Nearly nothing about Griffen Palmer's journey to becoming a country artist has been conventional.
From growing up in Ontario, Canada in a musical family of eight to meeting Grammy-nominated songwriter Geoff Warburton by chance at a house party, then landing a meeting with a room full of Big Loud executives without a single demo to hand over, Palmer's story has been one full of being in the right place at the right time, coupled with a whole crew of people believing in him along the way.
First gaining traction around Nashville as a rising songwriter with cuts from the likes of Florida Georgia Line, Keith Urban, MacKenzie Porter, The Band Camino, Chelsea Cutler, Jade Eagleson and more, Palmer has officially taken the plunge into his own artistry with the release of his debut album, Unlearn.
Throughout the project's tight 10 tracks, Palmer pulls out all the stops to truly introduce himself to the world. Armed with a golden pen and his smooth vocal dexterity, he brings the best of pop-infused country to what is an admirable first chapter of his story.
Following the release of Unlearn, and to get a better idea of the man behind the music, here are 10 things to know about Griffen Palmer.
Palmer grew up in a musical family thanks to his father, who was an artist and musician in his own right. His dad encouraged him to learn to play instruments, including piano, guitar and drums, and in high school, Palmer began forming "really terrible garage bands," as well as writing his first songs.
"Being in a house that's filled with creativity and artistic expression made it feel really normal," Palmer shares. "When most people tell their parents they’re moving across the country to try to be an artist, their reaction is not what my family’s was. My family was like, ‘Of course! That's what we do in this house.’"
A Canada native, Palmer first came to the States on a rugby scholarship from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. While in school and operating on a student visa, he found it hard to nail down a job. Looking at his father's success playing gigs in smokey bars, Palmer went to the bar owners near campus with a thumb drive full of his songs asking if they were interested in live entertainment. Before he knew it, one bar gig turned into five and his four-hour cover sets became his main source of income as he began cutting his teeth.
In May of 2020, Palmer was featured on the American songwriting competition series Songland, which followed the journeys of undiscovered writers as they pitched their songs to some of the biggest artists, writers and producers in the music industry.
On the episode with iconic country duo Florida Georgia Line, Palmer pitched his song 'Second Guessing' and ultimately won the show. FGL cut a version of the tune which helped propel him into the Nashville writing community. Palmer released his own solo version as his debut single in January 2023.
During his long hours of playing in bars, Palmer's friends would often come watch him play. Sometimes in the wee hours of the morning – and after several drinks – they would jokingly ask if he’d sing at their weddings. However, one couple was serious about the request.
“My friends were getting married in Michigan pretty soon after I moved to Nashville, but I was just getting started here so I wrote them a song and sent it to them to play at their wedding", he notes. “For a while, I was thinking of these love song titles and had this idea of ‘I haven't spent one second guessing,’ which was the catalyst for the song.”
When it comes to Palmer's songwriting, it doesn't take long to realize that he's a sucker for a clever play on words. Whether it's in his debut release, 'Second Guessing', or other tracks like 'Put Me Through Hello', his lyrics keep listeners on their toes and deliver scrumptious "Aha!" moments.
“It's fun for me when I'm writing a song like that because it's almost like a puzzle you have to put together,” he explains. “The fun part is making the song have a story, have meaning and make it all come together as one whole piece of music rather than just making it a gimmick.”
When it comes to his favorite artist and biggest source of musical inspiration, Palmer will always credit John Mayer. Growing up, he always admired how Mayer wrote, produced and played all of his music himself.
“He truly was someone who just followed the music and loved playing it. I was always inspired by that and feel like I tried to emulate that a lot during my first years in town. When you see someone doing it all themselves, it becomes less intimidating when you're also trying to do it yourself.”
The most vulnerable song on his debut record, the title track is an honest take on how Palmer has viewed relationships as he's grown up. Coming from a broken family, he was exposed to many aspects of relationships during his formative teenage years, which is what he fell back on as he started learning about love and relationships for himself.
“‘Unlearn’ was the first song I had written for this project that really showed my story and who I am,” Palmer says. “I wanted to write a song about what it's like to step back from all that and reevaluate it all for yourself with a healthier view. If there's any song you can get to know me as a human by on this record, it’s that one.”
“I've spent most of my life just being a songwriter,” Palmer shares. “Before you're an artist putting out music, you’re just writing songs because it's your favorite thing to do. I feel like you can't really be an artist without also loving being a songwriter because they kind of go hand-in-hand. The artist part comes out of figuring out what you’re writing about and what you're sharing in your songs.
“I'm glad that I've spent most of my time focusing on the songwriting part because it makes it a lot easier to be an artist. Now all I have to do is be myself and continue to do what I love to do.”
Palmer is heavily influenced by the music that his dad grew up listening to. He credits major heavy hitters in the 80s rock scene - such as The Police, Journey and Def Leppard - for formulating many of his musical memories.
“When my dad bought me my first guitar around 12 years old, it came with tickets to see Van Halen. He said, ‘If you're gonna learn how to play guitar, you're gonna see the greatest to do it,’” he recalls. “I was exposed to huge sounds and big sonic landscapes, so with my record, there's a lot of that infused in there. You can hear guitar parts that are really pulled from that era of music.”
While he's previously played songwriter rounds at the four-day country music extravaganza, the 2023 edition of the festival will see Palmer play for the first time as an artist. Taking on the big stage, he's excited to play a full band show and make Unlearn come to life.
“I’m on the road with Lily Rose right now and, so far, it's just been me and a guitar, which is fun. I get to go into songwriter mode and share the stories behind the writing. This next phase of getting the band together and playing these shows true to the record is what I'm really excited about, though," he gushes.
Unlearn is out now on Big Loud Records.