Jaren Johnston of The Cadillac Three has range—both with his voice and pen.
As the lead singer of TC3, Jaren and his cohorts—Neil Mason (percussion) and Kelby Ray (lap steel)—have been torching stages with their electric brand of country-rock for a decade.
But Jaren also has songwriting chops. In addition to writing the lion’s share of songs on his trio’s multiple studio albums, Jaren has penned chart-topping hits for Jake Owen (“Beachin'”), Frankie Ballard (“Sunshine & Whiskey”), and Keith Urban (“Raise ’Em Up”). His songwriting resume also includes Tim McGraw’s “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,” Billy Currington’s “Don’t It,” and Dierks Bentley’s “Back Porch.”
TC3’s long-time label, Big Machine, recently created a unique role for Jaren. The partnership allows Jaren to help develop the label’s new artists and lend his production expertise to in-house projects. In addition, TC3 picked up a recent—and long overdue—nomination for Group of the Year at the upcoming ACM Awards on April 18.
Jaren took a well-deserved break to chat with Outsider‘s Jim Casey about the 5 Songs That Shaped the Songwriter. And wouldn’t you know it, Jaren’s all-genre selections are as varied as his musical range.
1. ‘All Apologies’ – Nirvana
Jaren Johnston: “Kurt Cobain’s ‘All Apologies’ taught me the guitar chords I needed. Growing up in Nashville, I was exposed to a lot of different sounds, so it was cool to experiment with the riffs and tones outside of traditional ‘country’ chords.
2. ‘Hallelujah’ – Jeff Buckley
Jaren Johnston: “There is no other melody like this one. ‘Hallelujah’ is a song that has taken so many shapes, with artists across all genres covering the Leonard Cohen-penned song.”
3. ‘Freedom’ – Rage Against the Machine
Jaren Johnston: “When I heard this song, I was at an age where I really felt the angst and rebellion pouring out of Rage’s ‘Freedom.'”
4. ‘I Need You’ – Tim McGraw & Faith Hill
Jaren Johnston: Written by Tony Lane and David Lee, ‘I Need You’ taught me how to put love in a song and do it right. The passion in those lyrics is just so direct: ‘I need you like water, like breath.'”
5. ‘The House That Built Me’ – Miranda Lambert
Jaren Johnston: “The songwriting bar can always be raised, but when Miranda’s ‘The House That Built Me’ came out, it stopped the world for a minute. I haven’t beat it yet, but I try every day to top this song written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin.”