It has been a long road for Granger Smith. After battling it out in the trenches as an independent artist for more than a decade, the 36-year old Dallas native has found his way onto numerous “new artists to watch” lists, thanks to signing a label deal and landing his first No. 1 hit with “Backroad Song” earlier this year. His second single “If The Boot Fits” just went to radio.
The buzz is well-deserved for Smith, who has been carving his path since 14 years old. He already had seven independent albums, three performances at the White House and thousands of shows under his belt by the time he signed with Broken Bow Records imprint Wheelhouse Records. Not bad for a “new” artist.
Smith took some time out of his busy tour schedule to chat with Wide Open Country about the unconventional way he recorded his new album Remington, the long road to success, working with family and who he thinks is the best manager in the business (spoiler alert: it’s his brother).
And yes, we talked about his country boy alter-ego Earl Dibbles Jr.
How does it feel to be considered a new artist 18 years after your first record came out?
I welcome it with open arms, actually. It’s a testament to our existing fans who have spread the word and a testament to our team working hard to get the music out there. To fans who look at me as a new artist, I don’t mind that title at all. It’s kind of exciting!
And this new record Remington was a long process too, so it must feel good to get that out to fans.
Yea, it’s a great feeling to get any record out to people, to get people to hear the stories you’ve been wanting them to hear. You finally get to see the reaction and see if it’s just you that thinks you’ve been working on cool stuff or if everyone else agrees with you. I’ve definitely had both results with my career in the past, so there’s a little anxiety with that.
You and co-producer/co-writer Frank Rogers [Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker] made Remington in a pretty unconventional way, too.
I met Frank 17 years ago when I was in Nashville. He reached out again about three years ago and said he’d love to be a part of the team in any way, shape or form. I told him I like to make records in weird ways, in my own house with my own editing, and he said, “Well let’s make a record and you can do that.”
We started out with the writing. We recorded the band and vocals together and shared duties. I would record guitars one day and he’d record percussion the next. He’d email me what he took and then I’d email him what I took, uploading the Dropbox constantly. I’d be on the tour bus and he’d be at the studio and we’d be on the phone saying, “Well what do you think about this?” The whole process we were good buddies — we’d get together, laugh and eat home-cooked meals.
Were there moments you knew the record was going to be something special?
It definitely felt like that several moments. Different songs would come up and we’d say, “Man, this is magic.” And they didn’t necessarily feel that way when we wrote them, but then they did. And there were a few songs that were vice versa too, where we thought they had magic when we were writing them but they lost the luster and ultimately didn’t make the record.
What was it like watching “Backroad Song” go to No. 1.?
Amazing. Once again a testament to the team around me and who I think is the greatest manager in country music, my younger brother Tyler. Everybody came together and had passion and fought for this, and it showed.
I’ve got a brother too, so I understand that relationship. Is it difficult for y’all to separate business from family?
It’s tough. We’ve gotten to these discussions where, whether it’s me or him, we’ve had to say, “Hey, if I call you I want you to say, ‘Hi, how’s your day’ instead of going right into business and like, ‘Man I was talking to so-and-so.’” We have to remind ourselves sometimes that we’re brothers and family first. If we go out to eat with mom, shut up. It’s not always business. We’re out to eat with mom, just shut up! (Laughs).
You’ve got a pretty personal song about y’all’s dad passing away, “Tractor,” on the record too.
Yeah, I don’t always look at those songs I write and think they’re going on the record. Sometimes I’m reluctant to put them on there because I’m vulnerable, but ultimately that’s my duty as a musician. To put things out people can relate to, and ultimate if somebody can relate to that feeling of loss — music is a healer.
You’re one of the few Texas artists who have been able to have national success. How did you avoid pigeon-holing yourself?
You know, it’s super complex, and I think about it all the time. I’m as Texas as they get from a musician standpoint, and I love my Texas fans. I love all the fans I made who got me through those indie days when we were in a van looking for an audience, and they’d come sell out shows in small town USA.
My loyalties lie with country music, but I love my home state and I’ll never leave.
But my music just is what it is. It’s not a mainstream version of Granger or a Texas version of Granger. It evolves, sure, but it’s the same Granger. That has been key for me. Not trying to switch to a new sound or experiment with something off the wall to see if it works in a new market. I just do what I do and can’t really help it. Heck, I can try to do something different and it still ends up sounding like old me (laughs).
Even when it’s your alter-ego, Earl Dibbles Jr. I have to say the most recent song “Merica” is probably my favorite since the first. That video must’ve been fun to shoot.
We had a blast. I didn’t know what to expect because it was almost a last-minute change to jump to the green screen room. That was the first time I’ve done anything like that, where I have to pretend like I’m having a good time when the background behind me was just a boring green screen. They’d say, “Ok there’s going to be rockets and explosions,” and I just had to trust them. But it was a blast.
Has the popularity of all your Earl Dibbles videos inspire an acting career?
I’ve never really had that ambition, honestly. I love making videos to help the music, and I love making funny videos, but I’ve never wanted to drop everything and do a full movie or anything like that.
Do you ever get jealous of Earl Dibble’s social media success?
(Laughs) No, I’m thankful every single day when I wake up that I have Earl and he’s taken us where he’s taken us. He’s kind of the ambassador to everything I do. If I have a new record coming out and Earl gets to tweet it, that’s millions of people it reaches and I’m proud of that. Earl is still Granger, but he’s definitely a different part of my brain. Especially when I write. In in the morning with coffee, that’s Granger. Late night with a beer, that’s Earl.