“I’d given up on the dream of being an artist,” Ben Burgess admits. “I always wanted to do it and felt like I could, but the pieces never aligned. I never had the right song with the right team. So I was like, ‘Screw it! I’m just going to put out great songs’. And I became addicted to it.”
It was an addiction that had its upsides. He’s written songs for country music big hitters like Billy Currington, The Cadillac Three, Chris Lane and Dierks Bentley as well as pop hits for Lil Wayne, the Jonas Brothers, Martin Garrix and Troye Sivan. Most notably he was one of the songwriters behind Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Life Goes On’, Ernest’s ‘Flower Shops’ and Morgan Wallen’s 7x Platinum 2020 BMI Country Song of the Year ‘Whiskey Glasses’, along with several tracks on his record-breaking album Dangerous. But we’re not here to talk about any of that.
After cutting his teeth writing pop songs in LA, Burgess relocated to Nashville in 2014 looking for a fresh start, re-energised by a collection of what the singer describes as some of the “swampiest far-out music you could imagine” that he’d written and recorded with collaborator Sean McCarthy. In Nashville he finally found a place that felt like home and a songwriting community that was way more welcoming to his Texas twang and off-the-wall ideas.
The hits came and they kept on coming, but Burgess still knew in his heart that the best songs he was writing would be best sung by him. Having already had success as a songwriter with a lot of Big Loud artists, it was no surprise when he made a home for himself there as an artist in his own right.
Burgess immediately got to work on his debut album, Tears the Size of Texas, and now we’re just left wondering why he hasn’t been singing these songs himself all these years. He possesses the kind of voice you pull over on the side of the road for, deep and dirty and dripping with cowboy swagger, and his songwriting has never felt so assured and poetic.
Despite all the incredible songs he’s written for other artists, it still feels like he might have saved the very best of himself for the 10 songs collected here. Taking the classic country and western songwriting of albums like Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs or Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes, he blows them up to stadium size with a grinding modern outlaw country sound.
With hints of Eric Church at his most excitable and cheeky little nods to the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone and Willie Nelson at his weirdest, these might just be cowboy songs like we’ve always known and loved, but it’s a big old widescreen CGI sunset he’s riding off into; a modern day cowboy troubadour raised on grit and determination.
It’s like Lane Frost used to say: “True cowboys are the ones who aren’t afraid to get dirty”. It’s time to acknowledge the corn.
Holler sat down with Ben Burgess to talk to him about his songwriting, what he grew up listening to and what it was like to finally get to record his own songs.
Where are you from and how did that influence you?
I'm from East Dallas, Texas, the melting pot of the world. I'm a big city-slicker-slash-cowboy. Dallas has got everything in it - I grew up around every kind of person that there is and with that came every kind of music. It's greatly influenced my music.
What did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to classic rock, old school country, Frank Zappa, you name it.
How would you describe your sound?
Honest, heart-breaking, dramatic country and western.
Tell us a little bit about making your debut album Tears The Size Of Texas?
Being in the studio, the process of recording it, was so incredible. To see these songs come to life was truly an experience I'll never forget. Writing for the album made me a better songwriter, it tested parts of me as a songwriter that I hadn't been tested on or worked on because I got to really write for myself. I think it's going to change me as a songwriter and as a man forever.
Where’s the most unexpected place music has taken you?
I went to Australia - that was cool. Guy Sebastian brought me out and I did 20 shows with him and hit 20 different places over there. I love my Aussie angels.
What was it like working with Diplo?
Diplo is a living icon. To be able to pick his brain and become friends with him has been one of the most unexpected highlights of my career.
What inspires you?
What’s your favourite song of yours?
‘Tears the Size of Texas’
And what’s your favourite songs of someone else’s?
‘That Lucky Old Sun’ - I think it's a Frankie Laine song but I love the Willie Nelson cover.
You’ve written so many songs for other people, if you could get any singers alive or dead to sing your songs who would it be and which songs?
Johnny Cash on ‘Flower Shops’ and John Lennon on ‘Ain't Got No Phone’
Which person from history would you most like to meet?
Nicola Tesla, the king of electricity, to ask what the hell happened.
What would be your Spice Girls style nickname?
Spicy Spice. Southern Spice.
What advice would you give to the younger you?
Trust your gut. Pull the trigger. Spend more time with family.
What’s next for you?
Writing songs for the next album, tour, sky's the limit! You're going to have to wait and see ;)
Ben Burgess' Tears the Size of Texas is out now on Big Loud Records.