Singer/songwriter ERNEST has made a big splash as a songwriter on Nashville’s Music Row, and now he’s starting to make waves as an artist. It took the Nashville native only one year to land a prestigious publishing deal, and it paid off with four number one hits with Morgan Wallen (“More Than My Hometown”), Florida Georgia Line (“I Love My Country”), Chris Lane (“Big, Big Plans”), and Sam Hunt (“Breaking Up Was Easy In The ‘90s”).
Impressively, ERNEST also scored a multi-platinum hit with Diplo and Wallen’s “Heartless” as well as notable cuts such as Lane’s current single “Fill Them Boots,” Kane Brown’s “One Mississippi,” FGL’s “Blessings,” and 11 tracks on Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album.
Currently, ERNEST (whose full name is Ernest Keith Smith) has released the single “Flower Shops” (feat. Morgan Wallen) which is moving up the Billboard country charts. In addition, he debuted on Big Loud Records in 2019 with Locals Only followed by the anthems, “Cheers” and “American Rust.” ERNEST also appeared on the Hixtape: Vol. 2 track “Red Dirt Clouds” alongside Ben Burgess and ‘90s country hitmaker David Lee Murphy.
On top of this, his podcast Just Being ERNEST debuted in the spring of 2020 with country stars Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, and more. Also, he is currently on the Fill Them Boots tour with Chris Lane and working on his follow-up music project.
We are pleased to present this new Q&A interview with ERNEST. He talks about his new single, “Flower Shops,” why he and Morgan work so well together, and bumming a ride with Chris Lane.
BC: How did you go about writing “Flower Shops” with Ben Burgess and Mark Holman?
ERNEST: I picked Ben Burgess up to go over to Mark Holman’s, and I was listening to George Jones Central Playlist. I had been listening to it probably a couple of weeks and was just in a sad song kick in general actually, brought on by (golfer) John Daly playing me a demo of a song he had with Willie Nelson. It was a super sad country song. It sent me down the rabbit hole, and probably two months later, me and Ben Burgess are on our way to write and “A Good Year for the Roses” came up on the playlist. We were both like, “What a title!” We had heard it before, but we were in the middle of it and really listening. He was like, “Dude, we should write a song like ‘Good Day for Flower Shops’ or something. I was like, “Yeah, yes we should. What do you mean?” (laughs) We started talking and realized it wasn’t hard for either of us to lock into this character of this guy that has run out of apologies, screwed it all up, no thanks to Jack Daniels (laughs). We work-shopped the song, and by the time we got to Mark Holman’s, we were ready to pick up a guitar and start figuring out what the melody was going to be.
Here’s the video of ERNEST’s new hit “Flower Shops”
(feat. Morgan Wallen).
BC: Morgan Wallen is featured singing on the song with you.
ERNEST: I’m pumped that he got on it. I sent it to him pretty quickly after we got the demo back for him to listen to. He fell in love with the song as well. I told him this should be the one. We’ve always talked about doing a song together, and I think people probably assumed we were going to do a party song. I was like this would be awesome if this is the song we do—just two sad ass guys hurting, trying to get some flowers about it. It worked out good.
BC: You and Morgan have been songwriting partners. Why do you click so well?
ERNEST: He’s one of my favorite people to write with. I think we both stick with the motto of do what feels good and not what everybody else is doing. We both agree that some days aren’t going to be a hit song, but we always have a good time when we’re writing. We’re never too stressed about whatever we’re trying to write.
BC: You wrote Morgan’s #1 hit “More Than My Hometown” with him, Hardy, and Ryan Vojtesak. How did that come develop?
ERNEST: That was Hardy too. I’ve got to say Hardy did a lot of heavy lifting on “More Than My Hometown.” When Hardy’s in the room, he does a lot of heavy lifting no matter who he’s with. Hardy’s one of the best songwriters on the earth.
BC: You’ve been known for being a hit songwriter, but now you’re making headway as an artist. Did you have your sights set on being an artist all along?
ERNEST: I’ve always wanted to be an artist as much as a songwriter. A few years ago the songwriting thread started pulling more, all while trying to build whatever my brand was going to be on the side and developing my artistry while writing songs for other artists in country music. The timing of it went great because I needed the three or four years it took to pressure cook whatever the artist thing was going to be.
BC: What kind of influence did it have on you being raised in Nashville, and when did you really start getting involved in music more?
Here’s the video of ERNEST’s single, “Cheers.”
ERNEST: I think because I was in Nashville, my access to seeing country artists when I was a young kid probably helped start a knack for it, but I’ve always gravitated to instruments. Pots and pans when I was a kid and toddler, banging on the piano and figuring out that was the melody I heard in church today and playing it. I was in elementary school with Billy Dean’s son, so Billy Dean would take me and his son to the Pancake Pantry here in Nashville, and there’s usually a line around the corner. I remember we went through the kitchen. I was like, “I want to do this. Why does he get to go through the back door?” (laughs)
BC: At some point you realized you wanted music to be more than a hobby.
ERNEST: One semester into college, I did not see me doing four years in college. I thought…I’m going to need to figure something else out. I dropped out, and my parents said you’ve got a year to figure out what you’re going to do, if you’re going to make a career out of music. About a year later I signed a publishing deal. I went to the Virgin Islands in the meantime.
BC: Not everyone can get a publishing deal that quick; that’s pretty amazing. When did you know you had talent as a songwriter?
ERNEST: I don’t know. It was probably just delusional. I was the only one really doing it as seriously as I was doing it as a 20-year-old in my circle. When I started my publishing deal, it was in Nashville at Sony/ATV. I basically got it with a handful of songs that were not country, songs that I had written on acoustic in the islands. I was taking raps I had written while I was in college and reapplied them to acoustic guitar and added melody. It was so different than anything they were hearing down the row. They were like, “It’s not country, but you’ll figure that out. We’ll sign you.” It took me 5 or 6 years to finally find what this is now. I’m thankful to everybody that let me reinvent myself time and time again in the process.
BC: You recently started on the Fill Them Boots tour with Chris Lane. Are you hoping you guys can hang out and do some more songwriting?
Here’s the video of Morgan Wallen’s hit “More Than My
Hometown,” which was co-written by ERNEST.
ERNEST: We hang out. I go up there and kick it on his bus before the shows, and we catch up. Our wives are friends, and we both have kids that are within two months of each other’s age. When we went out on tour two years ago, I bummed and slept on his bus with him so we were like roommates for that whole tour. Now, we get a little more space, but we still hang out for sure.
BC: You wrote one of his #1 hits, “Big Big Plans” with Chris and Jacob Durrett. Tell me how you guys wrote that one.
ERNEST: I showed up, and we started playing this idea with the guitar and started singing. Big, big plans got thrown out in a freestyle. (sings) “Got some big, big plans.” We didn’t really know what else. We stopped there after recording it, and I showed it to my manager. He said, “I think Chris is looking for a song to maybe propose to. You should finish this with Chris.” He calls Chris, and we finished it with him, customized and tailor-made it. It worked. She said yes.
BC: How does the songwriting process work for you?
ERNEST: It is a little unorthodox. I don’t really write a lot. I freestyle. I get a voice note going, somebody’s got music playing, or I’ll pick up a guitar and free flow with whatever is coming out of me. If something catches or sounds like it, I’ll go ahead and work on it and start typing it out.
BC: So, you don’t necessarily have a bunch of idea or titles.
ERNEST: I like writing with guys who have a phone full of titles. If someone shares a title, then I can freestyle and try to land on that title. At least I’ve got somewhere to go.
BC: What do you see as your strength as a songwriter?
ERNEST: I think I have my days. I think I can probably always come up with a melody, and some days I’m on with lyrics.
Hardy, for example, takes after songs like a mad scientist. He wraps his whole head around every bit of the song down to the inner rhyme and then executes. I do a lot of just throw a deck of cards at the wall and see what sticks.
Here’s the video of Florida Georgia Line’s hit “I Love My
Country,” which was co-written by ERNEST.
BC: You’re getting out there and performing your own material as an artist. What has that been like watching others react to your songs?
ERNEST: I love that. That’s one of my favorite things about artistry is performing. I’ve always loved performing whether it just be in a room full of people in a dorm room or whatever. To go from beach bars while people are watching Sunday football to actually get to stand on a stage and people are there to see you and sing your songs, I never take it for granted. That’s my favorite thing.
BC: Are they starting to sing the songs back to you?
ERNEST: Yeah, they are. It’s cool, and more every night because “Flower Shops” is out now. Either some of them are my day one fans are they are going back and consuming that “Locals Only project. Then, I do a little segment during my set of songs that I’ve written for Morgan, and they sing those (laughs). But when I was opening for Morgan, I had to go out there and stand on my own two feet. I couldn’t play any of the songs that he was going to be singing later that night.
BC: Do you ever wish you had held on to any of those for yourself?
ERNEST: No, I’m happy with everything he’s cut that I’ve written. Now, where I’m at I’m definitely more mindful about songs that I keep. If I’m writing and I hear Morgan in my head singing it, then that’s a Morgan song. I pretty much know what’s for me and what’s not now.
BC: You know what fits best for you.
ERNEST: Right now I’m prioritizing myself when I go into a room to write, but somedays you want to write any song. The pressure of trying to be something takes all the fun out of writing songs. Just go in there and write, and it will land where it lands or it won’t land at all.
BC: What’s the story behind Sam Hunt’s “Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90s” (co-written with Sam, Josh Osborne, Zach Crowell, and Chris LaCorte)?
Here’s the video of Chris Lane’s hit “Big, Big Plans,” which
was co-written by ERNEST.
ERNEST: Sam rented a cabin in Leaper’s Fork out in Franklin. It was four or five guys in a cabin for three days out in the country writing a ton of songs. Sam has a good old-fashioned notebook full of titles and song ideas that he writes down with a pen. He had that title. Josh Osborne is a genius. We sat there around the kitchen table and worked out that idea on the guitar. That was one of Chris’s first cuts. He had played guitar for Dustin Lynch, and Sam had him come out. He had a pack full of beats, and he had that one going.
BC: What’s your dream? Where you want to see your career go?
ERNEST: I need to stop and realize that technically I’m in the middle of achieving my dream and appreciate where it’s at right now. I would like for this to be the beginning of a fun career and growing a fan base and maybe shifting music a little bit and leaving my mark in history. That’s dreaming big. I don’t even know if they’ll have books one day, but I’d like for me and my friends to be in one (chuckles).
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].