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.
Jesse Frasure is a country songwriter who appreciates all of country music – from the earliest legends to the newest hitmakers. He gives the stories behind some of his biggest songs here, and also talks about his one-time songwriting partner Chris Stapleton and Stapleton’s surprising hobby.
Let’s start out with “One Thing Right,” which was an unusual and very successful collaboration by Kane Brown with Marshmello.
Yeah, it’s been crazy over the last probably three to five years. We’ve been seeing a lot of the EDM collaborations with country music kind of across the board. But that song came from a writing trip for Kane. We were actually at his label head’s lake house, and he had a bunch of songwriters there. And he was kind of wanting to do something in a direction of like a Khalid vibe, but for country music. So we made that song and it was kind of stripped down and it never quite fit his album at the time. I think it was probably a little bit too pop leaning for that current album that he was putting together. So we shot it over to Marshmello and they flipped out over it. So it was really cool seeing that whole thing come together and then, you know, obviously did pretty well on the pop charts. The cool thing about the EDM world is they you know, they reach a lot of playlists that are genre and country doesn’t touch internationally. So it’s amazing to kind of see the outreach in that the amount of streams that come from all these different playlists. And it’s really healthy, I think, right now to see these collaborations between country and EDM.
I’m sure every 10 years — you could call it a generation in country music — the older people are like, “I don’t like what they’re doing today.” You know, I remember even when Garth was getting huge, it’s like, “Why is he flying over the arena and why is he doing all this rock stuff?” But it was it felt really different when you guys did that song and Maren Morris collaborated with Zedd. What do you think changed that made it OK to work with, you know, EDM artists now, when that wouldn’t have happened even maybe five years earlier?
I think it’s a two part thing. You know, it’s funny, we were watching that Ken Burns documentary on country music, the amount of haters that there’s always been. You know, when country music moved from just a bluegrass style in general, there was people that kind of hated on it, people thought that that was too progressive. And not so throughout the history of any style of music, whether it’s Bob Dylan picking up an electric guitar or whatever, you know, people get attached to what they think something should be. But country music’s never been one thing, you know, it’s never been one sound throughout the history of it. So to me, what I love most about Nashville is the this creative… it’s like a safety net around the whole city for people just to come and make great music. The thing that’s kind of changed in the last three to five years as far as the collaborations go… I don’t know necessarily that our artists weren’t into it. It was more just the stigma. I think that, you know, there’s a stigma from L.A. to Nashville at times that even though there’s been a lot of collaboration among the [song]creators, but maybe the artists didn’t think it was cool to collaborate with a country artist.
Probably what really change things is people like Florida Georgia Line doing the collaboration with Alesso and Hailee Steinfeld. And then, you know, even before that, “Cruise” kind of opening the door to a different sound. Guys like the Chainsmokers doing collaborations with FGL and Kelsea [Ballerini] and then slowly and surely then you start. Obviously, the Zedd [with Maren Morris] thing, like you mentioned, was a huge smash. And that was a song that several pop artists had tried. And they ended up picking Maren’s vocal, you know. So a lot of it is a combination of the artists and the creators, like myself, in town were raised on lots of styles of music. You know, we’re not raised in one genre anymore. We grew up listening to music all over the place.
And combined with the simple fact that, like I said, all of the sudden it’s cool. You got Diplo and a cowboy hat now. So I mean it’s just a different time and different style. And like you said, there’s a cyclical thing. Things come around, people get more open-minded. And we have a very, very loyal fan base. Regardless of what goes down, the country audience is kind of unwavering. And when they’re passionate about something, they stick with that artist a long time.
Somebody like Nelly who hasn’t come up through country music, probably appreciates the loyalty that he sees from country music artists get because he’s done shows with McGraw. He’s done shows with FGL and now he has a remix with Kane. Maybe when he first came out in 2001 or whatever, he wouldn’t have thought about doing a country song. But now he probably sees that while most other genres leave their older artists in the dust country fans stick forever.
That’s a great point. And I mean, in in going back to FGL as kind of trailblazers… on their baseball stadium tour, they brought me out to DJ. That was my first time writing with them. And I wrote “Sun Daze” on that trip. That was my first number one. That was the same tour where Nelly — this ginormous hip hop star from our childhood — is opening their show. It was crazy.
But like I said earlier, there’s always going to be the kind of issues with someone thinking that something’s not country or this is too pop. Our format tells stories better than anybody. And that’s the common thread. I feel like the common thread between a Kane Brown, Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves and Luke Combs is Americana subject matter. So that to me is what makes country music, “country.” The stories, the small town culture, the love, the loss, the [idea that you] can’t fix the world but we can smile about on Friday night. Those are the things that have been in the genre for years. And Glen Campbell sounded very different than Merle Haggard. And, you know, Patsy Cline sounds very different than Raelynn, but they’re all kind of doing the same thing, you know?
So I want to ask about your huge run of great singles with Thomas Rhett. Talk about “Life Changes.”
It’s weird when you you do such an autobiographical song. It’s one thing to be like, “Here is the story about how we met.” But that song is literally so specific to his story. I mean, we have Uganda in a country song and then production wise to have tubas and piccolo and marching band vibes. So we really were nervous about that song. I was like the last song we wrote for the Life Changes record and we wrote it at his farm. It was like a snowy blizzard day. I don’t think we could leave the farm. We got stuck there for two, three days, and we kind of were a little bit nervous to put it out as a single just because it felt like it was gonna be a little too specific. But it translated so well. It did great on radio and it really goes off great live. I just love that song. I think it’s kind of one of those almost rap-esqe verse phrases, you know, that’s easy to see and hookey and really kind of resonated with the teenage girls and that is an amazing fan base to get because they really are consumers, like true consumers, whether it’s T-shirts to sweaters, to music. So it really kind of just resonated across the board. It’s pretty it’s funny when you look back over the ones that where you were like, “Oh my gosh, is this [song] going to work?”
As you’re going into it, you’re pretty scared because every step of the way with Thomas, there’s been a couple risky moves. You know, whether that was going from the first album into “Crash and Burn,” that was a very nerve racking thing for him. But along the way, putting songs out like “Life Changes,” that’s there’s not a guarantee past that country radio is going to play you. So the fact that they did and it worked so well, that’s just that was an awesome story.
I think people have been really invested in his story and he shared the story of, like him and his wife wanting to have kids and then adopting a kid. And like you said, the Uganda thing is like that’s pretty specific to him. What country singer, or any singer, really could sing that particular line truthfully. So how do you do it when you’re writing a song with him like that? Are you writing lyric that come from his life and he’s approving it? Or are you laying down chords?
Thomas is a stronger artist-writer than most. I mean, if his artist career goes away, he’d be a very, very successful songwriter. He has had a lot of commercial placements with other artists as just a writer. So his viewpoints are always pretty strong. He usually has people around him that are editors or collaborators in the sense that: we’ll play him tracks or music that we like and then it’s just sort of trying to get out what he’s saying.
With that song, we started with some chord changes and built a groove around that. He was just going through a lot, he had a lot of his mind. It was basically like, he had two kids very quickly. So that was a heavy presence on his mind.
But, you know, for someone that is so used to telling his story is a love story, putting his family first and all kinds of songs and talking about them. It still was a nerve-wracking aspect even for him: “Man, this might be a little too inside,” you know. So, yeah, that was pretty cool that that worked out.
Talk about “Crash and Burn.”
“Crash and Burn” is a song I wrote with Chris Stapleton. My wife introduced me to Chris years ago. They worked at the same publishing company together. He was a writer there and she was a song plugger. And he wasn’t really getting a ton of attention as an artist at the time. I mean he was getting cuts as a writer, but he couldn’t really get the artist thing going. And so I would get together at night with him. I was a a song plugger. I hadn’t really gotten many cuts at the time and I was just running a publishing company. So in the evenings after work, he’d come over. I’m from Detroit and I love his voice and he loved soul music as much as I do. So we would just make these songs like we’d call him like sad songs for dance floors, we were like, “Maybe we’ll pitch these to Bruno Mars or something.”
And we did like a four or five of them and the CD was kind of floating around town of this stuff and it was like, “Oh my gosh, have you heard Stapleton singing this kind of Motown-esque stuff?” And I think it was Thomas’ business manager who gave him a copy of the CD. I think Chris and Thomas shared the same business manager at the time. And Thomas heard this and reached out to us. And I think at the time, Gary Allan was also pretty interested in the song. And I was a huge Gary Allan fan and I didn’t know too much about Thomas and what I did know about Thomas was from the first album. I just didn’t really understand why he was into “Crash and Burn.” It didn’t make any sense to me because he was kind of more into the Cole Swindell. Dustin Lynch kind of lane at the time and I couldn’t picture it, but he called me up one day and says, “Man, obviously, I’m a little bit nervous that I’m going to pull this off after hearing Stapleton’s voice [on the demo]. But I love this song. I think I want to try something different to stand out on this next album and I’d love you to produce this with me and Dan Huff.”
So that was the kickoff point. So I think to this day, it’s probably my favorite song just because of the story, the fact that we wrote it, not trying to get a country cut. We just wrote a song that we loved and obviously, Chris is such an amazing singer and writer as well. So it’s so fun to work with him. And the fact that that song kind of just found its way. That whole era — “Crash and Burn,” then leading into “Die a Happy Man,” what a changing point for Thomas Rhett’s career. And a huge changing point for my career.
Chris Stapleton is an artist who, if I can’t get a free ticket, I’ll pay for my ticket and go. I’ll pay $75 or $100 to see that guy play. But there was that joke at the ACMs one year where all these big country stars are standing up in the audience saying, “I discovered Chris Stapleton.” “No, I put him on the map!” Because almost everybody has done a song by him. But I’m dying to hear what his demos sound like? It must be pretty intimidating for artists, because it’s like, “I have to do a better job than that.”
Oh, man. It’s it’s intense. He’s a bad ass and he can sing any genre of music. And most people have never heard him sing anything but his style of country music. But, you know, he had a classic rock group called the Jompson Brothers.
And the Steeldrivers like that.
Adele even covered a Steeldrivers song [“If It Hadn’t Been For Love”]. But the stuff we did was very much in a kind of almost like a modern Motown vibe. It’s so funny to think that his career was just flatlined as an artist. Nothing was happening. So much so that, like I said, he just would come and try to get some stress out, writing in different styles of music with me. Pretty wild!
Do you guys still write together? Are you still in touch?
We still talk all the time. I’m a crazy sneaker collector, and you wouldn’t know this at all about him. but he actually is a crazy fan of Jordans himself, so he loves sneakers. So we’re always kind of talking about new drops that come out. He collects sneakers and pocket knives. He’s got a lot more kids since then. And he’s a lot more famous since then.
There’s much more to our interview with Jesse Frasure; to hear the entire thing, download the podcast (scroll up).