Apple Music Global Up Next alum Parker McCollum and Conner Smith join Thomas Rhett for the sixth episode of Where We Started Radio. Conner and Parker share how they pursued their interest in music, who they consider to be some of their biggest influences and what they are most looking forward to on the Bring The Bar To You Tour. Tune in and listen to the episode in-full on-demand here.
Conner Smith on developing an interest in songwriting,
My mama is an interviewer and a TV reporter, so she was working at the local channel four station, NBC station in Nashville when we moved here, and she was just kind of raising her hand for all the country music jobs. So she would do red carpets and all that. Well, they asked her to host a TV show every Sunday night on the local station, that was called Nashville Music and More, so it was just all about the music scene, so people like your dad [Rhett Akins], or Craig Wiseman, or Rivers Rutherford, she would interview these guys and have them play these massive hit songs, and then talk about how they wrote these songs. So I was a five- six-year-old watching the show and watching these interviews. I would literally sit there and watch them like they were movies, because there was something that fascinated me about telling these stories and writing country songs. So I started to do it when I was six. I was like, “That’s what I want to do,” because I understood that that was a job that was an option.
Conner Smith on getting a publishing deal at 16
For me, it was just always a part of what I did was writing songs. I played baseball and I wrote songs and it’s just always kind of who I was. So when I was 16, I connected with a dude named Zach Crowell, who’s my producer now. And he produces Sam [Hunt] and Dustin [Lynch] and wrote “Country Again” for you. And he saw the video of me singing a song he wrote called “Cop Car” and saw something in me that, looking back at it now, is crazy to me and signed me to a publishing deal. And I was a junior in high school and both my parents and me, as well, they were like, “This is awesome, but you’re staying in school. There’s really no question about that.” Once again, being in Nashville, I was able to go to school. I went to a school called Brentwood Academy that was perfect, man. They let me go to school until about 11:30, and then they let me go write songs at 12:00 on Music Row and then come back and play in baseball games at 4:00. We had my first hometown show in Nashville and all my teachers showed up and to have all their support was massive. But yeah, I mean, I got to do it all and I got to write about what I was living because I didn’t drop out of school and just become an adult. I got to be a high schooler and go to prom and start on the baseball team and do it all, and so I was able to draw from that well to write songs about.
Conner Smith on seeing Thomas Rhett on his first headlining tour
I remember being 16 when you put out “Sixteen.” And I remember playing it for my mom in the car. I remember the road. I remember… And she looks at me after the second verse. You talk about all you want is unsupervised Saturday night. And she looks at me and she goes, “Did he write this about you?” And that same year, you were doing your first headlining tour. It was you and Kelsea [Ballerini] and Russell [Dickerson] and Ryan [Hurd]. I bought two tickets to go to Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville and took this girl that I was talking to at the time. And I was trying to get her to date me. And you’re 16, you’re trying to figure out what to do. You’re trying to be smooth. I think I tried to dance with her on “Die A Happy Man” or whatever. But we go to the show, and then after the next day, two days later, dude, we broke up. And that shows we just never nailed it. So all I know is that five years later, I’m opening up for you on that same tour. So it all worked out just fine.
Parker McCollum on songwriting, his brother’s support
I think I was a freshman in high school, my brother was in college at the time, at Tarleton State in Stephenville, Texas. And I’d always be trying to write something that I could play for and be like, “Well, when my big brother got home, I could play it and try to impress him.” And everything I would ever come up with, he would just, I would get no reaction. He’d be like, “I don’t know what you’re doing.” And man, I had just gotten my first truck. I was driving home one day, and I had pulled over into this Jack in the Box parking lot in my hometown, and just wrote down these verses and choruses, a song called, “Permanent Headphones.” And then my brother came home for Christmas break and I was like, “Man, I wrote this song. I’ll play it for you.” And it was “Permanent Headphones.” And after I played it, he’s like, “Dude, you’re going to be really big time in this.” He’s like, “Dude, actually.” He was really the first person to be like, “You’re good. You can do this.” And that was enough, right? So him giving me that vote of confidence was huge for me. And from then on, I was just always trying to write songs like that.
Parker McCollum on writing with Rhett Akins
Man the first time we ever wrote, I think he [Rhett Akins] chewed like an entire bag of Red Man Silver Leaf or Red Man Silver Label and I was like, “Man, me and this guy are going to get along.” And, just really enjoyed riding with him. And, then I think the second might have been the second time we ever wrote together, I’d written that first verse in chorus “To Be Loved By You” on the bus the weekend before. And, I was like, “Man, I just started this other day,” I was, “Maybe we can finish it.” And, I played it and he loved it. I mean, he was like, eyes kind of lit up and every time I’ve ever written with him or we finished it that day and every time I’ve ever written with him, it’s been the same thing, man. We just… It’s like hanging out with a buddy, you know? It doesn’t feel like work. It doesn’t feel like a normal co-write like it’s… You know, we kind of hit it off.