Thomas Rhett, 31, is already one of the biggest names in country music. His most recent recognition was winning the 2021 ACM Male Vocalist of the Year Award earlier this month. But in many ways, the country artist is still discovering his musical identity.
Thomas Rhett’s upcoming album, Country Again: Side A, which drops on April 30, offers a side of the country singer that audiences have never heard before. The first installment of a double album, Side A is a raw and tender look at TR’s journey from fresh-faced 19-year-old to one of country music’s biggest stars. But more importantly, the album is a continued evolution of Thomas Rhett the singer.
“I feel like I’ve been reflecting on every album in some capacity,” said Thomas Rhett during an online media scrum on April 26. “This one was a little bit different. Because I feel like I was taking 10 years worth of knowledge from the road to being married to being a dad to then hitting the year 2020. It all kind of sinks in. What kind of person have I been the last 10 years?”
Taking the Pressure Off
Compared to Thomas Rhett’s 2013 debut album, It Goes Like This, Country Again: Side A offers a night and day contrast. Thomas Rhett, 23 years old at the time, was chasing after the iconic Aviators of artists like Eric Church with his debut project. The son of singer Rhett Akins, TR wanted to escape the shadow of his country music lineage. But at the time, he still didn’t know exactly who he was as an artist.
“I remember going back into my very first album,” said TR. “All I wanted to be was Eric Church. Minus the sunglasses, I wanted to be Eric Church. I used Eric’s producer. I tried to sing like him. Then I remember my first two singles that came out did not do anything at all.”
That’s not exactly true. TR’s debut single, “Something to Do With My Hand,” peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, while sophomore single, “Beer With Jesus,” reached No. 19.
Nonetheless, at the time, TR felt trapped chasing after the careers of other artists. Against his manager’s advice, Thomas Rhett released “Make Me Wanna” as his third single. After stalling on the charts, “Make Me Wanna” started climbing.
Fans really began connecting with Thomas Rhett’s music. The single, which he co-penned, became TR’s first No. 1 hit in October 2013. The tune became the linchpin in his quest to define his voice.
Finding His Roots
Fast forward to his upcoming album, and the country singer had a hand in crafting every one of the 11 tracks.
“There’s always someone in my sights that I was kind of following,” TR said. “In the last few years, how do I make my show cooler than Bruno Mars’ show? How do I make a record that feels like [Chris] Stapleton meets Justin Timberlake? Finally, this year, I started to sit down with a guitar and [asked] ‘What do I want to write? What makes me happy to say?'”
Thomas Rhett’s Country Again: Side A is a poignant look at his personal life. Most importantly, the tracks feel like songs that only he could have written. Last year, TR recontextualized country music and his place in the industry with “What’s Your Country Song?”
His titular track, “Country Again,” explores the singer getting back to basics and getting in touch with his country music roots. But TR really shines when he leaves the industry and its trappings behind to focus on small moments with his family. Thomas Rhett’s three daughters—Ada James, Willa Gray, and Lennon Love—become the focus of the emotional “To The Guys That Date My Girls,” for instance.
Thomas Rhett Is Still ‘Growing’
TR is looking to the future by re-examining the past. Songs like “Growing Up” see the country artist reckon with his party-boy youth. In a moment that brings to mind Kenny Chesney’s “Don’t Blink,” Thomas Rhett recently drove through downtown Nashville, past bars and taverns he might have visited at 19. Now, he’s driving a mini-van with his wife and kids on daddy duty.
And Thomas Rhett couldn’t be happier. Every few years, he said he discovers new things about himself. That’s a part of growing up as both an artist and a person. TR discovered his biggest inspiration was his wife and three daughters. Ultimately, Thomas Rhett said he wouldn’t change anything about his journey. Mistakes are a part of growing up, too.
“There wasn’t a lot of content to write about at 19,” Thomas Rhett said. “As many things as I would love to tell my 19-year-old self, I probably wouldn’t tell him. Because then he wouldn’t have made the mistakes he should have made to come on the other side of those victorious.”
Thomas Rhett’s Country Again: Side A drops on April 30.
He will be performing songs from the album as part of his The Center Point Road Tour. That tour kicks off in Orange Beach, Alabama, in August.