For the past decade, Nashville-based songwriter Luke Laird has been a dominant force in country music. During that time the Hartstown, PA native has accumulated a massive number of hits. He has co-written 24 number one country hits, earned two Grammy Awards, received several Songwriter of the Year honors from BMI and the Academy of Country Music, plus triple play awards from the Country Music Association.
Laird’s impressive output includes #1 hits for Carrie Underwood (“So Small,” “Temporary Home,” “Undo It”), Blake Shelton (“Gonna,” “Hillbilly Bone”), Sara Evans (“A Little Bit Stronger”), Eric Church’s (“Drink in My Hand,” Give Me Back My Hometown,” “Talladega”), Little Big Town (“Pontoon”), Luke Bryan (“I See You,” “Fast”), Thomas Rhett (“T-Shirts”), Kenny Chesney (“American Kids”), Lady A (“Downtown”), and Jon Pardi (“Head Over Boots”).
In addition, he has penned songs for many other stars including Tim McGraw, Florida Georgia Line, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Jason Aldean, Maren Morris, Sam Hunt, Rascal Flatts, Toby Keith and Darius Rucker. He has also written songs outside the country genre for Ne-Yo and John Legend.
For his two Grammy Awards, was honored for co-writing Kacey Musgrave’s hit “Space Cowboy,” which won Best Country Song, and for producing & writing contributions to Musgraves’ album Same Trailer Different Park, which won Best Country Album. He’s also been nominated for two other Grammy Awards.
Laird is also known for being a successful businessman in the music industry. In 2011, he and his wife, Beth, started Creative Nation, a top music publishing, management, label and artist development company.
For his latest project, Laird, who’s had a great career writing & producing for other artists, has turned the tables and recorded his own songs. Long known for his co-writing, Laird penned all but one of the intensely personal songs on his album by himself. His first recorded endeavor as an artist is called Music Row, which is an autobiographical songwriter’s story that covers childhood, grief, family, addiction, and the community he loves.
In this video, Luke Laird discusses the making of his new album,
We are pleased to present this new Q&A interview with Luke Laird. He recalls his first life-changing visit to Music City, his most enjoyable aspect of songwriting, and he tells the story behind a couple of his favorite hits.
BC: The title cut to your new album, Music Row, talks about your impressions of the songwriting community when you first got to Nashville. What was that experience like for you, and how did you end up in songwriting?
Luke Laird: I came here on a family vacation between my sophomore and junior year of high school. I was a big country music fan and really looking forward to that trip. I was already writing songs at that point, but when I went to a show at the Bluebird Café while we were here, that’s when I really knew that’s what I wanted to do. I had heard about Music Row. We drove up and down the streets, and I thought it was so cool to know that the songs I heard on the radio were for the most part being written in those buildings. It made a huge impact. From that point on, I couldn’t wait to move to Nashville.
BC: You have another song on the album called “Leaves on the Ground,” about a childhood best friend. Can you talk about being able to let your guard down and reach into your heart to write a song?
Laird: It has to be the right time. That song and “That’s Why I Don’t Drink Anymore.” They’re songs I had wanted to write for a while, but on different occasions I sat down to write these real personal songs, and it didn’t always happen on the first try. With those two songs in particular, you’re trying to write something that’s heartfelt and honest but not come across as contrived. They kind of have to sit there and stir around in your head ,until you’re finally ready to sit down and try to make it as good as possible.
BC: In your song “That’s Why I Drink Anymore,” you wrote about your addiction. As a songwriter, is it difficult writing other songs about drinking when you’re trying to maintain sobriety?
Laird: It’s not hard for me because I’m just trying to write about life around me and things I’ve experienced. My wife drinks, but she knows how to drink responsibly, and I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t even make it an option for me at this point in my life. But I’m also aware that there are people out there that know how to drink like a normal person, and I’m totally cool with that. I want people to have a good time and enjoy themselves. It’s definitely not a trigger for me, and I think probably I’m far enough away from it that I even have a little more perspective on it. That’s kind of how I deal with it.
Here’s a video of Luke Laird performing an acoustic version
of his song, “That’s Why I Don’t Drink Anymore.”
BC: You wrote all but one of the songs solo by yourself on your album. What was the experience of writing by yourself?
Laird: It kind of reminded me of when I was back in high school, and that’s all I did…sit in my bedroom and write songs about myself. It was very creatively fulfilling. I think there’s something about having the discipline to sit down and actually see an idea through and finish something by yourself. It reminds you, ‘Oh, I do know how to do this.’ Honestly, for me, a lot of times writing by myself is when I get ideas for other songs and take into co-writes. It reminded me of how valuable it is to make sure you make that time for yourself, to sit down and be creative with no restrictions and not worrying about what somebody’s going to think. That’s when a lot of the best ideas come.
BC: What does it add when you’re co-writing with someone?
Laird: It’s nice to have that immediate [feedback] where you’re bouncing ideas off each other. If two people in the room think it’s a good idea, then you can sometimes be more confident in it. I finish a song quicker when it’s with two people. When I’m by myself…I may not necessarily tend to edit more—it’s a longer process.
BC: Are you pleased with the new album?
Laird: I am excited. I think a lot of times when you’re writing songs, sometimes even the more personal ones, as songwriters we write songs and we want to share them with people. But a lot of times I write so many songs a year, the reality is a lot of those will never get heard. I think it was really encouraging to me to have this outlet because the songs on the album mean a lot to me, and it’s gratifying to know that even if it’s on a small scale, [the songs] will have the opportunity to be heard.
BC: Have you ever had the desire to pursue the artistic side of things?
Laird: I’ve never had a huge desire to go out and tour. It almost feels like the right time to put this out since there’s really no touring going on anyways. I’ll do some things online. I enjoy playing writers nights and things like that. For me, I love being at home with my family. I think right now is the right time [to release this album]. I don’t feel this pressure to put a tour together. I’d like to play a few shows once the timing is right.
Here’s the audio for Luke Laird’s song, “Music Row.”
BC: What do you enjoy the most about songwriting?
Laird: I think probably the hardest part is the beginning of the process is when you’re starting a song, but the most enjoyable part to me…is when you’re right in the middle of creating a song and you know that you have the idea and it’s coming together. And you may have that first verse and chorus and you’re excited about it. It’s really hard to describe that feeling. That’s probably my favorite part.
BC: What a great run of hits and awards that you’ve had. Would you talk about a few of your favorites and how they developed?
Laird: “Give Me Back My Hometown,” that I wrote with Eric Church. We wrote it at his cabin in North Carolina. When we wrote that song, I didn’t think it was going to be a huge hit. It was his idea. He’s like, ”I want to write a song with a chorus that has one line in it.” I thought, “Boy, how are we going to do that?’ I loved the idea of it. Immediately, while we were writing it, I’m sure he’s picturing his town where he grew up, and I was picturing my hometown. We even got a little line in there about Pizza Hut, which is kind of funny, but it’s also very real to where I grew up. If you’re going to go out for a nice meal, it’s most likely somewhere like Pizza Hut. I liked how real that is to a small town. It’s one of my favorite songs to play at writers’ rounds. I really connect to it emotionally, and it always seems to come across well.
Another one I would say is “American Kids,” that Kenny Chesney recorded. I wrote it with (hit songwriters) Rodney Clawson and Shane McAnally. We were talking about where we grew up. They’re both from small towns in Texas, and I’m from Pennsylvania, which can seem like it’s worlds apart. But when you grow up in rural America, there’s similarities no matter what state you’re from. We just had a blast writing that song and telling stories about where we grew up. When we finished that song, that’s one I felt really strongly about. I thought…somebody’s going to like this. But it took a while. It was on hold for Tim McGraw, Little Big Town, and then finally Kenny heard it, and he cut it two weeks later. It turns out [after hearing Kenny’s version]. he seemed like the perfect artist to record that song.
BC: How does the songwriting process work for you?
Here’s the video of Kacey Musgraves’ Grammy-winning hit
“Space Cowboy,,” which was co-written by Luke Laird.
Laird: It starts with a great lyrical idea. A lot of times, me and my co-writers keep this running list of titles and idea in our phone, and we’ll talk about it. I like to build tracks. So I’ll have a folder of tracks, and depending on who I’m writing with may say, ‘Hey, play me some tracks.’ If they like it, we’ll see if there’s a title that we’re all looking at that may fit with that. More times than not, that’s how it works these days. It used to be just sitting down with a guitar and talk about ideas. [But] a lot of times the music is driving what the lyrical idea should be. That’s how it’s been working for me recently.
BC: Can you tell me about your role as a producer?
Laird: I don’t do a ton of producing on artists. A lot of the producing I’ve done for artists happened organically. We’d be scheduled to write a song, and then if they liked how I did the demo, then that’s how it turns into that. For the most part, the co-write situations I’m in, I end up being the one that produces the demo. I enjoy that because it’s another side of creativity where you’re not having to think of words and stuff like that. It’s fun. I love playing guitar and making beats. It’s another creative outlet that complements the songwriting, but the songwriting still comes first.
BC: You and your wife, Beth, started your company, Creative Nation. What was your goal and vision for the company, and where have you seen that come since you started?
Laird: My wife worked at BMI for five years and enjoyed that job, but she was ready for a new challenge. I had been at a major publishing company for 10 years. I was finally at a point in my career where I had enough songs and copyrights, and we had a catalog to sell. We said, “Let’s start our own thing and give it a shot.” We took the money from when I sold that catalog to start our own company, and laid out a five-year business plan. And we wanted to focus on signing writers that I truly believed in and that I was a fan of.
We’re not a big company. Every writer that we sign, we sign for a reason. I feel like they’re all unique in heir own right as songwriters, and I always say I want to sign writers who have songs that I wished I’d written. That’s definitely true about all the writers that we’ve signed.
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].