On the day before his debut album hit stores, 23-year-old country singer-songwriter Thomas Rhett — whose song, “It Goes Like This,” has been No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart for three straight weeks — said he was a bit on edge.
“Maybe it’s nerves — more so the pressure,” said Rhett Monday over the phone from New York, where he was in the midst of a promotional tour. “I’m hoping people like it as much as I think they’re going to, and I hope the reviews are good and people buy it. I feel like I’m on edge quite a bit, but mostly because I want it to do so well.”
What would his wife, Lauren, say about his behavior leading up to the release of the album, “It Goes Like This”?
“She would probably ask you to take care of me so she can take a break,” joked Rhett, whose show at Joe’s Bar Saturday sold out in three minutes.
Though it’s his first album, Rhett has been around the music industry his whole life. His father is country singer and songwriter Rhett Akins, known for singing the 1996 hit “Don’t Get Me Started” and co-writing hits for Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan and Brooks & Dunn. Because Akins was often on the road touring, which Rhett has said in past interviews played a role in his parents’ divorce when he was 9, Rhett’s mother made him promise he would never become a singer.
He broke that promise when he dropped out of Lipscomb University in Nashville when he was 20.
“The hardest part was telling her I dropped out of college — telling her I quit something I’d been doing for three years,” Rhett said. “Like any mom would, she asked ‘Why did we spend all this money on college?’ I didn’t plan for this. I didn’t know the opportunity would present itself. But now she’s my biggest fan. I brought her on the radio tour this past weekend. She’s starting to see her hard work paying off.”
Rhett’s father has also been supportive of his career choice. Contrary to what some might think, Rhett insisted he didn’t opt to go by Thomas Rhett rather than his full name, Thomas Rhett Akins, Jr., because he was trying to step out of his famous father’s shadow.
“I think Thomas Rhett is easier to say,” Rhett said. “Thomas Rhett Akins doesn’t sound like a rock star name. I didn’t leave Akins out to convince people my dad wasn’t my dad. I’ve always been called Thomas Rhett. I didn’t want to get rid of it.”
It was Akins who co-penned his son’s No. 1 song with his writing team, The Peach Pickers, making the achievement all the more special. In what is a Country Airplay first, Rhett and Akins had writing credits on five of the top 10 songs on country radio the week “It Goes Like This” first topped the chart. When the news broke, Akins called his son to congratulate him and give him words of encouragement — words that Rhett said he’ll never forget.
“I think we were both in shock that my first No. 1 was written by him,” Rhett said. “You can’t plan that kind of thing out. He was so pumped. He was over the moon proud of me. I remember him saying ‘Dude, you were meant to do this. We were meant to do this together. God had it all planned out.’ For a dad to say that, those words will stick with me forever.’”
Rhett potentially could have had two major hits to his name had he kept Florida Georgia Line’s “Round Here,” which he co-wrote. But if Rhett regrets giving the song away rather than keeping it for his debut album, he isn’t saying it.
“I think anybody would want a record that was No. 1. To have two on there ... ” Rhett said. “But every song happens for a reason. That song was supposed to be for Florida Georgia Line to further their careers. There’s no remorse on that one. It wasn’t the right time. I’m just pumped it’s had as much success as it has.”
For now, Rhett is focused on the songs he does have on his new album. The album is more diverse than your typical country record, with Rhett mixing in ballads, rock and rap. Yes, rap.
“It’s my attempt at rapping,” Rhett said, self-deprecatingly. “I rap on ‘Front Porch Junkies’ and ‘Whatcha Got in that Cup.’ I try to channel my inner Lil Wayne and Drake. It’s fun to be able to freestyle over a country melody and say country words over a rap song.”
Rap on a country album is rare, but not unheard of. Nelly rapped on the remix to Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” and Ludacris rapped on the remix to Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem.” Rhett acknowledges he too would like to team up with a rapper on a song, just not yet.
“You have to be conservative on the first record before introducing yourself to the world,” Rhett said. “Maybe one day. In my dreams, yes, I think that would be cool.”
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When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Joe’s Bar; 940 W. Weed St.
Tickets: Soldout; joesbar.com