NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Thomas Rhett has fully embraced his reputation for being the guy who is always writing romantic songs inspired by his wife, Lauren, due to his hit parade of multi-platinum love songs like “Die a Happy Man” and “Marry Me.”
Now his challenge going into his fourth record, “Center Point Road,” out Friday, is to be less gushy and more relatable.
“I’m trying to write my love songs with a little more depth, rather than our life is rainbows and fairytales,” Rhett said. “Love just shifts and evolves and you start to love deeper and you start to love harder in the midst of all the chaos of your life. It was cool to write love songs with a little more meat attached to the bone on this record.”
And if you look closely at the album’s credits, his wife shows up on background vocals on “Things You Do For Love,” although he said he had to ply her with wine in the studio.
At just 29, Rhett has a lot to look forward to as one of country music’s biggest young stars. He is selling out arenas across the country and has won male artist of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards twice.
He reached a wider audience with his debut on “Saturday Night Live” in March and his expansive 16-track record finds him pushing further into big pop productions with collaborations with Ed Sheeran co-writer and Grammy-winner Amy Wadge, and The Stereotypes, a hip-hop/pop production and songwriting team that worked with Bruno Mars on his Grammy-winning “24K Magic” record.
“I just love every record doing a couple of songs that are way out of my wheelhouse because I think it expands me creatively,” Rhett said.
He also worked with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, who’s also known for creating hits for superstars including Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Adele.
Tedder had never written with Rhett, but they had mutual friends and got together for a two-day writing session that produced “Beer Can’t Fix” a beachy country duet with Jon Pardi, and a stripped-down acoustic track called “That Old Truck.” Tedder teased that there was one more song they both wrote that will be coming out on another producer/DJ’s record, but he couldn’t yet announce it.
While Tedder is primarily known for his pop and rock songs, he’s from Oklahoma and got his musical start in Nashville working on demos, so he wanted to exercise his country songwriting chops.
“I know what country artists want from me if I’m in the room,” Tedder said. “They’re thinking, ‘Oh, we’re going to do the big crossover record or a big pop record or ballad.’ So with (Rhett,) I thought, screw it. I am not going to let this session steer pop. I want to keep it rooted in country.”
Tedder, who has also recently been writing with Kelsea Ballerini and Dan + Shay over the last year, said Rhett can’t get rid of his Southern accent, but he has a love for pop music that makes him able to straddle both worlds.
“Country is in his DNA,” Tedder said. “But I think he is the prototype of the new country artist.”
Another song, “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time,” with its Prince-style guitar licks and funky horns and backing vocals from Little Big Town, was a big cross-genre collaboration written by Rhett, Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town, Rhett’s longtime cowriters Jesse Frasure and Ashley Gorley, along with The Stereotypes’ Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus, Johnathan Yip.
Rhett also spends time on this record happily reminiscing about life pre-fame and stardom, when he was just a high school kid in Hendersonville, Tennessee, as the son of country singer-songwriter Rhett Akins. The title track, named after the street he grew up on, is a lovely piano duet with Ballerini that swells with recollections of carefree youth.
Rhett said that being a dad of two little girls has given him a nostalgic streak lately.
“I don’t know how nostalgic you can really be before you’re 30,” he said with a grin.
Follow Kristin M. Hall at http://twitter.com/kmhall