It’s all happening right now for Ernest. Having started out with "nothing but a dream and a few ideas", the humble Nashville native has now been catapulted into Music City’s big leagues. A selection of cuts on 2022’s biggest-selling country album, Dangerous: The Double Album took his reputation to stratospheric highs far beyond his expectations, and his own Flower Shops: The Album launched to critical acclaim.
Surrounded by collaborators and a label he describes as “the best in the business”, Ernest speaks to Holler with great enthusiasm about Flower Shops (The Album): Two Dozen Roses, a 24-track deluxe edition set for release on February 10th. Clearly a passionate, educated country music historian, Ernest describes the project as a “nod of the cap” to his traditional roots, whilst adding a dash of his signature commercial, soul-tinged flavour.
Gratitude and humility came across in abundance throughout the discussion. Namedropping the likes of HARDY, Morgan Wallen and Mitchell Tenpenny - “middle schoolers when this was just a pipe dream” - there’s a sense that Ernest is a part of something truly special happening to his crew of down-home boys that have something impactful to say. “We all had nothing together, and now we have something together,” he remarks, reflecting on a whirlwind year.
Ernest is now giving back to the community of rising lyrical talents with the launch of his publishing company, Cadillac Music, in conjunction with Big Loud Records. Described as a “dream come true” for the wordsmith, it’s a telling indictment of both his trusted ear for a hit and his commitment to building a bright future for country music.
Speaking from Big Loud’s Nashville HQ, Ernest joins Holler to chat about his upcoming new music and the publishing venture, whilst hinting at a possible UK trip for Morgan Wallen and co.
Flower Shops (The Album): Two Dozen Roses is set to drop on February 10th, and what a stellar collection it is. Give us an introduction to this next set of songs and how it compares to the first batch.
I'd say it's a continued portion of the same album: 13 more songs, 24 total -two-dozen roses. There's a little bit of something for everybody, but it's all just a nod of the cap to stuff I grew up loving. There's one song, ‘Wild, Wild West’ on there that’s pretty heavily Eagles-inspired, but I would say other than that, it's pretty country. I'm stoked for people to get to live with this music, like I've done.
You’re such a prolific songwriter. How do you approach the selection process? There must be so many songs that don't make the cut - what's the criteria?
Once it was time to start putting more songs together, I had enough that sounded like a continuation. Because when I was done with the Flower Shops album originally, I just kept writing, including a lot of songs that would have no business on this record as well, just sonically. But I had 14 or 15 that fit. I chose these 13 and left a couple off. They'll probably be on another project. I just thought the branding of 24 songs was pretty cool.
It’s so cool to see such a diverse range of songwriters on the credits. Is it important to keep it fresh and write with so many different minds?
I think having a broad web of different styles to work with is healthy for the music I write. Jacob, 10 times out of 10, is going to turn around and have a badass-sounding demo. It sounds like a master, so that's one headspace to go in. And then there are other people with whom I like going in and just picking up an acoustic guitar. Old school, you know, writing from the ground of an idea.
Do you write more for yourself now, rather than writing for others? When you get into a writing room, what's the initial feeling?
If I'm writing with another artist, it's pretty easy for me to be able to set my own artistry aside and write in whatever world they’re in. But I've had the luxury of getting to write for me more, which I love. I love getting to be selfish and be like, ‘hey, I want to write for me today.’ Also, my resources are the best in town, so lucky me!
On ‘Songs We Used to Sing’, you wrote with Charles Kelley of Lady A. We all know Charles as the powerhouse vocalist that he is, but what does he bring to a writing room?
He’s great. I kind of let loose on him, freestyled a good bit of it, and the songs weren't all that easy. We wrote two together, and the first one was primarily him and me sitting back and just letting him vocalise the whole thing. I think what made him great was knowing I had the apple, so to speak, and he let me get after it for a minute.
But he kept throwing out such cool imagery. It was so easy to collaborate with him.
Another writing collaborator on the album is Brian Kelly, who seems to be enjoying his solo life following his time with Florida Georgia Line. What flavour does he bring to a writing session?
I would say Brian has, and will always bring, good vibes. That's been his whole mantra. He sets the vibe in a room so well when it comes to getting the sense right and just being very welcoming. He's always been so good to me, I love him like a brother. So when he called and asked if I wanted to write with him and Dean Dillon, it was just a no-brainer.
We wrote three or four songs that day. We wrote a couple of songs for BK, and then at the end of that day we had like an hour and a half left, and Dean picked up a guitar and just kind of looked away and started picking, singing some melody.
We both let Dean go. That was just incredible to me and BK as fans, getting to sit and watch Dean Dillon do what Dean Dillon does. It was so fun.
Tell us about Cadillac Music, which you launched recently to help the new crop of country writers coming through.
It is a dream come true to get to have an opinion on what I think's cool, and then have Big Loud trust my ear and instincts enough to go in on that with me. I launched it with Chandler Walters, a young cat who is way ahead of his time musically, as well as Rafe Tenpenny, who's been my best friend since fifth grade, and Cody Lowden.
We’re just 30-year-old pros at this point. I was making my first recordings with Rafe when I was in fifth grade. Me, Rafe and Mitchell Tenpenny, we were all in the same studio coming up together as middle schoolers when this was just a pipe dream. Finally, Cody Lowden is an incredible writer and incredible singer, and I'll probably add a few more in the future.
However, what it means to me to have a publishing company is being able to give back. You know, The Warren Brothers gave me a chance way before I deserved it by any means. On paper, they just saw the potential and took me to Sony ATV and signed me on a joint venture. So now I get to do that and give back.
It really feels like Big Loud have got their finger on the pulse at the moment – you’ve only got to look at the roster and the quality of what they’re producing right now. It must be a cool place to be.
There’s a really broad stroke of creativity in this building. You know, between me, Hardy and Morgan, we’re being roped into the same conversation so, so much. Our music is very spread out on our own, which I think is super cool because we're writing songs that other people are cutting too.
Craig Wiseman, Big Loud’s founder, was on my podcast, and his quote is hilarious. He was asked, “Craig, where do you see country music going?”, and he said, “Wherever we send it to on the Earth!”
People seem to really gravitate towards you guys. It's working at the moment. Hardy's just released a killer album – you must be so proud of what the three of you are achieving?
Yeah, I heard Hardy say it really well the other day - we all had nothing together, and now we have something together. Morgan's on a different stratosphere, but we definitely all jumped into this with nothing but a dream and a few ideas. Most importantly, we had the best in the business around us to see something so rough and dedicate time to it to get it right and send it off.
On the topic of Morgan, the way that double album blew up last year was beyond anyone's wildest expectations. Having 11 songs that you co-wrote on there become so huge globally must have been mind-blowing!
Oh, totally. I mean, it’s so cool to have a cut on the biggest record, particularly with your best friend. It's weird to see how big that all got because at the end of the day, we're just two buddies writing songs. We think it sounds cool, and for that many people to agree is just an affirmation. We might be crazy, but we're not that crazy!
Flower Shops (The Album): Two Dozen Roses is out on Friday 10th February via Big Loud Records. For more on Ernest, see below: