Ty Herndon is about to embark on a new chapter of his life as a country music singer. He's returning with a new project that he notes as the "most authentic" release of his career, nearly 20 years after it began.
I sat down with Herndon for a chat before a concert in Nashville, and it was clear the 54-year-old Mississippi native was eager to share what he had in store. His life and career has hit some huge highs and incredible lows over the last two decades, but he still manages to stay true to his own sound no matter what. His warm personality, silky vocals and intricate mix of modern storytelling and traditional has won over a staunchly dedicated group of fans who have stuck by his side through it all.
Herndon's music has been a part of my life since the age of five. My mom fell in love with his music and played it constantly over our home stereo during my childhood. I found myself consistently revisiting his music even many years later. With each listen, I felt surprised at just how much his songs still resonated as an adult. It's a story that Herndon says he hears over and over again from fans. Just one glance of the crowds at his concerts shows a range from young teenagers to middle-aged adults.
"I was recently asked on the red carpet, "How do you explain that?" I said, it's very simple. It's because country music is generational, and when our parents and grandparents listen to something, we do too. I still have my Cowboy Copas and Patsy Cline records that were handed down from my dad. That explains it to me when these kids know "Living In a Moment" and "What Mattered Most," and "Steam." It just blows my mind."
During the 1990s, Herndon became a nationally known country singer with the success of his aforementioned No. 1 single "What Mattered Most." Over the next few years, he found continued success and an array of personal challenges. After going through a divorce, bankruptcy, and two trips to rehab, Herndon took back control of his life. He made headlines soon after by publicly coming out as a gay man in 2014.
"I've had a banner year in the last eighteen months... coming out was a blessing for me," Herndon says. "I'm the same old redneck that I always was, and I'm making the same music, but I'm just doing it a little bit more authentically."
Herndon says he feels more connected to his music than ever. At the same time, he also wants to make sure that all of his fans can connect with the emotion in each song. Herndon plans to release his eighth studio album, House on Fire, later this August. Herndon says he intentionally recorded songs that don't specifically refer to anyone's gender, making it accessible for anyone and everyone.
"What's different about this record is that it's gender-free. If you're a diehard country fan who's married woman with nine kids in Des Moines, or if you're an LGBT person in Chicago, you're going to hear your life in this record."
Herndon plants to share five full-length videos in the weeks ahead of the album's release. The series will give fans a taste of what to expect from this new chapter of his musical career.
Attitudes toward LGBT individuals in country music has changed drastically over the past few years, thanks in part to artists like Herndon and Chely Wright. Even with this progress, the subject it is still seen as taboo within the industry. For Herndon, it's simply just another part of life to sing about.
"Our gender is our blessing and who we are in this life, and we have to embrace that, period. We're here to love, and here to be loved, and that's what's in this record."