
5) What makes a good co-writer?
Again, to be a good listener! Someone you feel like you could talk to on a personal level, somebody that you sort of trust and who’s got that personality that makes you want to hang out and share something about your life with them. And also, a certain level of skill in songwriting. That comes in handy!
6) What did you do to make ends meet until your songwriting took off?
I started singing demos in Nashville my third week there, so I ended up immediately kind of making a little piece of a living. I got lucky. I found this group of writers that needed somebody to sing demos and I went in and sang one and they paid me, like, $75 one week. Then I came in the next week and I had, like, 10 to sing! So it really just saved me.
7) What was your lowest point when you were starting out, and how did you pull through?
I moved to Nashville not knowing how I was going to make a living and my car broke down. I was living in a little duplex and we were basically getting evicted; I couldn’t pay my rent. But then I got a publishing deal and I sang a ton of demos. I got a publishing deal with a company called Windswept Pacific based in L.A. Steve Markland ran Windswept Pacific and was a good friend of mine and a really longtime supporter of my music. He and Cliff Audretch were really supportive of me, they gave me a little paycheck and a demo budget to learn how to record and learn how to sing as far as studio work goes.
8) What is most rewarding for you about songwriting?
There’s just the pure joy of creating something from nothing. I think that’s the biggest reward of a songwriter. It’s just so crazy how you can pull something out of thin air, and you’ve got a song later. How you can play something and turn it into something that can actually affect somebody’s life, make somebody feel better or change their way of thinking. And then there’s also if a song does well, you make a little money, too. That helps!
9) Is there something you’ve always wanted to write about and haven’t yet?
Not really. I think I’ve always been very open to writing about pretty much anything, if it’s on my mind. I don’t really edit what I write about much. Whether I let it be heard is the other issue. Stuff I’m writing about for me, maybe it’s something I never will play for anybody. It just needs to come out sometimes.
10) So it’s not as important for you to have the song heard as it is to get the idea down on paper?
Yeah, sometimes you’ve got to write one song to get to the next. Sometimes you just have to write something if it keeps eating at you. You have to let your brain purge itself a little bit. Then you can get to the next thing and move on. That’s the way it works for me.