Hit Songwriter Chase McGill, A CMA Triple Play Award Winner, Talks About His Hits With Luke Bryan, Morgan Wallen, Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson
Country music hit songwriter Chase McGill was honored this month (March 2023) at the 13th Country Music Association Triple Play Awards in Nashville. He is one of 16 songwriters to have penned three number one songs within a 12-month period based on the Country Aircheck, Billboard Country Airplay and Billboard Hot Country Songs charts. McGill has scored recent chart-toppers with Luke Bryan’s “Waves,” Morgan Wallen’s “Don’t Think Jesus,” and the “Never Say Never” duet recorded by Cole Swindell and Lainey Wilson.
Since signing his first publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing Group in December of 2012, McGill’s tunes have been recorded by hit artists like Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton, Little Big Town, Kane Brown, Brett Young, Jon Pardi, and Justin Moore.
The Columbus, Mississippi native scored his first three #1 one songs in 2018 with “Lose It” by Kane Brown, “Break Up In The End” by Cole Swindell, and “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset,” by Luke Bryan. Notably, the moving ballad “Break Up In the End” also received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song in 2019.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Chase McGill. He tells the story behind some of the songs on his hits parade, his wife’s inspiration for one of Luke Bryan’s hits, and the lesson he learned from the piano lessons he disliked taking early on.
BC: Congratulations on winning the CMA Triple Play award. What does that mean to receive this honor?
Chase McGill: Man, thank you so much. It means the world to me. Getting one number one hit is dang near an impossibility. To get three is just crazy. So you know, how much God had to be involved is pretty special to me on that and not to mention all the team around me. It says a lot about them.
BC: One of your chart-toppers this past year is Morgan Wallen’s “Don’t Think Jesus.” How did you go about writing that song with Jessi Alexander and Mark Holman?
Here’s the video of Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson’s hit “Never
Say Never,” which was co-written by Chase McGill.
McGill: Honestly, it was kind of a personal thing. I had written it down, and I probably had that idea in my phone for close to a year. One day with Jessi Alexander, who I write with all the time—she’s one of my longest running co-writes in town. And me and her were with Mark Holman, and I brought that up, and it kind of made sense. We knew that Morgan was looking for songs. We decided if Morgan was going to write this—with everything going on with him in his personal life—what would be his take. Really, the underlying theme once we zoomed back out from trying to be in Morgan’s shoes, became less about Morgan and about forgiveness overall, whether it’s forgiving yourself, forgiving others…the way that others should forgive others. It became about forgiveness overall, which I think that’s a hard thing that God asks us to do.
BC: Obviously, “Don’t Think Jesus” resonated with a lot of folks. You also had a number one with “Never Say Never” with Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson. Did you think of it as a duet when you we writing it?
McGill: Jessi Alexander was there that day too.—we were out on Cole Swindell’s bus writing. It was the last show of the year. We were sitting on the bus parked at the stadium in New Orleans and Cole said, ‘You know, I’ve never done a duet. I really want to do it.’ Jesse had that title “Never Say Never,” and it feels like it could be a little angsty type thing for a duet, and we all agreed. We were like, “Alright, if we’re going to do a duet, let’s truly do a duet…not just write a song and then put a female on it. Let’s script out the female part. We’ve got a female in the room; we can do it that way so we can feel how it goes down.” And man, the lyric got so confused as we were writing it. We ended up having to do two separate pages. It was like a screenplay, so we had to type out before each line—Girl, Guy, Both, Girl, Both, Guy. It made it a lot of fun. I just enjoy the process of songwriting. Any other benefit is great, but at the end of the day whether it goes to number one or not, I love the process.
BC: How did you get started in music?
Here’s the lyric video of Morgan Wallen’s hit “Don’t Think Jesus,”
which was co-written by Chase McGill.
McGill: My parents made me take piano lessons…I hated it. I think I could have enjoyed it, but between my parents and the teacher, it was like, “Here’s the book; here’s the right way, do this.” It’s funny, man. I think that works on some kids. I’ve got three daughters now. I’ve got a five-year-old, one that’s about to turn four, and a two-year-old and they’re all very different. My middle one, River, is just like me. I’m learning that saying, ‘Hey, River. Here’s how you do this,’ doesn’t really work with her. She’s got to come to it on her own through her our own little way. You can sneak in from time to time a lesson from those who have tried it the hard way. So that was me. My parents were not musical at all. So the teacher would give me the book and say, “Alright, learn [this lesson] this week, and I’m five or six years old at this time. Then I would go home, and I would make up something that sounded good enough that I could tell my parents that this was from the book and they’d be like, “Oh, okay good job.” I’m sure it sounded horrible. They didn’t know I was gonna be bad at piano anyways, but I always liked making up something more than I liked learning something. Luckily, I found songwriting not only allows that, but encourages that. I thank God for songwriting.
BC: Are you happy being a songwriter, or do you want to pursue the artist side too?
McGill: I truly find enjoyment writing songs for others. As far as the artist side, it’s not something that’s completely closed off to me, but it would never be me trying to be a radio star. I enjoy being home too much and not around crowds. If I ever did something, it would be me making a record for my own completely self-indulgent enjoyment. Oh, and who knows? I might do it one day. But for now, man, I enjoy the process of songwriting and particularly so much more than performing songs. There are people way more suited for that than me. So I just enjoy the creative process of writing, and it is completely fulfilling to me at the moment.
BC: Luke Bryan would be one of those who enjoys the artist side more. He had a hit with “Waves” (written by McGill, Ryan Hurd & Zach Crowell). How did that song develop?
Here’s the video of Luke Bryan’s hit “Waves,” which was
co-written by Chase McGill.
McGill: Luke’s been super good to me…I love that guy. Me and my wife took our babies—I believe we had two of them at the time when we wrote that song—to the beach. You go down to the beach and you want to relax, but with a three-year-old and two-year-old at the beach, is impossible. As soon as you get to the beach, one of them is hungry, one of them has a dirty diaper. One of them is trying to run under the water…it’s a madhouse.
There’s this moment we went to Alvin’s Island and blew up this inflatable pool and got a bucket and filled it up, and put it under the umbrella to be out of the sun. They sat down and got a little still, and then we took them out, and we laid them on a sheet under the tent we had. And it was shaded and there’s a breeze and they fell asleep. It was just me and my wife sitting there, and we reached in the cooler and grabbed two beers. I walked a hundred yards down to the beach to open them so I wouldn’t wake up the babies, and then we came back, sat down, and we’re whispering. My wife was like, “I think the relaxing moments down here—she was just standing there looking at the waves—are gonna be like waves. They’ll just come and go, and let’s just enjoy them while we got them.” We did a little cheers and held hands in silence for a moment. It was a nice little moment and when she said it, with me being ever the songwriter, I pulled out my phone and typed in my little notes. When I got back, I was with two of my favorite people, Ryan Hurd and Zach Crowell, who we’ve had success with Luke before with “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset.” I told them that title and it kind of fell out.
BC: What are the stories behind Tyler Hubbard’s hit, “Five Foot Nine” and Cole Swindell’s “Break Up In The End”?
McGill: “Five Foot Nine” was a concept I’d had about basically making one big long noun for the great thing in your life that God made for you, that beats out all the man-made stuff. That was how I pitched the idea to them. If I’m writing a love song, I’m writing about my wife, and she’s 5’ 4” with green eyes, and so I was dabbling with that and Tyler was like, “Man. I love that. Can we make it about my wife?” I was like, “Yes, that’s a better play. Let’s do that.” It was fun to be with those guys and get to put a good love song with heavy Jesus influence in it and, and a spirit of gratefulness in it. That one’s been one of my favorite to play out at little songwriter shows. That’s actually one of my three daughters’ favorite songs They have absolutely worn it out in the car.
Here’s the video of Cole Swindell’s hit “Break Up in the End,”
which was co-written by Chase McGill.
“Break Up In the End” was a special one with Jessie Jo Dillon and Jon Nite. She had brought that idea in, and she had read in the library a book called John Dies At The End or something like that, which is funny, because Jon Nite was in the room. He was like, “Oh, please, let’s not do that (laughs). She was like, “How cool would it be though, in a storytelling setting, to give the end away with the beginning? What about if you make it like a love thing, like we break up in the end?”
I always say any song that took me [many hours or days or weeks to write], has never seen the light of day. But that song total with lunch included might have taken 45 m minutes or an hour. It came very natural and felt like a gift. We’re lucky enough with that one to get some critical acclaim on it and pick up an award or two, so it was a lot of fun.
Bill Conger is a freelance writer for various publications including Bluegrass Unlimited, ParentLife, Homecoming, and Singing News and is currently writing a biography on The Osborne Brothers with Bobby Osborne. He can be reached at [email protected].