I’m one of those people who’ll always be a fan of country music, no matter what. While some people will always find a reason to say, ‘It’s not like it used to be’, or some similar version of that thought, not me. Country music is an evolving, organic lifeforce. And change is part of that. I’m a firm believer that there’s a place in country music for everyone who wants to be a part of country music. And that includes the more traditional sounding artists, as well as those who may have brought something of a pop, or r’n’b, or even rap element into what they do. Why not? If it works, and it’s good music, then that’s all that matters.
So that’s where I stand on the state of country music these days. It’s as simple as that, because it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that! Now, here’s where Walker McGuire fit into things.
There’s always amazing music being made and outstanding songs being written. They’re always there if you’re willing to look for them. And every now and then, artists like Margo Price, or Midland, or Brandy Clark, or Ashley Campbell, or Scotty McCreery with his latest single, ‘Five More Minutes’, will come along and remind you why you fell in love with country music in the first place. The songs. That’s what country music is all about. Not so very long ago, the artists I mentioned above weren’t household names, even for country fans. But they were still writing and singing amazing songs. And eventually, everybody hears amazing songs. They find their way through.
That’s what’s happening with Walker McGuire. Every song of theirs I listen to reminds me of how artists like Garth, Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Clint Black, Vince Gill and more made me first fall in love with country music. I really can’t pay Jordan Walker and Johnny McGuire a more sincere compliment than that. And I really can’t urge you enough to find their music and drink it in. THIS is the good stuff. Their self-titled EP has just been released and I had the pleasure of chatting with the guys about that, and more.
Before we moved on to all of the happy and positive things we had to talk about with the guys themselves, with all of us being country music fans as well as being part of the industry in different ways, it felt only right to begin by asking the guys about the sudden and terribly sad passing of Daryle Singletary.
“Man, it’s definitely hit this town pretty hard. Daryle was obviously one of the best voices country music has ever heard. We never got to meet him, but from the stories we’ve heard he was an incredible guy. About four and a half years ago Johnny and I went to a show together, when we first moved to town, and Daryle was one of the guys playing there. And just hearing that guy, with just an acoustic guitar, that was country music at its finest. I think his passing, so suddenly and so young, has definitely shook Nashville. It’s a very sad ordeal for sure, but he’s left some incredible songs.”
After listening to everything I could find of Walker McGuire online in preparation for our chat, I had a straight-up confession to make: While we were going to talk about their self-titled EP, all I really wanted to know was when could I get my hands on a full album?! What these guys are doing is amazing. But as far as the EP was concerned, how exciting or nervous a time was it for Jordan and Johnny in the build-up to release?
“Yeah, man, it was a really big build-up. As far as the band goes, we’ve been touring for about four years and gaining fans all that time. So over those years we’ve had people asking, ‘When are you guys gonna release some music?’, and we continued to push that date back and back, but finally, we were able to release these five songs that I think encompass who we are as writers and as musicians. Some of those songs we wrote about four and half years ago, right when we started the band. And some of them, we wrote a year ago. So it’s kind of a picture of what we’ve been working on. But we’re really excited to get the rest of the album out, too. We’re focusing right now on this new single, and these five songs, and people getting the music and sharing it with friends. We want to grow that audience and hopefully by the time this year comes around, a little later on, we’ll have a little bit of a bigger audience to release that full record to.”
There’s a track on the EP called ‘Lost’, co-written with Kristan Bush from Sugerland. I wondered if the writing process was in any way different when it’s with someone like Kristan, who’s already so well-known and such a successful figure, than when sitting down with someone who may not have reached, or been recognised, at that level yet?
“Well luckily enough, the week we wrote that song was the week after we signed our record deal and the record label, Broken Bow, they sent us on a writers’ retreat with a bunch of writers, to basically write for the record and the EP. We all kinda walked into the house, it was a lake-house in East Tennessee, knowing that everything we did that week needed to be centred around what Johnny and I did. So writing with Kristan was a treat, man, he’s a great guy. And like you said, he’s had a ton of success. He knows what sells, and he knows what sounds good, and he knows how to say stuff. It was a lot of fun, kinda learning from him. But luckily that week was kinda based around the Walker McGuire camp, so it all came out pretty organically and pretty easy.”
Did a week like that come with a lot of pressure attached to it?
“Man, it was really fun! I mean, we showed up and we started having some cocktails right away [laughs], and just talkin’ and breakin’ the ice with all these new labelmates and family, and guys who wrote for the label. It wasn’t awkward at all. It’s really not awkward for Jordon or I to write with anybody, because we’ve been writing songs longer than we’ve been performing them. So, that’s what we’ve always done and it’s what we moved to Nashville to do. So when we get in a room with anybody, it’s more a feeling of excitement, we’re just ready to go. I think, honestly, we’ve gained a reputation as writers ourselves. There’s excitement in the sense that we love what Kristan does, but I think there’s also that respect that we have for ourselves [as songwriters] as well.”
And of course ‘Lost’ will always be the first song Walker McGuire ever played at the Opry. What was that moment like for Jordan and Johnny, when they first heard that they’d be performing there?
“Man, playing the Opry – and I know this sounds cliched – but it’s the biggest bucket-list thing in anybody’s life here in Nashville. And also the fact that we got to play the Opry at the Ryman last year, that was a whole other monster on top! Being able to do that, just getting the call to play the Opry, it was one of the most exciting phone calls we ever had. We flew our families out to come hang out, but it made it a lot more stressful because our moms were crying the whole day [laughs]. But we had fun with it, man. There’s just something about it, when you walk out there and they introduce you, and you’re ‘live’ on radio, and you see that crowd there in front of you who just love country music….Being able to perform for those people in the Opry house is one thing, but in the Ryman is a whole other thing! Those experiences are something we’ll always hold close.”
Jordan has also co-written one of my favourite songs of the last while in country music, the gorgeous ‘When It Rains It Pours’, with and for Luke Combs. And it also hit the #1 spot on the charts, something every songwriter dreams of. Now that Jordan has actually lived that dream, how did it feel?
That was a game-changer! That was a big life-changer, man. Johnny and I were on a radio tour up in Baltimore when I got the call that said hey, it’s going to country radio [being released as a single] and I was just excited to be a part of Luke’s record. I’ve been a big believer in Luke since I met him three years ago. I wrote that song with him and Ray Fulcher and he said he was goin’ to put it on the record, so I got excited then. Then he called and said it was actually going to go to radio, too! So that was an opportunity to drink about a half a bottle of whisky that night [laughs]. But watching it climb on the charts and having that in my back pocket as something that I was a part of, that’s been a life-changer, for sure. Big shout out to Luke and his camp for believing in that song, and thank you to you too for your kind words about it. It’s been a big game-changer.”
Jordan and Johnny do a thing called Walker McGuire Wednesday on their social media, which is super cool, and a brilliant way of consistently interacting with their fans while raising their profiles further at the same time. They usually post a special version of one of their songs each week, with a bit of a back-story to how it came to be written. I asked Johnny how the idea came about and were they finding it tough yet to keep coming up with something for every Wednesday?
“Ya know, for a while, when we weren’t on the road as much, right before we went on the radio tour, we were meeting about once a week and that was just an idea that came up to gain more fans and keep us active in the social media realm. When we decided to do it every week, that was out of excitement and maybe a coffee buzz! [laughs]. But we’ve managed to keep doin’ it, even if there’s been some weeks where we’ve had to really reach for somethin’ to post! But it’s become a weekly thing and it’s just part of it now. It’s cool when we meet fans at shows and they say how every week they’re looking forward to something on Wednesday and we’re gonna keep it goin’. And if you have any ideas for us, you let us know! Cos’ we’re gonna need somethin’ for Wednesday again! [laughs].”
What’s really clear to see from the guys’ Walker McGuire Wednesday posts, and from the ‘live’ videos they post from their radio tours and elsewhere, is how well the duo get along. They started writing together very soon after first meeting, but I wondered how soon did they begin to feel like what they had could be more than just a songwriting partnership?
“Well when we first met, like you said, that’s all we were doin’, we were just writin’ songs, man. We had no idea really what Nashville songwriting was, we were just doin’ what we thought was cool. And we really clicked because we really didn’t have a choice, we were like the only friends we had, ya know! [laughs]. So we hung out all the time, and I lived with Johnny for a time, then we ended up gettin’ a place together. It happened super-organically. But there for the first little bit, that first year or so, we were together every single day. So writing songs became super, super easy, because if you’re with someone all the time, then ideas come up twenty-four-seven.”
In a lot of their songs, like ‘Til’ Tomorrow’, ‘I’m On It’, and even the tongue-in-cheek ‘Ol What’s Her Name’, there’s an undercurrent of lost love there, which wouldn’t be anything new to country music, of course. And with writers as good as these guys, a song can easily be brought to life from just an idea. But equally true is the fact that heartache has been a source of inspiration for country writers right from the get-go. How much would the guys usually write from real-life experiences?
“I think, most of the time, it probably is from a real-life experience. Just because it’s either an experience that we in some way witnessed, or it actually happened to us. I don’t think every song we write is necessarily a first-hand experience, but we try to take things from the world. Like Jordon said, when we’re together, one of us will see something funny, or we’ll hear something funny at a bar, like some guy hittin’ on a girl who will say somethin’ funny to her and one of us will write it down on our phones! And the next day, when we’re sober [laughs]. we’ll bring it up and if the idea is cool, we’ll rock on it for a little bit. But it’s one of those things where I don’t think you’re necessarily gonna decide that you’re gonna sit down and write a song about a dog or somethin’ that day. You listen, and when an idea either pops into your head, or you hear someone say somethin’, you quietly write it down and wait for the person you want to write it with to come along.”
I noticed that the guys had recently been to see Garth Brooks in concert, and had described him as the G.O.A.T., or greatest of all time. Big fans, then?
“Oh yeah, 100%. I mean, even Johnny growin’ up in the rock ‘n’ roll kinda world. If you don’t know Garth, then you don’t listen to the radio. In the nineties, and the early two-thousands, and even now he’s back again, man, he IS the greatest of all time. His entertainment, and his stage presence, and his band, and everything about his ‘live’ show is a ten-out-of-ten. Incredible!”
Who else would have been very influential to Johnny and Jordan?
“It sounds cliched to say it now, but Tom Petty for me, was a huge influence. And John Prine. And rock ‘n’ roll guys like The Beatles and Jethro Tull were a big influence.”
“I was more country, I grew up in a little farm town in Texas, so Keith Whitley, Dan Seals, even guys in the nineties like Alan Jackson, Garth, of course, Brooks and Dunn, any of those guys. They were always on my mom’s radio. Having those guys as influences, that’s shaped what we do lyrically. And then watching a guy like Garth, it makes you go, ‘Man, we gotta step-up our game, we’re not even close to that yet! He’s incredible.”
In June, Walker McGuire will be performing as part of Country Fest, a massive event that also has Brad Paisley, Dwight Yoakam, Jason Aldean, Kane Brown, Walker Hayes, and Brantley Gilbert – to name just a few – also on the bill. If that was me, and I knew I had that coming down the road, I’d don’t know how I’d wake up each morning and manage to contain the excitement. So how do the guys deal with it, knowing that they have some much amazing stuff going on and coming up?
“I think the biggest thing is that in this business, you just gotta take it day by day. Every single day we have something come up where we’re in a different town, playin’ for a different crowd. And we’ve always said that if you gain one fan a night, then you’re doin’ your job. For CMA Fest, our families come up for it and that’s obviously a great week for country music. The town goes crazy, the buzz is unbelievable, getting to see all our favourite performers all over town is great. That’s definitely a week we look forward to every year.”
“Like Jordan said, we’re on the road so much, I think Country Fest isn’t until June, so we’ve got about eighty-thousand miles to drive until then. So usually we’re just payin’ attention to the next town we’ve got comin’ that weekend, ya know.”
* Walker McGuire’s self-titled EP is OUT NOW, on all digital platforms. And their full album can’t come soon enough!