By Maxim Mower
As he gears up to release his eagerly awaited sophomore album, Ain't My Last Rodeo, Riley Green sat down with Holler to delve into the creative process behind the project.
The charismatic, moustachioed Alabama native has built a reputation for re-popularising what many call ‘lifestyle country’, with Green relishing the opportunity his music presents to preserve the spirit, ideals and wisdom of former generations.
This cri-de-coeur is expressed most prominently through Riley Green's odes to his grandfathers, with his most recognisable hit remaining the sweet, endearing ‘I Wish Grandpas Never Died’. His ability to viscerally bring these characters to life so is also encapsulated on cuts such as ‘Hell Of A Way To Go’, ‘Behind The Times’, ‘Numbers On The Cars’ and the new album's title-track, ‘My Last Rodeo’, during which Green recalls sitting next to his grandpa during his final moments in hospital.
In his conversation with Holler, Riley Green underlines just how influential his granddaddies have been on his career, “I think a lot of my writing comes from things I've learned from them...and I've had so much success with writing from that place”.
Green goes on to explain, “I think my Granddaddy Buford would have been a good songwriter. He wrote poems all the time and was really, really good with words. I think it's just a natural thing for me to write [about my grandfather], and it kind of allows him to live on through me”.
Although Riley Green flexes his introspective muscles throughout Ain't My Last Rodeo, these are balanced out by a plethora of more uptempo, anthemic offerings such as ‘They Don't Make ‘Em Like That No More’ and ‘God Made A Good Ol’ Boy’.
Green was intentional in getting this blend just right, “I'm usually naturally more inclined towards the really broken-down, acoustic, stripped-back songs. That's kind of where I live as a writer and what I enjoy listening to the most”. He adds with a smile, “But you know, people don't want to ride around and cry all day long! You need some songs like ‘Copenhagen in a Cadillac’ where you can roll the windows down”.
When it came to narrowing down which twelve songs would make the cut for Ain't My Last Rodeo, listeners were able to breathe a sigh of relief when longstanding fan-favourite, ‘Mississippi Or Me’, was finally given an official release.
“‘Mississippi Or Me’ is a song I wrote maybe two and a half, three years ago, and it's almost been on every album I've had. I knew from the moment I wrote it and played it loud that it would make an album at some point. It's odd how some songs jump on an album right away or come out as a single, and some of them wait”.
Green teased, ”I know for a fact we have songs that didn't make this album that will make another album...”
In addition, Riley Green touched on his blockbuster new collaboration with Jelly Roll, ‘Copenhagen in a Cadillac’, life on the road, how he compiles his setlist and more:
“It came about from a personal relationship. You know, we've been buddies for a while...it's probably a collaboration people wouldn't really expect. So I thought there was something cool about it. I wrote ‘Copenhagen in a Cadillac’ just as a fun, light-hearted song with a couple of buddies and wasn't planning on cutting it. I think I did a show with Jelly somewhere, and I texted it to him and said, ‘Man, what do you think about this?’ and he just fell in love with it. So it was very happenstance”.
“I think any artist that tours as much as I do, probably does the same thing. Even some of the old [Merle] Haggard songs talk about being back home, and I think it's a natural thing to want to do that. But I'm pretty mindful of it myself; I know that a lot of my success came from writing from that small town in Alabama where I grew up.
I'm very purposeful [in] getting back there when I can [to try] and find some inspiration, because my fans relate to that, more so than from me writing from a condo in Nashville. It's a pretty important thing to be able to remember where those inspirations come from”.
“I wouldn't really know who was faking and who wasn't - but I certainly think fans can tell. I think that's what makes fans want to come to a show, it's the honesty. I think you can tell, especially when songwriters get up there and tell a story about how they wrote a song and what inspired it. That's always been what I've appreciated, and I love to watch [artists in] that acoustic setting and hear the stories behind these ideas”.
“There are some new songs that I think will go over really well live... When I'm writing, I usually think about what songs are going to do well in the live show, but also when fans really react to a song, you can't ignore that. I'll play a lot of them live and see what really jumps off the page and what songs really resonate with fans. They'll be the ones that we really try to push and maybe becomes the next single”.
“I didn't call and ask him or anything. I first heard it from a songwriter named Jessi Alexander that I've written with quite a bit, and she released a recording of it herself. I fell in love with the song and the sentiment of it, it seemed like something that would be perfect for the album”.
“There are a lot of guys now that are bringing back that traditional sound, it's becoming more popular all the time. Even some of the Tyler Childers-type stuff that's a little on the folkier side - there's still that storytelling [element], and it's got that twang that I grew up listening to”.
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