Last week, Thomas Rhett walked with his wife through a Nashville Walmart in search of an electric dog fence. While strolling the aisles, the 24-year-old country singer-songwriter passed the music section and spotted his debut album, October's “It Goes Like This,” on the shelves.
“There's a Walmart literally every five miles from here to Seattle, Washington,” Rhett said on the phone afterward. “Knowing that your face is on all those racks in Target, Best Buy and all those places, it makes you feel very, very small.”
As his star has grown among the country ranks, Rhett — who plays a free Power Plant Live concert on Friday to celebrate the opening of new country bar Tin Roof — has embraced humility.
Rhett has spent the past two-and-a-half years on the road, headlining his own shows and opening for country A-listers such as Jason Aldean and Toby Keith. While he earned a couple of No. 1 songs on “Billboard's” country airplay chart along the way (“It Goes Like This” and the follow-up “Get Me Some of That“), Rhett realized there was still plenty of work to be done.
“The best things I've learned are some of the really hard truths you figure out along the way,” Rhett said. “You have a No. 1 song and you think you're the greatest thing since sliced bread. And you get out there and you realize you have a long way to go.”
Rhett said “a lot of rough shows” early on humbled him. The son of country singer Rhett Akins, Rhett said it is common for new acts to score a hit that lands them a slot on a major tour. Then it is up to artists on how well they handle a potentially overwhelming situation.
“A lot of artists go through that, where they've had a couple of No. 1s on their own and they're like, 'Dude, we have made it. We don't even have to try anymore,'“ Rhett said. “It's really easy to get into that mindset because you're on the road, and you literally are seeing no one but you and your band, who are experiencing the same things on stage every night.”
Rhett's perception and awareness speak to his eye as a songwriter. (He has also written singles for Aldean, Lee Brice and Florida Georgia Line.) Rhett said he has “so many songs” to choose from for his sophomore album, but he is choosing to release one more single from his debut before entering the studio in June.
The next single will likely be “Make Me Wanna,” which Rhett aptly describes as “a Bee Gees country song.” The song's upbeat sound is a hint at what to expect for the next album, which he predicts will hit stores in the first quarter of 2015.
“I was telling somebody the other day, about nine of the 12 or 13 songs we put on the record you can definitely dance to it if you feel like it,” Rhett said. “It's going to be fun.”
While Rhett knows his core audience (“A lot of the songs on [the next album] are for down-home boys wanting to play something around the campfire before a Friday night football game,” he said), he plans to incorporate new sounds from different genres on the next release.
“There's also going to be a new element to this record to maybe bring in some different fans, which is going to be really fun to experiment with,” he said. “Not necessarily switching genres or anything, but we're going to kind of go crazy musically.”
For those familiar with Rhett's story, this is not surprising. The rising country star played in punk rock and screamo bands growing up, and fits rap cover songs into his live sets now. What reads disparate on paper is essentially Rhett being himself, and that matters most to him.
“My end goal is to just be a very believable artist,” he said. “I don't want anybody to ever walk away saying, 'Well I thought his music was great, but I don't think he really believed in what he was talking about.' Even if it's just a fun song that doesn't mean a whole lot, at least they believe in you and they believe that song coming out of your mouth.”
If you go
Thomas Rhett performs Friday at Power Plant Live, 34 Market Place, downtown. Free, but you must be 21 and older. Doors open at 6 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. Go to powerplantlive.com.