Hit Country Artist Mitchell Tenpenny Talks About His Hits “We Got History” And “Truth About You,” His Album This Is The Heavy, And Writing His Songs

Mitchell Tenpenny
Mitchell Tenpenny
(photo credit: Zach Pigg)

Over the past five years, singer/songwriter Mitchell Tenpenny has built a successful career as a consistent hitmaker. He’s had several hits as an artist, and he’s also written hit songs for other artists. Currently, his excellent single “We Got History,” is moving up the Billboard country charts.

Tenpenny, who has a strong, soulful singing voice, has already had two chart hits from his latest album, This is the Heavy (on Riser House/Columbia Nashville Records). The first single was “Truth About You,” that reached #2 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart and has been certified platinum. The second single, “We Got History,” was released a few months ago and has reached #13 so far.

In addition, Tenpenny had a #1 hit last year when he co-wrote and sang a duet with Chris Young for their song, “At the End of a Bar.”

Here’s an excerpt of our interview with Mitchell Tenpenny, who tells how he co-wrote his hit, “We Got History.”


Tenpenny was born and raised in Nashville, and he came from a musical family. His grandmother, Donna Hilley, was a prominent music exec, and she introduced him to top songwriters such as Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam.Tenpenny grew up listening to country, rock and R&B, and he learned to write songs and sing. Later on, he graduated from Middle Tennessee State University.

In 2015, Tenpenny released his debut album, Black Crow, on an independent label. Then in 2016, he co-wrote the song “If the Boot Fits,” which was recorded by Granger Smith and became a Top 10 hit. This success eventually led to Tenpenny signing with Columbia Records.

In December 2018, Tenpenny released his first major label album, Telling All My Secrets, which contained his breakthrough hit, “Drunk Me.” The single reached #2 and went double platinum. Then in 2021, he released a Christmas album called Naughty List.

Here’s the video of Mitchell Tenpenny’s hit, “We Got History.”

During the past five years, Tenpenny has toured steadily and he has headlined some major shows. Earlier this year (2023), he wrapped up his This Is The Heavy Tour and sold out 13 concerts during the six-week tour. This included two sold-out hometown shows at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Currently, Tenpenny is writing and recording songs for his next album, which he’ll release in 2024. He will have a busy concert schedule in the new year. He’ll be headlining shows, plus he’ll be opening shows for superstar Luke Combs’ stadium tour. He will also be headlining some shows with Jordan Davis.

Mitchell Tenpenny Interview
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Mitchell Tenpenny. He tells how he co-wrote his latest hits “We Got History” and “Truth About You,” and how he got started as a singer and songwriter.

DK: I read that you grew up in Nashville, and that your grandmother, Donna Hilley, was a top music publishing exec. How did you get started with music and writing songs?

Mitchell Tenpenny: Yes, she definitely had a big influence on me when I was growing up. I was always surrounded by songwriters my whole life. I say I bumped my head early (laughs) and got bit by the bug. I thought they were the coolest people in the world, and I wanted to be a songwriter one day. As a kid, I would see them all the time, and I got to hear the demos of songs before they would come out, and it intrigued me so much.

DK: In 2015 you released your debut album, Black Crow, and in 2016 you co-wrote the hit “If the Boot Fits” for Granger Smith. Can you talk about this early period in your career?

Tenpenny: That was a wild time (laughs). You know when you’re young, you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re figuring it out. So I flew out to California and met this guy named Matt Swanson, and we started a label together and put out a record called Black Crow, and it helped me to open up some doors in Nashville.

Here’s the video of Mitchell Tennpenny’s hit, “Truth About You.”

I was writing songs every day, and every now and then you get these great phone calls. I got a phone call, and found out that Granger Smith wanted to cut our song and make it a single at country radio, and that changed my life. The doors opened up after that; it ended up being our first hit together, and it set the tone. When you’re starting out in Nashville; you never know what’s going to happen. You’re always playing songs out and trying to make connections. And every now and then lightning strikes, and that’s how it started moving for me.

DK: So did having the hit with Granger Smith, help you get your major label deal?

Tenpenny: It opened up the doors for sure. I started to get noticed more in town. I was playing a show for CMA Fest, playing some songs that I had released through the label that we started called Riser House Records. I was putting on my guitar at the end of the set, and the person who’s now my manager, came up and grabbed me and said, “Sony Records is over here and we need to talk with them.” Then we did, and the next week we were signed artists. We went with it and it’s been a wild journey ever since (laughs).

DK: In 2018, you had a big hit with “Drunk Me,” from your album, Telling All My Secrets. Can you tell the story behind writing that song?

Tenpenny: I was writing for other artists then, when I wrote that one. It got pitched around to other artists, and when we signed the record deal, we needed a song. So I was looking through my song catalog, and I always loved that song. When I wrote it, somebody else sang the demo, so I hadn’t thought of it as my song (as an artist) yet. Then I started messin’ with it and we took it into the studio. So we went with that song and it ended up being our first number one, and it got the whole thing going for me as an artist.

DK: Last year, you released your album, This is the Heavy, which has two hits on it. Can you talk about the making of this album?

Here’s the video of Mitchell Tenpenny & Chris Young’s hit,
“At the End of a Bar.”

Tenpenny: That album was really fun for me. We had our debut (major label) album with “Drunk Me” on it, but then for the second album I’d been writing a lot of songs in between. And I wanted to do things a little different. I wanted it to be all over the place as far as production styles and stuff, but I still wanted it to be country as far as lyrics. I wanted it to be storytelling all the way through.

It was really cool—my label trusted me, and they let me put 20 songs on it. They gave me the trust and freedom to make the record, without hearing much of it until it was done. And I don’t take that for granted at all, especially in these days and times. They had that trust in me, and I got to do what was fun for me and I enjoyed it, and that freedom is unmatched.

DK: The first hit from this album was “Truth About You.” What inspired you to write this song?

Tenpenny: Yeah, that was me, Thomas Archer and Matt Alderman (who wrote it). We were in a room one day writing, trying to come up with something. I remember one of them said something about a truth and a lie, and it started something sparking in my head. We kept playing around with how to phrase it right and we all said, “If you quit telling lies about me, I won’t tell the truth about you.” And it just lit a fire in the room. I was like, “I know exactly how to write this song. We’ve all been there before.” We tell a different story sometimes to make us feel better. And I think when you break up with somebody, you’re supposed to leave ‘em alone. But sometimes this town talks and people make stuff up because they want a better story. For us, it all started flooding in, and the song was written because the title lit a fire under everybody.

DK: I like your current hit, “We Got History.” How did you come up with the idea for this song?

Tenpenny: It was same thing…we were tossing around titles and ideas and concepts. I was writing with [Andy Albert, Devin Dawson & Jordan Schmidt], and I told them the story of how I ran into an ex-girlfriend at the mall a few months earlier. But we just passed each other, and we didn’t say, “Hey.” We didn’t do anything. We both looked at each other like we were ghosts, and I thought that was so wild. We both knew it was each other, but we didn’t want to say it. And I thought it was a wild concept, that you could know somebody for so long and be so close, but then they’re like a ghost.

Here’s the video of Mitchell Tenpenny’s song, “Bigger Mistakes.”

Then we started talking about titles about this, and that’s when the lyrics came out. “I know we don’t have a future anymore, but damn, we got history.” And I thought that was really cool…it hit me right in the soul. You know…it’s okay. I believe God blesses the broken road, and people get put in your life to lead you to other people. But we all have a past and a journey and a road to how we got here. And that whole concept really intrigued me.

DK: Last year, you had a hit with Chris Young with the song, “At the End of a Bar.” How did you connect with Chris and write this song?

Tenpenny: Yeah we met at a bar years back (laughs), and we’ve been friends ever since. Chris has always given me good advice, especially when I signed my record deal. He’s been a great mentor and a great buddy for me. We were writing a song one day, and it was actually snowing. In Nashville when it snows, things shut down even if it’s an inch. And it was coming out of Covid, where everybody was finally getting back in rooms with each other.

I’d been in my house for so long and I hadn’t written a lot of songs in person. So I called Chris that day and said, “I don’t care if it’s snowing man, I need to get out of the house.” And he was like, “Buddy, I got a four-wheel drive; let’s do it.” We showed up that day, and started catching up. We thought about years ago, when we used to go to the bars and hang out. Then he said to our other buddy (co-writer Chris DeSantos), “You should have seen us the last time we were together at the end of the bar. We were just tearin’ it up having a good time and laughing.” And I said, “Hold on. That sounds like a song, man. Think about everything that’s happened at the end of a bar. We met there, I met my wife there. I’d see an ex there (laughs). It’s a cool concept; we should chase that for a minute.”

We wrote the song in less than an hour, and I wanted Chris to sing it, to have a voice on this. But his voice was rough from a lot shows he had previously done, so when we finished the song he said, “You go in the vocal booth and sing the demo.” So I got in there and I wanted to try to impress Chris, so I gave it everything I had. Then Chris called me the next day and says, “Hey buddy. Do you mind if I put a vocal on that too?’ So I was like…Yes, my plan worked (laughs). Then Chris puts his vocal on it, and a week later he said, “Hey, would you mind if I put this song on my record, and would you like to sing it with me?” And I was like, “Dude, I’d be absolutely honored.” So he used the vocal I did that day and it became the vocal that’s on the record. Then he called me a couple days later and said, ‘Hey man, I think it’s gonna be the next single to country radio.” And again, it’s those phone calls that you wait for. Those are the calls that keep you going.

DK: A few months ago, you released a new song called “Bigger Mistakes.” Can you talk about this song? Will it be your next single?

Tenpenny:Yeah I love that song. We always want to have music coming out. We want to keep it fresh. If something great happens with it, it would be awesome. It could be the next single. We have 10 songs that we’ve already recorded that’s ready for a record next year, and we’re still going back in the studio. So we’re gonna let “We Got History” do its thing, and when it’s done, we’ll make a decision what to focus on next. We’ll be releasing music and see what the world likes.

Here’s the link to Mitchell Tenpenny’s site: https://www.mitchell10penny.com/

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima