Kyle Daniel has plenty to say about writing new songs, lockdown gigs and why he didn’t get into music to be a rich man
With the (non) C2C 2020 now a dim and fairly distant memory, most of us country music fans are getting our kicks via online platforms such as Instagram and YouTube, ‘meeting’ both new and familiar artists in a virtual world. Among them is Kentucky-native Kyle Daniel who, had fate allowed, would surely have been one of the breakout stars of our favourite March weekend.
Praised by Rolling Stone magazine as one of their 10 Country Artists You Need to Know, he made his first appearance on UK shores last autumn as part of Country Music Week.
With two EPs under his belt and a full-length album in production, he’s currently confined to home in East Nashville, enjoying the delights of walking his now not-so-small Goldendoodle Frankie (check out this gorgeous pup online) and writing new music. He spoke recently to Six Shooter Country’s Alison Dewar.
Kyle, when we met in London in March, you had just finished the European leg of C2C before everyone had to suddenly pack their bags and head home. What have you been doing since then?
I’m an outdoorsy kind of guy, I do not like being cooped up in the house at all. I’m not big into music or TV in general, I don’t sit and binge watch TV or have my headphones in all the time listening to music, so I’ve been getting out, taking the dog for rollerblading exercise, trying to practice good social distancing, making sure we’re not meeting new dogs and new people, then I come home and write a song, try to be productive in some way.
None of us had planned for this, we’re all going through it fresh together and it’s such an odd thing. It was terrible timing, obviously I was really looking forward to playing the shows we had booked in London, but we are going to be back.
That’s good to hear. You’ve had two EPs so far (the self-titled Kyle Daniel and What’s There To Say), but you’re working on a full-length album, tell me about that.
Well, we’ve got what I feel like to be the best songs to date and I’ve got a very cool concept surrounding that. I’m super excited about it, I don’t want to give too much away, but it is going to be what I feel like is probably the best representation of what I am as an artist.
I think it is really gonna be the thing that sets the roots of this project for the lifetime. We planted some seeds and we watched some little things grow, but we have yet to really put roots down.
We’ve had a great response so far from the EPs but I think the fans and the general public are waiting for that full-length record.
It’s like a meal where you have the starter and the appetizer but everyone wants the main course?
Exactly. When I was doing a lot of publicity around the last record that was the main question – why another EP, why not a full-length record. And I was well…I wanted to put new music out here to keep what I am doing relevant, and feed the fans what they want, so we put that out.
It’s all about balance and figuring it out – (travel restrictions allowing) when should we tour the States, when should we tour the UK and Europe when should we be in the studio, when should we be out playing…and I’m constantly writing.
People sometimes come and watch a show and they go ‘oh, it’s a glamorous life, man, you get to travel and see all this stuff’ – I see airplane cabins, and the inside of vans with stinky boys and then green rooms in these cities that we play, and when we’re not on the road, I’m home writing and co-writing with someone every day.
Who have you been collaborating with on the new music?
I’ve been fortunate to write with Will Hoge and Kendell Marvel, who writes for Chris Stapleton and Brothers Osborne. I’ve got quite a few different writers that are in the mix on this and so I think it helped me expand stylistically, staying in my lane, but expand my vocabulary as a writer, and the songs have kind of taken a step up. Seth (Rentfrow) and I also co-wrote a song called Landline with Adam Wright and that proved a fan favourite over in Europe for C2C. It’s a tearjerker for sure.
Will you be drip feeding us some new music sooner rather than later?
We had done some recording sessions around Americanafest that we were supposed to have mixed and mastered versions of prior to coming over for C2C and we were going to release them.
But life happens and we got behind, now our process has been delayed so we still have to get in the studio and cut those songs when we can.
Now, back at home I’m concentrating on my strengths and really trying to write songs that maybe fill in the holes for what is to come for this next record. I’ve got a pretty good idea of potentially how I want it to play out, there are a couple of places that are not 100% just yet and those songs will either get edited or replaced – when we can get back and do it.
Your EPs were both released as independents, will the new album be the same?
It will be unless someone jumps on it real quick, and based on what’s happening, I don’t see that being a real thing!
First off, I’m not interested in signing a record deal just to sign a record deal, I want to work with people that really get it and understand it, and want to show it the love it needs, versus just sat it on the shelf and say right, we’ve got Luke Bryan and Chris Stapleton and this that and the other ahead of you, which is rightfully so, and we’re going to push back your music releases.
You don’t have the freedom to do as you please when you’re releasing music with a record label.
How is writing working for you now?
I feel like there’s going to be a lot of good creative art that comes out of this with people writing by themselves at home, as well as people doing the Skype write. People in LA and London and New York will often set up Skype writes – I personally don’t know how that works, we‘re about to find out. I feel like that human interaction really helps aid the writing process.
What’s your take on the ‘at home’ gigs?
I want to make sure that it sounds good, I want there to be an experience, to be a ‘moment’ that is had, not just something very low level and low budget – it doesn’t have to be a box office smash hit production, but it needs to be something that’s representative of what I’m doing and really give an experience.
No one is there to give you that instant validation so you’re a little more naked.
Some shows are free, others are asking for donations or you ‘buy’ tickets to view online, what are your thoughts – is it more about staying front of mind, encouraging people to download the music, sell some merch?
I didn’t get in this business to make money and I found that out very quickly when I was a young man and first started out.
You’ve got to have the passion, yes, it does cost money, it is not free and there’s overheads we have to take into consideration, but for me personally I’m not in this for the money. If I do a gig specifically off of my page I won’t charge, if I do it through some other company, I may not have a choice, but for me personally it’s not about the money.
It is exactly about what you said – spread the word out there that this is even a thing, that I am a new artist and hopefully people can become aware of that and they dig what I’m doing enough to go streaming, to go buy this or that and help support.
A buddy of mine that I haven’t talked to in quite some time sent me a message and said ‘hey buddy hope you’re doing well, I love you, just wanted you to know I bought a t-shirt and I hope it helps’. It’s stuff like that, he didn’t have to do that – he knows me, I would have given him a t-shirt but he was nice enough to do that, he wanted to support local music and I said ‘Amen, thank you brother’.
There’s a big thing about mental health right now, you have crap days sometimes, then you put your favourite music on and it gives you a little lift. That must be quite a nice feeling, knowing that you’re putting people in a happy place.
Absolutely, and I think that sometimes as an artist, we often don’t realise the impact we make on people’s lives until they say something.
I wrote a song with a buddy of mine who called me recently. We started catching up, he’d lost his job and this that and other, and then we’re talking and he says, ‘man, I just wanted to let you know that I got a text message from one of my buddies last night saying how a song that you and I had written had pretty much saved his life’.
The song was called Echo, I had forgotten about it – that’s one thing as a songwriter that I probably do more than I should – I’ll write a song and if it doesn’t immediately strike me as something like ‘oh I’ve gotta get this to the band’, then I put it in the back folder of the songs, and I’m like ok I’ll try again. I’m very snap judgement with some of these songs.
But I listened back and I’m just like ‘what a heavy song’, it was about a couple who had three little girls and then the mum passes away with cancer and the dad has to take the kids, and he’s telling the story to his wife as he’s praying one night about how he’s taking care of the kids and everything is OK and he’s got this, so he was kind of echoing what she had said when she was alive.
To hear that and to go back and listen to this song from an enthusiast and a songwriting perspective, I was like ‘wow man, I forgot, I owe this song an apology for not thinking it was up to snuff at the time’ but it was really. It’s little moments like that, you get these phone calls and you go ‘man, there’s the validation that you look for when trying to create an impact on the world’.
Do you always write for yourself, or do you sometimes think that’s not for me, I’m going to see if someone else wants to pick it up?
I always try to write as real as I possibly can, some songs are better suited when they come out of the hatch that I can almost hear it. There’s one song I wrote with a buddy and it’s a banger – I feel it would be really career launching, but I don’t know that it is my song.
I obviously would love somebody to cut some of my material, but with that being said, I don’t have a publishing deal, I’m still a new artist and trying to work my way up and be known. I think there’s very little that I can get into without a publishing deal as far as songwriting rooms with big writers and things, that’s why I’ve been fortunate to get with dudes like Kendell Marvel and Will Hoge. Sometimes you have to have a publishing deal before someone takes you seriously, and when they’re taking you seriously then they’re pitching your songs to so and so, and you’re getting a cut here and a cut there. And there’s always the age-old thing that if you put it on a record then most artists – no matter how much success or lack of – it’s had, they don’t want to mess with it, they want the unreleased material.
It’s a fine line because there are some songs of mine that I feel certain artists could really crush, but I don’t have the access to them or their people just yet to be able to say ‘hey, check this out’.
Jaren Johnston from The Cadillac Three was talking in the press conference at C2C Berlin about how do you know which songs you’re gonna keep to yourself, and what songs to pitch to other people, and he said it’s pretty apparent when we write them which songs are better suited for us versus others.
And I guess that diverts you from your core activity, which is writing and singing. You don’t want to be doing too much of the admin, the pitching and things?
Right, yeah, it takes away from the creativity. I’m really good buddies with Anderson East, he and I went to college together, we actually moved to Nashville together a little over 10 years ago, and he always used to get frustrated when we were in college and even after, with all the amount of business stuff that he had to handle. I have got a music business degree so it wasn’t a huge ordeal for me, but I know that for most artists it cramps their creativity when they’re thinking about royalty rights or this and that.
You’re 35 this year (“oh, oh – can I plead the fifth?” – KD), music has always been there, you were playing the drums at six-years-old, you got diverted through college and music management but it kept clawing you back – did you ever waver?
That’s a very, very good question. You know, for the longest time I kind of had this love-hate relationship, obviously I love it with the deepest part of me and resented it for the lack of progression that I could make at times in my life.
I think it does something to someone’s self-esteem when you hit a brick wall so many times that you just go ‘what the hell am I doing – why the hell am I doing this’ and you know, I’ve worked with and seen such superstar quality performers, and at times just second guessed my own capabilities because of it.
I think from a psychological standpoint it has tossed me in a couple of different directions, I don’t want to say like a deep depression, but you can definitely get down on yourself when there’s no forward motion. I took enough time off and I of kind of sat in the shadows and played with some major label artists like Casey James, I didn’t have to worry about my voice, I just showed up and played guitar, and I finally got sick of it to the point where I was like, I’m ready to come back out and do this as a front man.
At the time I didn’t really have songs that I felt were like representative of who I am and what I stand for and believe in, so I got in a writing room and a good buddy of mine Ben Ratliff was elementary in pushing me into the writing rooms with some very big names that I had no business being in the room with to be honest.
Any you’d care to namecheck?
Brent Cobb, Channing Wilson – who wrote one of Luke Combs’ biggest hits – Rob Snyder, who’s also part of Luke Combs’ crew, and you know, for me, that was where it all started. Ben is still a part of my career, he works now for Carnival Music as a song plugger, and I really owe a lot to that dude for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
2018 was the famous Rolling Stone interview, was that the moment you finally thought ‘I’m getting there’?
Ironically Ben Ratliff was the one who sent the music to Joe Hudak at Rolling Stone and heard back from him in less than 5 minutes. He said I absolutely love Hangover Town and I want to debut Kyle as one of the artists you need to know. At that time we didn’t even have the record completed, it wasn’t even mixed and mastered, and so we hustled to get that out and that was the first publication that came through and said we want to write about this. And I was like ok, maybe this is my time, because I think that that’s what life is about.
I think there’s also an element of, you go through the struggle, and that’s what makes you the better writer?
Yeah, the life experiences. I’m not interested in writing about back roads and ‘daisy dukes’ and chugging beers, I have Hangover Town but it’s a quirky way of saying it’s hard to find a woman in a hangover town, but not me and my buddies chugging Miller Lite’s out of the back of a pick-up truck, that doesn’t appeal to me whatsoever.
A lot of your songs are about losing a woman, leaving someone behind…is that autobiographical, for you?
Absolutely, I went through what was undeniably one of the worst break-ups of my entire life, right before I decided that I was gonna do this. You know, the moment I realised that she wasn’t the woman, was when I said ‘I think I’m gonna give this artist thing a shot again’…and she looked at me and said ‘really?’.
And I was like, ‘that’s it’ – of course really, music has been a part of my life, it’s been there before and it has surpassed even after.
It wasn’t just that obviously, I’ve had numerous failed relationships, but that was the one that really struck a nerve and maybe was just part of the motivation that kept it going. I remember at one point, she said to me ‘I really hope that this works out for you, because if it doesn’t, all of this heartbreak, all of this break-up was for nothing’, and so I think that’s been the one thing that’s continued to drive me is feeling, touching those emotions.
A lot of the time as a songwriter I like to block out certain emotions, I don’t want to talk about this or that. As I’ve gotten older and evolved as a writer, I feel like there’s something that I’m tapping into that is a lot deeper than just boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl breaks boy’s heart. It’s been done a million times, it’s like what are the nerves that have been struck in me that I can put out in the world that other people will hopefully relate to.
One benefit of being back home is you get to spend more time with your pup Frankie, he was only 14-weeks-old when you left him in March.
Yeah, when I came home, it was like he’d doubled in size. Where did my puppy go? He’s still a big puppy and he’s just so good, obviously he doesn’t want to be cooped up, so getting out for some exercise is good.
I live in East Nashville and we go to Shelby Bottoms, they have a golf course and nature trail and baseball fields, and in that area there’s an old abandoned airport so people bring their dog and walk this huge runway and it’s really cool. I’ve seen him run in the country and I really want to give him some good exercise, so we go down there to rollerblade and he has an absolute blast.
Are you trying online dog training classes?
Funny you say that, you see these adverts on Instagram and Facebook and I was talking about certain things we need to get him to do. We’ve got him pretty well trained so far, he does the sit and the shake, and he lays down, he’s very, very obedient so we’re lucky there, but I’m excited to see what crazy kind of tricks we can get him to do – like fetch me a beer or something!
Last question, right now, we know it’s a waiting game in terms of getting back over here, but what message would you like to leave me with for the UK fans?
Well, we were super bummed that we couldn’t be there for C2C obviously, but even then I knew I was coming back sometime and it will be with the full band.
In the States, a lot of times music is kind of background noise, people don’t pay attention, they don’t care what the song is about because they’re not listening. They’re worried about talking to their friends, drinking beer and partying.
For me, the UK crowds have been the biggest super fans and supporters of what we have and it is always such an honour to play there. I see it as this just gives us a little more lead time to continue to build what we’re growing over there, to get the word out, and for people to witness it live and alive when we come back.
Kyle, thank you so much, we cannot wait to see you again.