Thomas Rhett’s ‘Home Team’ of Songwriters Helps Him Reach New Audiences, Take Risks
Over the course of his career, Thomas Rhett has carefully built a team of songwriters that best help him tell his story, and also push him to grow as an artist. As a Tennessee native whose father, Rhett Akins, was and remains a mainstay in the Nashville songwriting community, Rhett grew up with close ties to country's roster of writers; however, as an artist, he began to seek out writers of other backgrounds, such as those in the pop songwriting community in LA.
"The first time we got together to write a couple years ago, it was kind of an experiment, and both of our teams were, I think, trying something out," recalled LA-based writer Sean Douglas at a recent press event, where Rhett and a number of his other co-writers were also present. Douglas co-wrote Rhett's "Die a Happy Man" and has contributed to subsequent tracks, including 2017's "Sixteen" and two of the tracks on Rhett's 2019 record, Center Point Road.
Douglas has also co-written tracks for pop superstars such as Lizzo, Madonna, Jason Derulo and Nick Jonas. When he first linked up with Rhett, he was interested in exploring the country songwriting scene.
"[Rhett] wanted to try out something more rhythmic, and ["Die a Happy Man" co-writer] Joe [London] and I had done a couple of records like that," he continues. "We wanted to dip our toe into country and the Nashville scene, and we just kind of had that chemistry from the beginning. I think "Die a Happy Man" was the second song we wrote."
Another of Rhett's close collaborators is Julian Bunetta, who co-penned his recent hit "Look What God Gave Her," and is also well-known for his work as a songwriter for the boy band One Direction. Bunetta says that when Rhett's team of songwriters gets in a room together, they can bridge the gap between LA and Nashville.
"Musically, it doesn't matter the genre. If it's great, it's great," Bunetta points out. "We can write a song that pleases our ears and ticks our LA boxes, and also their boxes for Nashville. Then we know it has more essential appeal than just one set of people, which I think is the reason why [Rhett]'s four albums in and has gone from zero to 100: because the albums have such a broad reach, because he always keeps a wide range of ears around."
As much as the group has clicked professionally, they've clicked just as much personally, and for Rhett, that's important. He calls his co-writers his "Home Team," a term that he also uses to describe his fanbase. Since he lent the phrase to his 2017 Home Team Tour, Rhett has used it to represent a mindset and a lifestyle of being strengthened by a support system.
As an artist whose personal and family life features so prominently in his music, it's important for Rhett to have a team of collaborators who know his story. "They all know my kids, they all know my wife, they all know my family. They know my story, and I know their stories," the singer explains. "It's a lot easier for us to kind of join brainwaves and go, 'I'm in this spot, too.'"
It also helps that a lot of his co-writers are dads, too, although that doesn't necessarily mean that they get in a songwriting room and write exclusively about their children. "What else are we going through? What else are we experiencing in life?" Rhett explains they brainstorm. "What are other versions of your life that are happening right now -- or not -- that are just fun, and more hit-sounding songs?"
With a team of collaborators who know him well, Rhett is freer to use his imagination, take more risks and even conduct experiments that may never result in an album cut. "I think that's what great songwriters do, is go with you down a rabbit hole when you say you wanna write nothing but Post Malone-sounding songs," the singer reflects.
"They'll do it, knowing full well they won't ever get cut, ever," Rhett adds with a laugh. "But those [songs] are the ones that lead to the great ones. And that's what's great about this crew."
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