Some of country music’s greatest singers are its greatest songwriters too, and lately it feels like country music’s biggest stars have all started penning hits for other artists before they stepped up to the microphone and began singing those songs themselves. Chris Stapleton, HARDY, Lee Brice, Maren Morris, Ingrid Andress and Brandy Clark all started out writing on music row.
Add to that list Greylan James. Originally hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, one of country music’s best kept secrets got let out of the bag when he released his debut single, ‘Anything Cold’, last year, after writing huge hits for Chris Young, Blake Shelton and Chris Janson,
At just five years old, Greylan James’ grandfather gifted him his first guitar. From that moment on, whenever anyone would ask what he wanted to do in life, he responded, “I’m going to be a country music star.” Shortly thereafter, Greylan met his hometown hero, Kenny Chesney, who told him to “stay in school and learn how to write songs” - which is exactly what he did.
After high school, at the age of 18, he moved to Nashville in pursuit of his dreams. Shortly after that, Universal Music Publishing Group signed Greylan to a global publishing deal.
In 2020 his and Kenny’s paths crossed again when he got a phone call from the country superstar who let him know that he was cutting a song Greylan had written. That song was ‘Happy Does,’ and it went all the way to No. 2 for Kenny Chesney on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. He recently had his first No.1 single as a writer with Jordan Davis' ‘Next Thing You Know.’
“I write songs about the stories from my life and the stories I’ve seen others live,” Greylan says. “I just want anyone who’s listening to my music to be able to relate to them.”
Since the release of his debut EP, I Hope She Hears These, in 2022, Greylan has signed a record deal with Big Machine Label Group fulfilling another childhood dream and joining the likes of Lady A, Brett Young, Florida Georgia Line and many more.
His latest release, ‘Undermine,’ follows ‘2 Years Back’ and ‘My Future’ from earlier in the year. Set to be featured on Greylan’s forthcoming full-length album due out later this year, it’s the perfect showcase for his playful and deeply personal, relatable songs. Cheekily humorous and heartfelt, his songs brings to mind the kind of songs Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne have written for artists like Sam Hunt and Miranda Lambert over the years. The next giant country hit Greylan James writes is likely going to be his own though.
Holler sat down with Greylan James to find out a bit more about how he started out as a songwriter and what’s coming up next for him.
Where are you from and how did that influence you?
I’m from Knoxville, TN and it played a huge role in influencing me. Growing up with hometown idols like Kenny Chesney and Kelsea Ballerini always made my dreams feel possible. I’m not sure I’d have pursued this career as passionately as I did if it wasn’t for my hometown.
What did you grow up listening to?
I was really into country music like Kenny, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban but I also loved the 70s and 80s rock my parents listened to.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
I was 11 when my grandmother passed, and she had been one of the biggest reasons I got into music. I didn’t really know how to process my grief, so I went in my bedroom and wrote a song for her called ‘Dear Grandmommy.’ It’s a letter to her in heaven and I’m still really proud of that one to this day.
How would you describe your sound?
It’s changing all the time, but I try to let the songs speak for themselves when we’re writing and producing. I like to be able to switch it up a little in terms of what people are expecting from me, but I would say I definitely keep a modern sound throughout.
What can you tell us about your latest single, ‘Undermine’?
This was one of those songs I wrote that I immediately knew I wanted to record myself. I wrote this with my buddies, Chase McGill and Matt Jenkins and it really fell into place with all the different wordplay. I also got to produce this track in my own room and just love how it turned out. It’s one of my favorites yet.
Where’s the most unexpected place music has taken you?
Probably Kenny Chesney’s house. As a kid, I wouldn’t have believed you, but earlier this year I got a call that Kenny had a short time to write and we ended up going over there, hanging out and writing some great stuff. It was definitely a crazy experience.
Can you tell us about writing ‘Next Thing You Know’?
This was a write that Jordan jumped in on kind of last minute and he was looking to come up with something for his album, so right away there was a decent amount of pressure for the cut. I think Chase McGill had the title and we just started snowballing off that. We didn’t follow that conventional repeating chorus format and that allowed for a really great, emotional story to unfold. I’m really proud of that one, it was one of those special writes and I'm still riding high off the success.
We’re huge Kenny Chesney fans here at Holler, can you tell us a bit about writing ‘Happy Does’ too?
Yeah, this was a crazy experience and really changed my life. I’d seen a sign about choosing happiness while in Florida and took that vibe into a write with Brock Berryhill, Brad Clawson and Jamie Paulin. We knew Kenny was due to record soon and so we definitely had him in mind and just went for it. I remember I got a call from him one day, which was the first time I had ever talked to him, and he said he heard the song and loved it and was going to record it.
What’s your all-time favourite song of someone else’s?
I know a lot of people say this, but ‘The House That Built Me,’ that’s just really one of those songs that I think everyone wishes they had done first.
How has it been being out on tour with Old Dominion?
It’s been so great to be out learning from some of the genre’s greatest entertainers. Every night is a party with these guys and Kassi Ashton. It was great seeing the country that way and getting to share my music with their great crowds.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
That’s tough because I’ve really never thought of that typical ‘backup’ plan. I’d say it’d be something with music in some capacity still - maybe just working on the producing side would be pretty cool.
If you could time travel back to any time when would you travel back to?
I might go back to the little kid I was when I first met Kenny Chesney. I’d just tell myself to take it all in and just soak in the moment again knowing what I know now.
Which person from history would you most like to meet?
My grandfather really loved Johnny Cash and he was a huge influence on me growing up so I’d probably say Cash would be pretty epic to go back and talk to about writing and life.
Do you have any hidden talents?
Oh gosh, I don’t know how hidden this is, but I do a lot of my own producing and I try to play as many instruments as I can on my recordings. I love being as involved as possible in every aspect of the songs.
What’s next for you?
I’m looking forward to joining a couple tours including Jordan Davis for a few dates and Cole Swindell this fall. There’s definitely a lot of great music coming soon as well, I’m really looking forward to sharing it soon.
‘Undermine’ is out now through Big Machine Label Group.