Daniel Tashian On Writing Classics With Kacey Musgraves
The 100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers limited series podcast gives music fans a front-row seat for conversations with songwriters behind some of the biggest hits of yesterday and today. You’ll learn the stories behind the songs from the people who wrote them. Each episode will focus on one writer: sometimes, they’ll just talk about one song, other times, they’ll talk about a number of hits.
New episodes will be released each Monday through November of 2020.
100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers special podcast series is produced in partnership with Beasley Media Group, XPERI (HD Radio), and BMI in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the first commercial radio broadcast.
Daniel Tashian has been quietly writing songs in Nashville for years, getting occaional song placements on albums by LeeAnn Womack, Tim McGraw and Martina McBride. But his big break came just a few years ago, when he started working with Kacey Musgraves on a number of songs on her 2018 album, Golden Hour, which won Album of the Year at the ACMs, the CMAs and the Grammys. Since then, he’s worked with Brett Eldredge on his recent single, “Gabrielle.”
So, let’s talk about Brett Eldridge’s “Gabrielle.”
Well, Brett is kind of a man of mystery, there’s still a mystery about him to me because, you know, when we were working a lot of times he would just sort of appear. I mean, we hung out. But he likes to take a lot of time on his own to think about stuff. He’s kind of a mysterious cat, which I like. And, you know, we were talking one day and we started talking about those kind of songs that really just have this kind of warm kind of… not a ’70s thing but nostalgic kind of feeling about them. And then we started writing this song. And he had this name that was I’m assuming that it was someone that he had been in a relationship with. And he started telling this story and singing this story about this woman that never did quite become what he had hoped it could be.
You gotta understand, these are all extrapolations that I’m sort of making about what was going through his mind; he wrote most of the lyrics. You’d have to ask him, but I was at the piano when we were writing the song. And [co-writer] Ian [Fitchuk] was, I think, playing bass and drums at the same time, which is something that he likes to do. And we kind of stumbled into this groove together. And Brett just started singing over that. Some things that he had been thinking about. And then we sort of picked up the 12-string and… I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of describing anything right now, but that was how that song sort of came together. And then when we recorded it, it was the first song we recorded for his album.
I’m by no means a prodigy on the piano. I have a very, very simple way that I play that’s just serviceable at best, and it’s often just very tenuously hanging on. I’m not sort of confidently cruising through songs on the piano. It’s something that I have to really sort of focus on in order to achieve anything usable at all. So it was memorable for me in the sense that that that was the first song we recorded. Then when we came in and listen to the playback, we all felt very excited.
As you say, he’s a mysterious guy; I guess he didn’t go into too much detail about who Gabrielle is.
No. You know, he did sort of say that there was someone who the song might catch by surprise. And I like that when, you know, someone sings about their life in an autobiographical way. Joni Mitchell singing about David Geffen on the song “Free Man in Paris.” You know, that was a literal conversation that she had. You know, I like those little touches of real life. I encourage it.
I think most things in country music are done in a sort of fairly constructed way. It’s pretty strategic. It’s like you get a hook like “a beer in the headlights” and then you kind of write pointing towards that. But this was a different kind of song. I think it is hard for a lot of young people right now to fall in love, you know, in this age of, Bumble and Tinder and all that kind of stuff. But what do I know?
Well, you’re extrapolating from your experiences of being around the guy.
Yeah, and even if you’re a person that everybody kind of knows who you are, then that adds a whole other layer of difficulty to the dating thing.
He used to be really, really big on social media. He actually got me on Snapchat because I was interviewing him and he put me in one of his snaps. But he shared a lot on social media. And then during this album, I think he ditched all of his social media. So that might have been a sea change for him just as far as how he lives his life.
Social media is a big part of young people’s lives. And so for him to make that decision to kind of find another road I think it was a good thing for him because, I mean, look at the songs the guy is coming up with. He’s tuning out from what everyone else is doing and tuning into his own heartbeat.
I think also for artists of his era, you know, social media is probably really useful when you’re trying to get the career going. But then once they do, and then they have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of followers and people know who they are, then it’s a completely different prospect. “I don’t really want to tell you every single thing that’s going on in my life anymore.” So, that was sort of my interpretation of how he changed because, you know, a couple of years before that, he was one of the most savvy social media artists in country music. And then I think he just realized to himself, “This worked for me really well when I needed it. But at this point, I need a little bit more privacy than I did three years ago, five years ago” or whatever. Some people can’t unplug, but he made a good decision to do it.
It’s interesting because it’s got to energy has to go somewhere. And if it’s not going into Instagram and it’s not going into Snapchat or whatever, it’s going to go somewhere. So it’s going to go into music. It’s going to go into a lyric. It’s going to go into exercising. I think it’s healthy.
So do you remember the first time you heard the song on the radio?
Wow. That is just an exquisite thrill. That just that’s as good as it gets for a songwriter. And if you could add that and then you could be with a beautiful woman having an orange popsicle at the same time, then you’re really died and gone to heaven. I mean, there’s no thrill greater than hearing a song that you’ve written on the radio. And there’s a wonderful sound to songs on the radio. It’s like that when they get compressed and sent out over the airwaves. They never sound like that anywhere else, you know. And so. Yeah.
I wanted to ask about the Kasey Musgraves record. Obviously a standout album in her career and a standout album in yours. What effect has that record had on your career.
It’s funny we were at the Grammys, and Shane McAnally. who was one of the wonderful songwriters that participated in writing songs for that album, I think “Rainbow” is one of the ones that he had written with her. And “Space Cowboy.” But anyway, he came over to me and he said, “Now you can finally breathe.”
There was so much truth in what he said because, not that you live and die by these things, but, you know, when your hometown is all sort of rooting for you, you want to bring home a little bacon. And we did that in this in this particular situation. That was a moment. And then the next day I went to Burt’s house. Burt Bacharach, who you are probably aware that I was doing some music with him, but maybe you weren’t. He’s got all kinds of awards and I said, “Burt, what do you think when you look at all those awards?” And he says, “I think, ‘What’s next?'” He doesn’t like to rest on his laurels too much.
It is a nice thing to be recognized in that way because and to be able to share it with friends. Kacey and Ian are dear friends that I love very much. And to share an experience like that is just so sweet. I mean, you’re backstage and you’ve got your arms around each other and you’re like, “Man, we did this.” We started those songs sort of humming and strumming in the same little garage that I’m in right now. It’s just kind of amazing. It blows your mind.
I think that’s one of the few albums of the past decade, in any genre, really, that was sort of deemed a classic almost as soon as it came out. It just seemed like universally everybody thought it was great.
It was just a joy to work on something like that. It was a leap of faith on her part [to work with me]. I mean, I’d done some things, but I haven’t really done anything [so big] that anybody would sort of go, “Oh, yeah, that’s the move right there. Let’s get that guy.” I just kind of sort of some random person. But she really believed in what we were working on together and that people would enjoy it. And to find out that they do is wonderful.
How was the connection made? Because her first record [2013’s Same Trailer, Different Park] got a good amount of attention. The second one [2015’s Pageant Material] didn’t get as much love.
Well, it was Ian. I wrote with her years and years ago, but we really just talked. So I knew her. But then it was Ian who had played on some of those records, like I think he played on Pageant Material and he might have played on the other one as a session guy.
And he said that he mentioned to her that she should come over and write a song with me and Ian. And she said, “OK,” so is was Ian that suggested to her that she come over and we start working on some songs.
Obviously she’s going through some stuff now, but has there been talk of you guys doing her next record or is that still open?
Yes, we’ve got some new material that we’re working on. And, you know, she just went through a divorce. You have to sort of let the swelling go down a little bit. You do bounce back from those things. But it takes a minute because, you know, it’s just a life change. So but we’ve got some new songs that I feel really excited about. So I’m hoping that that will we’ll get back to making some music, which is what I really want to do. I think we’ll we’ll get to do another record here pretty soon.