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.
Country songwriters tend to be “behind-the-scenes” people who don’t have big viral moments. But over the summer, when Emily Landis heard Gabby Barrett’s “The Good Ones,” which she co-wrote, on the radio, she had the presence of mind to film her own reaction and post it to Instagram (it’s slightly NSFW, but it’s charming). It was the first time she ever heard a song that she worked on, on the radio. It certainly wasn’t the last, and based on that song and Eric Paslay’s “Off The Edge Of The Summer” — both of which we discussed — we’ll be hearing her work for a long time to come.
Let’s talk about Gabby Barrett’s “The Good Ones.”
So I actually looked in my old notebook from last year to find the exact date [that I wrote it]. It was February 20th of last year, 2019. I was supposed to write with Zach Kale and Jim McCormick that day. And Zach said, “Hey, I’m working with this new girl, Gabby Barrett. She was on American Idol. And if y’all are interested, she could totally jump in today and we could have more of a target [artist] for our day.”
And we thought, “Yeah, that’d be great. Let’s meet her.” And one year later, she’s like a big star. I mean, we wrote the song when she was fresh off the show. I don’t even know if she had moved to town yet, but the song kind of fell out of the sky and it was an incredible day.
I saw a video on your Instagram where you were performing “The Good Ones” next to… I think it’s your boyfriend?
Yes, Johnny McGuire.
Was he the guy you had in mind when you were writing the song?
Yes. As songwriters, we have these notes in our phone with song ideas and I get inspiration for love songs all the time from my boyfriend, Johnny. He’s just a great guy. And it’s like the first really healthy relationship I’ve ever been in. I knew that Gabby was dating her now-husband [Cade Foehner] from the show; they met on American Idol. And I was like, “Maybe this girl wants to write a love song.” I love love songs. In that video where I’m singing the song with Johnny, that’s at his mom’s elementary school. That was last Christmas, right before Christmas break. We got to come in and play for some of her elementary schoolers. And it was so great. I mean, you can’t really top playing for just kids who are happy to hear anything. It was amazing.
It’s got to be kind of weird. You’re sitting next to the guy who you wrote it about.
It’s so cute. And we met writing songs; we were set up to write songs together, like four years ago, back when he was in a band [Walker McGuire].
So it’s just a cool full circle: how the song I wrote about him is my first song that actually ended up doing anything [on the charts]. So I’m really grateful and it just makes me want to listen to my heart and write what’s real and just be honest.
Most of the time when people write a song like this, it could be about one person, but it could also be about a combination of people. Are there lines in this song that are specifically about him?
Yeah, totally. You know, there’s the beginning of the second verse. “You’ll know him when you see him by the way he looks at me. You’d say he hung the moon. I’d say he hung the galaxy.” I think I said that weird “galaxy moon” line. And I was like, “Ya’ll, I don’t know, this is weird.” But to me, Johnny, like, hung the whole world. Some people just mean that [much] to you. And I don’t know, it’s just… looking for a little cool new ways to say those emotions. I think a lot of lines remind me of him. The phone call to his parents. He talks to his parents every day on phone. A lot of it’s real.
What was his take on the song when you played it for him? Do you play songs for him when you’re in the middle of writing them?
It’s funny because we play a lot of songs for each other, but I don’t think I played this one for him. I think it was so directly about him that I didn’t want to. I thought that if something ever happened with it, he’ll hear it. And then I think he finally heard it when it came out. So it’s funny how that works that way, but I don’t think I shared this one.
So he heard it when it was on the radio.
I think so [laughs]. Kind of crazy how that happens. He knows a lot of my other songs and I don’t know, it’s just funny how you never know which one is going to be one that people relate to. And maybe I just didn’t know how special that song was until other people realized it too.
Most people probably don’t talk to their current boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife, too much about their exes. But if you’re a songwriter, they could sort of derive some information from your songs that maybe you might not have shared.
Do you do you listen to his songs and think, “Who is that one about?”
Kind of! Sometimes, he’ll play songs that are clearly love songs and I’ll be like, [sings] “This is about me isn’t it?” It’s so fun to date a songwriter and he’ll say something or I’ll say something or we’ll watch a show and something will happen where we’ll look at each other and I’ll be like: “Dibs on that hook!” I’ve texted him before: “Wait! Dibs on that thing that I joked could be a song!” Or we’ll just write them together, which has been really fun too. Especially daring quarantine.
So what was Gabby’s reaction to the song?
Gabby wrote the song with us that day. She was in the room. I guess she liked it because it was a love song. And her first single, “I Hope,” is very much a revenge song: a “You cheated on me” kind of song. So she was into the idea. She’s so melodic and she got on the microphone and just sang pretty much what you hear on the radio. The demo was that perfect the day she sang it. I was blown away. I work with a lot of great singers and sometimes I’m just like, “Wow, you were born to do this.”
It seems like you wrote a lot of these lyrics. Did she ever say, “You’re writing about your boyfriend. That line doesn’t work for me. Could we change that line?”
Yeah. That that makes me think of the Allegheny line. So we were messing with it. There’s this line, “He’s solid and he’s steady like the Allegheny run.” So we’re playing with “He’s solid and he’s steady like the Mississippi run.” I think Jim [McCormick] asked, “Gabby, what’s a river by your hometown?” And somehow we landed on Allegheny. I love those personal little details. My favorite songs have little lines that… I don’t even know what some of these cities are, or towns are. But these words just sound really good in songs. And the more specific you get, the more people relate to it somehow.
Talk about Eric Paslay’s “Off The Edge Of Summer.”
We wrote it two years ago on a Liz Rose music retreat in Orange Beach, Alabama. I remember, it was like we’re in like a bedroom. Me, Eric, Emily Shackelton and Mark Trussell. And we played with this idea. I had this title: “Edge of the Summer” I as like, “I don’t know what it is. It’s almost the end of summer.” And then I think Eric said, “Dancing off the edge of the summer.” I said, “Oh my God, that’s so much cooler.”
It feels like songs fall from the sky sometimes. And that’s how this song totally felt. And Mark Trussell was recording the demo. So Eric sang it right there.
It’s crazy now to think, two years later, the song comes out… I’m so blown away by how it turned out. I’m geeking out a little bit, because I used to listen to Eric Paisley when I was in high school like, “She Don’t Love You.” He’s a legend. And so I have to pinch myself that I write with him.
He’s one of those guys who started out as a writer for other people before he started making his own record. So that’s gotta be weird writing for or with a guy like that: his thing is that he’s a writer.
Yeah. He wrote “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” then “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” All those great songs. And I think the cool thing about Eric is, you know you’re just going to write what everyone feels like writing that day and it’s gonna be great
I kind of feel like sometimes you write with an artist you’ll ask, “OK, what do they want to say?” But Eric is just like, “Let’s just do whatever is the best idea.” So it’s never really, “Are we writing for [this person]t?” It’s just, “Let’s write a great song. ”
Aa lot a lot of Nashville people started out writing for other people before they got the opportunity to make their own records. Is that what you’re looking to do?
I’ve never wanted to do the artist thing. I mean, I can sing, but… I write with a lot of great singers. I can sing to a point where I can write songs, but I’ve never wanted to be the one on stage. But if I’m in the audience and I hear somebody sing a song that I wrote… that’s like drugs. That’s an adrenaline high. I want that.
But in Nashville, you get to do writers rounds and stuff every once in a while. That kind of gives you that your fix of letting people hear you play your songs. So I think that’s all I’m ever gonna want. And I’m grateful just to do that. But to be able to be one of the names behind the songs, that’s always been my dream.
Have you been somewhere where you heard somebody listening to a song and they have no idea they’re standing next to one of the people who wrote it?
Yeah: here’s a funny story. I was in a thrift store months ago with two of my friends, and I was trying on… I like to call it my lucky jacket because it’s a vintage red Budweiser jacket that I found at this thrift store for seven bucks. And while I was trying it on in the dressing room, the song came on the speakers and I was like, “What is this ironic world where I’m trying on a second hand jacket in a store and my song is playing?” Like, that is so cool. And I’m like, if anything, that’s like some sign that I want to stay. I want to always be this girl who’s trying on the jacket in the thrift store.
It seems to be a nice sort of balance: if you can write songs, and they are on the radio, and obviously you get paid decently for doing that. But you can still go to a store and not have everybody bothering you. You don’t need a bodyguard.
Exactly. That’s that’s the dream, right?