By Maxim Mower
The infusion of other genres into country has never been a more pertinent topic than it is right now. Country is decidedly more outward-facing, with some of the biggest names embracing Hip Hop sonics, Folk textures and even Screamo flourishes.
Country's modern melting pot has led to the genre reaching a level of success and visibility it hasn't enjoyed since the days of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain in the ‘90s.
Now, rather than country artists seeking mainstream collaborations as a means of expanding their listenership, Hip Hop and Pop heavyweights are flocking to Nashville in an attempt to capitalise on this ‘new’ form of country music, with the likes of Post Malone, Lana Del Rey and now Beyoncé all announcing 2024 country albums.
As the sparring sub-genres jostle for dominance in Music City - with Morgan Wallen and Zach Bryan currently the two figureheads of commercial country and alt-country respectively - the stage is set for a new, inventive prodigy to emerge as Nashville's flag-bearer as it prepares to become the musical hub of the US.
There's a strong argument that the name of this future star could well be ‘Blake Redferrin’.
After establishing himself on the Arenacross dirt bike circuit, a freak accident led to the curtailing of his burgeoning career - as he highlights in the video to his heart-rending single, ‘Doin’ Life’, which offers a visceral depiction of Red's mental health struggles.
As that door closed, another door opened and led Redferrin into Florida Georgia Line's TreeVibez Music writing rooms. Over the next few years, with the guidance of FGL's Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, Redferrin cut his teeth as a songwriter, penning FGL hits such as ‘Lil Bit’ and ‘Countryside’ as well as being at the heart of BK's acclaimed debut solo album, Sunshine State Of Mind.
Although he was writing for other artists, Redferrin was still showcasing his penchant for seismic, trap-leaning drums and Hip Hop lyricism, coupled with an unmistakably Southern sensibility and an alluring, charismatic drawl. Now that this distinctive blend has been given time to age and mature, Redferrin has distilled his influences and experiences into his stellar new Jack Daniels-inspired EP, Old No. 7.
The sultry, beat-driven lead single, ‘Jack and Diet Coke’, has exploded into Redferrin's most popular song to date, amassing almost 30 million global streams at the time of writing.
He explains, “This EP is the true side of me that I always wanted to portray. If you listen to older songs like ‘Stuck’, it sounds a lot like ‘Jack and Diet Coke’. It's happy and sad - it's a little darker, but it still feels upbeat. I love those kinds of songs. Back in the day, FGL told me you can't just be a sad boy - and I was like, ‘But I am!’ This EP isn't all sad, but it's a little rawer and realer. I tried to steer away from commercial and just pour my truth into it. Everyone close to me and the folks I've shared this project with just say, ‘Oh, that's Redferrin music. It's not just a hit anybody can sing’. When people close to me say that, it gives me a lot of faith in what we're doing. It shows that I'm remaining true to myself and what everybody's seen me chasing this whole time, and maybe I didn't even know I was after”.
As well as crediting FGL with giving him his start in country music, he praises the duo for opening his eyes to the fact that being a songwriter was a viable profession. But while FGL's influence on Redferrin is unquestionable, what's fascinating is, when listening to the duo's latter material, particularly their final album, Life Rolls On, you can hear Redferrin's genre-blurring finger-prints all over it.
The fact that FGL - who were famously adept at discerning what kind of sound would keep them at the top of the charts over the years - decided to lean on Red's enigmatic style so heavily, especially for Life Rolls On, emphasises how they saw his sound as the future.
“I don't know what I'd be doing right now if it wasn't for those boys”, Red explains, “When I met them, I was still finding myself, because my motocross career had just ended, and that was my identity for 25 years. It was an interesting time for somebody to take a chance on me. They put me in rooms with amazing writers, and they let me write with them and be a fly on the wall. I learned so much so fast - their bar as songwriters, men and artists was really high. It really made me step it up. Them backing me early on made everybody listen up and give me a chance”.
If you're only joining Redferrin now as his journey really begins to accelerate, don't fret - because it's safe to say the mullet-adorned crooner has plenty of music in store for fans. His aim over the next year or so, he underlines, is to help fans to understand the various facets that make up his life, his sound and his general outlook. As well as teasing a blockbuster collaboration with Wiz Khalifa, Redferrin has his sights set on a follow-up EP, as well as his eagerly anticipated debut album.
“I am pretty happy, but I've been sad. I've won and lost. I like country, rap and rock. I need full bodies of work to get my points across, so people don't just hear a random song out of nowhere. I'll weave the thread together and let people know: he's not a rapper. He's not a singer. He's not a rocker. He's just a dude that likes a lot of shit”.
In many ways, this is the perfect summation of Redferrin's refreshingly elusive sound and style. Whether he's delivering an atmospheric heartbreak anthem like ‘Champagne in the Morning’ or wistfully toasting a whiskey-fuelled fling on the witty ‘Miss Summer’, it's difficult to pinpoint which box or sub-genre we should be putting Red in. But that's the whole point - regardless of how many blithe comparisons are drawn with Morgan Wallen, Redferrin defies any attempts at categorisation.
He's in his own lane, his own world - and soon, it seems, he'll be in his own league.
In addition, Redferrin discussed why being compared to Morgan Wallen will never bother him, his hopes of working with Post Malone, his upcoming UK tour and more:
“It was nerve-wracking to put that song out into the world. 98% of time, I write about something I lived or something one of my co-writers or somebody close to me has lived. ‘Downhome Dreams’ was my first step into being vulnerable, and whenever I play shows, there's always somebody that comes up and talks about how much it impacted them. I thought it was really important to have another song with that kind of depth. I've struggled with depression, and a lot of people I love have dealt with it, and I've had to see people I love deal with addiction too.
It takes a toll on you. Rich, poor, black, white, man, woman - depression and hard times don't discriminate. Unfortunately, I've got a lot of those stories to tell. One day, we got real vulnerable in the writing room and got to talking about stuff we'd been through and stuff we're relating to as men that we don't share with each other enough”.
“I think Morgan is dope. I respect him and he's one of my buddies. But to say that he's influenced my sound would be a stretch, because I was making songs like ‘Stuck’ and ‘Jack and Diet Coke’ when he was doing ‘Whiskey Glasses’. To me, there's a world of difference, and I was putting hi-hats and 808s on songs six years ago. ‘Last Night’ and all Morgan's songs are real cool, but I've been doing that for a little bit. It's no disrespect. We're both Tennessee boys, we're about the same age and we both talk the same shit. So there are some similarities, but I wouldn't ever hear Morgan sing a song like ‘Doin’ Life’. In my opinion, his camp's not gonna let stuff like that out. I might be a little too raw, but that's the difference between Red and anybody else out there, not just Morgan. I'm just telling my story, and I think the EP will help people separate us. There is that depth and there are some sounds you're not going to hear on a Wallen song - and that you're not going to hear on too many country songs at all, because people are scared to make their drums loud. They want it to sound like Radio. But when I'm making my drums louder, Radio says, ‘We love them drums!’
I mean, just being honest with you, it's like somebody saying you sound like Drake. If you remind them of the best dude in the game, that is no disrespect to me. It doesn't hurt my feelings - it makes me feel like I'm finally on the right track”.
“I get to see them both a little bit still. We're all very busy now - Tyler put it in a funny way, when he said, “We're all basically new artists, buddy. We're all about to be busy, man”. But we still write from time to time when we're all in town. I ain't got to write with T-Hub in a while, but me and BK still get together. It would be fun to get up with him again. We write some bangers, man, and I think my pen's a little better now, so it'd be fun to get in there and have a little more to offer. Them boys are great, and I'm super thankful for him. I got to write with Nelly because of them.
When we wrote BK's solo project, we went to the Keys and recorded a lot of that in Jimmy Buffett's studio. If we were writing a ‘boat’ song, we did it on a boat, if we were writing ‘Sunday Service in the Sand’, we went out at 6:30am and talked real-talk. We lived everything we were writing about. I really lean into that on Old No. 7. We wrote ‘She's Like Whiskey’ at Jack Daniels in an airstream, and recorded it drunk at 3am. That's a lesson I'll value my whole life - you don't have to bang your head against the wall to write a song, if you just go live a little”.
“I got my passport a couple of weeks ago - I've never left the country before, so it'll be a lot of fun. We're doing a warm-up month opening for Niko Moon and that's super fun. He's such a good songwriter, and I hope we get to write together out there...After C2C Festival, we've got some more shows with Niko, and then we're going out with Billy Currington, which is bucket list stuff. Honestly, I've felt like a songwriter and recording artist the last few years, so I'm really thankful to get out, sing these songs and feel people experiencing them in the moment”.
“I would love to do something with Ozzy Osbourne or Metallica. ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath was the first song I ever learned on the guitar when I was a teenager. In the country world, it would be a toss-up between Alan Jackson and Jason Aldean. I've always really looked up to them, the way they told their stories was amazing to me. Alan is probably my biggest influence - he once said in an interview his label wouldn't let him sing sad songs all the time, so he started writing happy-sounding sad songs. I was like, ‘That's the hack right there!’ That's how you do it”.
Post Malone is a big influence. The darker undertones of ‘Stuck’ and ‘Jack and Diet Coke’ are definitely influenced by early Post. A lot of his music was acoustic - I don't know why people are so surprised he's going country, because ‘Stay’ and some of those earlier songs were just him singing with an acoustic guitar. A lot of that stuff really influenced me early on, when I was first diving into my artistry and not only writing for others...That's a hopeful one. I've told everybody I'm not pitching songs until I make a couple count for myself - but if Posty wants one, I'll let that man have one. I've got a few I'm gonna try to get to him. Maybe we can sing them together, or maybe he'll at least sing them, because that would be a bucket list moment. I'm trying to put it out there, man”.
“I'm gonna get back to writing a lot now, and I plan to take songwriters out on the road so I can stay sharp. That was a trick I learned from FGL - when you bring writers out, they can watch your crowd and see what works for you on a deeper level than you can see yourself.
I've got this EP out, and I'm working on another EP that folks will hopefully get pretty soon after this one. I'm also working on my album...The way it is today, you drop your EP and 20 minutes later fans are like, ‘Okay, what else you got?’ I'm trying to get another one out quickly...I've got a bunch coming. We're just trying to do stuff a little fun and a little different. Let's put the same amount of songs out, but let's do it in a different way and see how it hits. I can't wait to share it. I've got a couple of cool features locked down. Me and Wiz got a song together that's insane. I'm working on some cool country collabs too. Man, it's gonna be exciting”.