Georgia native and Nashville singer-songwriter Cole Swindell deserves consideration as one of the breakout artists of the decade.
Since the 2014 release of his sel=f-titled debut album by Warner Music Nashville and the runaway success of his first single "Chillin' It," Swindell has joined home state country stars Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan and fellow 2010s newcomers Thomas Rhett and Lauren Alaina as mainstream movers-and-shakers.
From winning the ACM Awards' New Artist of the Year in 2015 to picking up CMT Music Awards and Grammy nominations for his "Break Up in the End" single and music video, Swindell has consistently netted Billboard chart success, country airplay and critical acclaim.
Despite being in an enviable position where every new song belongs on every "bros" party playlist, Swindell still pauses to reflect on his earliest success and how talents like Bryan and former tour mate and "Flatliner" duet partner Dierks Bentley taught him how to transition from the writer of hit country songs to a genuine superstar.
Swindell recently chatted with Wide Open Country about the high spots from a journey that recently earned him his ninth number one hit.
WOC: It's always fun to hear or read about how artists reacted to their first hit. What were you doing when you found out that "Chillin' It" topped the charts, and how did you react?
CS: That's been five or six years ago, but it's something that you don't forget. Growing up, listening to country radio, you dream of singing one or writing one, but to have the first song I ever put out there go number one, it's something I'll never forget. I was out on the road playing a show, so I got to celebrate it with my band and the people that allow me to live this life by sacrificing so much to be out on the road with me. We have celebrated every single one together, and "Chillin' It" was the one that got the whole ride started.
You've had several platinum singles since your breakthrough hit. How does the feeling change, if it changes at all, when you find out that yet another single sustained your ongoing success as a country artist?
I don't think it changes. There's nothing like the first time it happens, but there's always this feeling of gratitude. It lets you know that because of these fans, the people that are listening to this music, that's the reason it becomes platinum. To know that even though it's been six years, I've still got people behind me and people on my side and I owe them everything.
"Love You Too Late" recently became your ninth chart-topping single. At this point, do you feel that you and your team have a feel for what potential songs will click with your listeners? Also, how do you balance sticking with what works (sound and topic-wise) with keeping things fresh?
I do think we have a good process, the way we go about it. We always have our group calls, and I always value my team's opinion. It can be tough for me when we have an album and I have twelve songs to pick from, and I need to pick one song that best suits radio, that best suits what I want to say at that time and what the fans are wanting to hear. I think a lot of it is that I grew up such a huge fan of country music, and I always knew the songs I loved on the radio. The fact that my team and I get to pick songs to put out to the world is amazing.
Luke Bryan plays a recurring role in your career. Are there any helpful things you've learned from him - i.e. advice or through observation - that prepared you for radio success, life on the road and other blessings that have come your way since leaving Georgia Southern for Nashville?
Luke is one of the most special people I've ever been around. I knew I wanted to be an entertainer, and just watching him on stage, I knew he was an entertainer, no doubt about it. I've learned from being on tour with him - the on-stage stuff, the touring life - that's one thing, but just watching how he lives. He's been through so much in his life, and the way he's handled it, the way we he keeps things going, the way he cares about his fans, his family, his road family. I remember asking his advice on songwriting, and he only told me one word, "Live." The older I get, the more I realize how true that is. To write songs, you got to live, and I think Luke Bryan is a perfect example of that.
Speaking of Georgia Southern, you're known for wearing your alma mater's merch. Does your schedule allow you to keep up with their sports teams?
Thanks to social media and apps on my phone, I am able to keep up with my Eagles. Not as much as I'd like, because I wish I could just go to every game. The relationship with Eagle Nation, our head coach, and our athletic director is special to me. I'm looking forward to hopefully getting down to the bowl game this year, and that way I will be able to watch live and in person. I'll always be a loyal fan, and I'll always be a Georgia Southern Eagle.
You're about to hit the road with HARDY & Trea Landon for some 2020 tour dates. What are you looking forward to about following up the Down Home Tour with the Down To Earth Tour?
I'm excited to have another headlining tour. We've got one under our belt now. It was an amazing experience, and we learned a lot. I'm excited about having HARDY and Trea Landon out there. Obviously, I'm a huge fan of both of those guys and their music and what they do. I'm looking forward to writing songs with them, and it's gonna be cool having two people out there that I love what they're doing so much that I'm gonna sit and watch their sets. Excited about seeing my Down Home Crew out there on the Down To Earth Tour in 2020.