Update: Jessie Jo Dillon has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Song, for co-writing “Break Up in the End” for Cole Swindell.
Nashville songwriter Jessie Jo Dillon has co-written a steady of flow of cuts for top country artists since having her first hit in 2011, when she co-wrote “The Breath You Take” for George Strait. She’s also had cuts with Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Brett Young, Jon Pardi, LeAnn Rimes, Jennifer Nettles and Brandy Clark.
Notwithstanding these fine credits, Dillon has now reached a new level of success. She co-wrote two songs that are currently in the Top 10 on the Billboard country charts. She co-wrote the heartfelt ballad “Break Up in the End” for Cole Swindell (written with Jon Nite & Chase McGill), and the playful, sassy hit “Rich” for Maren Morris (written with Morris & Laura Veltz).
Both “Break Up in the End” and “Rich” have received acclaim for being excellent songs. In a recent interview, Swindell said that “Break Up in the End” was one of best songs he’s ever heard, and he was pleased to record it. Morris’s “Rich” is featured on her Grammy-nominated album, Hero, and Rolling Stone magazine called “Rich” one of the Top 25 Country Songs of 2016.
Dillon has earned a reputation as a top Nashville songwriter, and she’s following in the footsteps set by her father Dean Dillon, who’s a legendary country songwriter and in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Dean and Jessie Jo teamed up (with hit songwriter Casey Beathard) to write Strait’s hit “The Breath You Take,” which received a Grammy nomination for Country Song of the Year.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Jessie Jo Dillon, who is signed with Big Machine Music Publishing. She tells how she got started, and how she co-wrote her hit songs for Swindell, Morria and Strait.
DK: How did you get started as a songwriter and musician?
Jessie Jo Dillon: I’ve always loved music, and it seems like I’ve always been writing. I grew up listening to country artists like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Tammy Wynette. My mom was really into Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles, and I was always into those bands. And I would play instruments together with my brothers.
There was a period of time when I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a songwriter, and I moved to L.A. for a year. But then I moved back to Nashville [and focused on songwriting]. I met some people at BMI—Clay Bradley was working there at the time, and he really helped me find a publishing deal.
DK: In 2011, you had a big hit with “The Breath You Take” for George Strait, which you wrote with your father (Dean Dillon) and Casey Beathard. How did this song come together?
Here’s the video of Cole Swindell’s hit “Break Up in the End,” which
was co-written by Jessie Jo Dillon.
Dillon: That was one of the first songs that my dad and I wrote together. That was right around when I got my first publishing deal. On this song, it was me and him and (hit songwriter) Casey Beathard. I had this idea sketched out, and I called my dad and told him about it. And he was like, “Oh I love this. Why don’t you write it with me and Casey?” And I thought…Oh my God, because I’m such of fan of Casey’s work. So we got together, and I remember that we wrote the song really fast. The song was like vignettes from everybody’s life, and it was really cool to write a song like that.
After we wrote it, my dad played it for (Sony/ATV exec) Troy Tomlinson, and he was like, “Man, we need to send that to George Strait now!” And so they got it to George just off of the work tape, and he loved the song. Later on (after the song was a hit), I was very excited when it was nominated for a Grammy (for Country Song of the Year). It was one of the coolest experiences of my life.
DK: Currently, you have two Top 10 hits: “Break Up in the End” (for Cole Swindell) and “Rich” (Maren Morris). First, how did you write “Break Up in the End” with Jon Nite & Chase McGill?
Dillon: Sometimes, I go to the library to just look for ideas. I’d seen this book called John Dies at the End, and I thought it was an amazing title. I love it, because it just gives [the ending] away. And weirdly, it makes you want to read it even more, because you’re asking…How [does he die]? So I wrote down that title and I was like…there’s got to be a way to make that into a song. And one day when I was driving, the title “Break Up in the End” popped into my head and I thought…Oh man, that’s really cool.
I wrote the song with (hit songwriters) Jon Nite and Chase McGill. Chase is like my brother in songwriting—we’ve had a lot of cuts together and we write all the time. And I’ve also written with Jon. So I had that title, but I knew it was emotional…I wanted it to be a very real and honest song. When Jon heard the title, he looked at me and said, “I wanna write that right now. And I don’t want to think about it…I just want to tell the truth and really go there.”
It was just a really cool day, because after we wrote it, we were like, “Man, I think we really wrote [a song] that means something.” And you don’t feel like that everyday. I remember wondering, in a (country) radio format where it’s very uptempo driven, I was thinking…Man, I hope our publishers like this song. My publishers are amazing and have great taste in music, but it’s funny sometimes how people react when they hear a song. But when we turned in “Break Up in the End,” all of our publishers loved it.
Here’s the video of Maren Morris’ hit “Rich,” which
was co-written by Jessie Jo Dillon.
DK: You also have the hit, “Rich” (with Maren Morris), that’s a fun and different type of song. How did you, Maren and Laura Veltz write “Rich”?
Dillon: We wrote that song very fast, probably in two hours. That was another idea for a title that I had for awhile. I just liked the way the title “Rich” looked, just sitting there. I messed around with the (lyric) idea of…If I had a dollar for every shitty guy, because I’ve had a long line of those in my life (laughs). We just had fun writing it that day…we kind of went for it. Laura Veltz was playing guitar, and she has a particular way that she plays guitar that I always love. It was kind of groovy, and Maren is such a force melodically. It was a really fun day, especially with three chicks, you know, writing a fun uptempo song.
DK: How does it feel to have two hits in the Top 10 at the same time?
Dillon: It’s somewhat surreal to me. I feel like when I talk about it, I’m talking about someone else. Because you work really hard for a long time, and you go through dry spells, so when this happened it’s almost hard to believe. I feel so lucky, and to have two different type of songs in the Top 10, it feels special. It’s also amazing, because [these songs were written with] some of my best friends: Chase (McGill), Laura (Veltz), Maren (Morris) and Jon (Nite). These are people I love so much, and it’s special to be able to share this time with them.