Thomas Rhett Interview: Rising Singer Knows How Life on the Road Can Destroy a Marriage
Fame, money and confidence can lead a 23-year-old to debauchery very quickly. Throw in a guitar, a few sensitive songs, alcohol and a room full of female fans ... hey, there's a reason few country newcomers get married before they've had two hit albums.
Thomas Rhett knows firsthand how the business can take a toll on a marriage, so his actions on the road are very clear and very deliberate. The 'It Goes Like This' hitmaker says he and wife Lauren have done a pretty good job being honest with each other during their first year of marriage.
"Being backstage at a lot of different places there's a lot going on and you gotta be 100 percent honest with the other person," Rhett tells Taste of Country. "That's what we've tried to master. It's definitely helped us. When she's out here, it's not really an issue. When she's at home, we try to talk a lot. We try to talk at least three or four times a day. Just to kind of let her know what's going on and vice versa."
Rhett's father is singer Rhett Akins. When Thomas was nine, his parents got a divorce, and he'd later tell the Boot a lot of it had to do with his dad being on the road. "Mom kind of always made me promise that I would never get in the music business," Rhett said in 2012. "I think at one point I actually did promise her that when I was younger. But she’s a huge supporter of me, and she knows that I have my head on straight now and my faith drives me."
If you only listen to songs like 'Something to Do With My Hands' and 'Round Here' (which the young star helped write for Florida Georgia Line), you may get the wrong impression. In reality, Rhett is not that assertive; philandering doesn't seem to be among his favorite hobbies. Heck, he's known Lauren since the first grade, and he long ago promised to not get fresh with another girl, even if they're only acting.
The Taste of Country Christmas Tour headliner spoke to us before a road stop in Tallahassee, Fla. The early morning phone call was not his idea (ToC: Do you like to get up early in the morning? Rhett: No. Do you?), but he was more than happy to share his tricks for balancing the life of a country music star with that of a married man, and talk about the controversy behind one song on his new 'It Goes Like This' album.
ToC: In the music video for 'It Goes Like This,' you do some acting where you're playing with another girl. Is that strange?
Rhett: If you notice in that video, I was only in one scene with that girl. And it was at the very end. It wasn't even my arm doing any of that stuff. I was just very adamant with the record label and with my video producer, just saying, "Look man, it's not a big deal. It's just not really me to be all over some girl in a music video." Even if they are the nicest people in the world, it's just not really what I do.
I'm really glad that everybody is down with not having to kiss all over some girl because that would be pretty awkward.
What's been the hardest part of the business for you to adjust to?
I would say the being gone. I just got married last October. We're gone for 280, almost 300 days a year. So 70 to 80 days I'm home every year. Being an artist, you just gotta be ready to miss certain things, like Halloween and all these kind of things that you used to be able to be free for. Birthdays, all this kind of stuff.
At the same time, me and Lauren have definitely made a life for ourselves out here. She comes out here and she hangs out with the band and we goof off and have a good time out here.
Congratulations on your Gold single ('It Goes Like This' will soon be certified Platinum). Does it mean more to you since it's a song your dad helped write?
It's definitely different. I guess about a couple of years ago when I was getting into this whole artist thing, for a long time I thought that I had to write every song that I was gonna put out. So my first two singles were songs that I wrote, and then I started watching people like Luke (Bryan) and like Jason (Aldean) half write some of their songs and then also cut other people's songs. I heard this song and I kind of fell in love with it.
It will be cool to be able to experience a No. 1 party with my dad for my first one.
Typically, guys your age are trying to do anything they can to get away from their dad's influence.
Yeah [laughs]. I'm kind of stuck around him for forever, I think.
Were you ever like that? Did you ever want to get away from being Rhett Akins' son?
Absolutely, man. I was going through high school and stuff, every time Dad would come to school and say "Hey," or come to football practice or something, everybody wanted to go hang out with Dad. I've always been really cool with it though. When I was in high school, I wrote songs and I played a little bit, but I really had no idea that I would ever be doing what I'm doing today.
When I first got into it, he was like, "You've got to do this on your own." Obviously he knew a bunch of people, and therefore I knew a bunch of people, so that was a very good foot in the door for me. But as far as me getting a record deal and all that kind of stuff, Dad was really good about kind of staying back and kind of letting me do my own thing.
Now, it's been awesome, man. It's kind of like having your best friend in the writing room every day.
'Beer With Jesus' was a great song that caught some controversy and stalled on the charts quicker than it otherwise would have. Did that help spur the success of this new single?
I think what it did, even though it did fall off the chart earlier than I wanted it to, it was one of those songs that even today when I play that song … for all the people that never knew who I was, all of a sudden they kind of have that trigger in their brain that goes, "Oh, that's that guy."
Did it make you angry that people weren't 'getting' that song?
At the beginning it did. It was one of those things where I'd check Twitter every day and see all these comments and respond and get yelled at by my record label. But you know, I think every artist has to come to a point where it don't matter what you put out. It don't matter if you put 'The Dance' out, or any old George Strait song. Someone is going to think that it's awful. You gotta be able to just sit back and kind of laugh it off and know you're doing exactly what you wanna do and if people don't like it than it's not really my place to tell them they have to like it.
Is there an unwritten rule between singers and songwriters that when a singer takes a song to No. 1, or it goes Gold, it's etiquette to buy the songwriter a thank you gift?
Oh absolutely, man. I guess in Nashville, most of the time when a songwriter writes a song for an artist and the artist wasn't a part of the writing process, usually when a song goes Gold or Platinum, the artist will have plaques made for all the songwriters. If the song goes No. 1 you have a big No. 1 party with all the families of the songwriters and all the people in town, in Nashville.
So your dad won't be buying you a good steak dinner just as a way of saying thanks for taking 'It Goes Like This' to No. 1?
[laughs] He's done enough for me from the time I was born to the time I was about 20, so I think he thinks he's done.