Tyler Braden's first-ever Engine No. 18 Golf Tournament, held Oct. 25, 2021 at the Governor's Club in Brentwood, Tenn., would've been a special day anyway. The Warner Music Nashville signee golfed for a good cause alongside former co-workers in a town he served as a local firefighter and first responder, with the evening capped off by live music presented by Nashville party-starters Whiskey Jam.
An already stellar event became life- and career-affirming when Braden's former fire chief, Brian Goss, surprised the singer-songwriter with an invite to perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage for the first time during this Saturday's (Jan. 8) broadcast of radio's longest-running show.
"It was kind of a full circle thing," Braden told Wide Open Country. "I'd been on a lot of medical calls and stuff like that through that neighborhood because it was part of our jurisdiction. It was to benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and Hungry Heroes, so we had a couple of firefighter teams and the trucks came and my chief was there. It was my manager's idea to have him announce it and present the surprise."
Braden, a native of Slapout, Ala., worked as a firefighter closer to home before relocating around five years ago to the Nashville area. Initially, settling into a new fire department took precedent over longterm music goals.
"I wasn't coming to go gung-ho into music immediately, but I was doing it to get closer and to have a better opportunity if and when I did push more into the music industry," Braden explained. "About the first year I was here, I played the rookie game. I was the new guy at the new fire station. I had been in Montgomery as a firefighter for four years, but when I came here, I was the new guy and kind of had to start over and do that job for nine months to the first year. So I didn't do a lot of music stuff at first."
After knocking off the rookie rust at the firehouse, Braden juggled learning the Music City ropes with a high-pressure and high-risk job until June 2019.
"I was lucky enough through about three years in Brentwood that the schedule worked out," he said. "We worked 48 hours on and then 96 hours off, so I was able to do both for a really long time. When I got my first publishing deal, I felt it going more full time [with music]. Having to have guys work for me at the station more and more often, that's kind of when it happened. When I got a publishing deal and was able to pay bills leaving the fire service, then I did it. But I held on as long as I could."
Embracing Music Row co-writes positioned Braden to work with "Better Off" collaborator Jason Nix (co-writer of Lainey Wilson's "Things A Man Oughta Know") and other sought-after wordsmiths.
"I'd always written by myself, and that was a really new concept, the whole co-writing thing," Braden said. "I'd probably been here a year and a half, two years before I started doing them relatively consistently. I'd had a few of them, and I'd had good experiences, bad experiences. I wasn't real sure on it yet, but after I really got into them and was doing it more often and had publishers that I'd met with helping me set up writes with different writers, I was able to learn the positive side to co-writing-- bringing an idea in that I normally would've finished myself and getting the outside perspective and making it more than what it could've been."
Braden's What Do They Know EP arrived on Nov. 19, 2021. As often happens with major label debuts, it compiles songs written over time, spanning from Braden's time as a firefighter back home in Alabama to his recent ascent as one of Music City's most promising young acts.
"'Secret' I wrote before I ever moved to town. I wrote it by myself. It is definitely the oldest song, writing-wise, and the rest of them are all co-writes," Braden added. "They're kind of spread out over two, two-and-a-half years."
With "Secret," Braden joins Priscilla Block, Lou Ridley and other peers in painting an honest picture of rural life, which some contemporary country artists represent as nothing more than an endless stream of good times and great memories.
"It wasn't meant to be negative or the downside," Braden explained. "It was just meant to be honest. You can't escape the fact that you're going to cross paths with the people that you see almost every day of your life if you're in a small town. It wasn't any sort of cynical or negative approach. It's just trying to tell the truth of this is how it is in a small town."
"Ways to Miss You" and "What Do They Know" reflect the rock 'n' roll edge that in different ways enhance the live shows of established names in country music, from global superstar Luke Combs to Braden's most recent tour mate, Brantley Gilbert.
"It mostly came from my first bands that I was ever in were rock cover bands where we'd do three or four hour shows of rock covers," Braden said. "That live show aspect has always stuck with me. Every time we write a song, we picture how it will go live and the feel it will have live. Our show is very rock-influenced. It's more of a rock show than anything, I would say. That's the perspective we take whenever we're writing or picking new songs."
Beyond playing heavy-hitting music with a band comprised of some of his closest friends, Braden changes things up with "Try Losing One" and other slow-burners that make his EP and live show emotional roller coasters.
"It gets monotonous if it's an all-high show or an all-low show," he added. "To have [songs] like that to build moments in the set list, it works out really well. We enjoy it. I think the crowd enjoys it. We break down to just acoustic where I'm by myself for a couple of songs, and that's when I do 'Try Losing One.' Then we come right back into the heavier set. Now we're doing a broken down song that's still full band but it's very mellow. That's 'What I See' off the EP. We do that live in that manner instead of going full-on full band with it. So, to keep the up and down and to keep it from being monotonous, we love it."