Songwriter thrives as country performer
Songs written and co-written by Eric Paslay have been getting a lot of attention and radio airplay for other artists.
Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” co-written by Paslay, was named the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ 2012 Country Song of the Year. The Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” also co-written by Paslay, was nominated for a 2013 Grammy for Best Country Song and Country Music Association Song of the Year in 2012.
But the Texas-born Paslay, 31, is a performer in his own right. He’s been the opening act for Dierks Bentley, Clint Black and Blake Shelton, and has his own No. 1 single, “Friday Night.” His “Song About A Girl” is also a staple on country radio.
It’s very satisfying to Paslay that he’s now pushing some of his songs up the country music chart through his own singing and playing talents.
“It’s awesome that I’m getting to do what I moved to Nashville to do, and that’s to leave Nashville every weekend and go play a bunch of songs,” Paslay said Friday as he rolled into Des Moines for a performance at the Iowa State Fair.
Paslay will headline the Monday, Aug. 25, attractions at the Indiana County Fair.
Paslay gained his music business savvy through courses at Middle Tennessee State University. He picked up his musical ability through schools that had musical theater and by learning to play the piano, guitar and violin.
“Music was always kind of around me,” Paslay said. “My grandfather and his brothers had a band. He passed away when I was about 2 years old so I didn’t really grow up in the band but there were stories about him. So, I think when I started playing guitar at 15 my family wasn’t too scared of me doing that thanks to him and his brothers.”
Paslay also soaked up live country music at the Heart of Texas Coliseum, in Waco, and at dance halls throughout Texas.
“Around the country, all music venues are a little different and people listen a little different,” he said. “And I’m glad I’m getting to learn all that.”
He discovered as a teen that most songs are really poems, and that realization influences his creative process.
“I’m not afraid to put some big words in there once in a while,” he said. “I always just remember that if someone’s going to give me three minutes of their life, I want to make sure it’s worth it. … I hope it’s a song that people will think it’s time well spent listening to it. … I always try to make sure it sounds as real and authentic as I can make it.”
By the end of this year Paslay will have played 180 band dates.
“I’ll have played close to 250 including all the acoustic shows I play for radio stations and things like that. It’s definitely been the busiest year of my life,” he said.
The schedule has forced him to learn how to write new material while spending much of his time on the road.
“It’s kind of weird going from only getting to write songs and wanting to play shows to now pretty much playing tons of shows and trying to figure out when I have time to write songs,” he said. “It’s a good trade-off. I’ve written a thousand songs in the last eight years so I’m glad some of them are getting heard now.”
Paslay said he was never the cool kid in school but instead was “the kid in the back of the room watching.” But the transition to his band’s frontman hasn’t been difficult.
“Call it the stages of life,” he said. “From the little coffee shops to playing a church, to getting to play bigger shows and bigger shows, I think we all learn how to get on stage and be comfortable with it and realize everybody’s having fun, even though we’re live and vulnerable.
“The most satisfying thing is connecting with people and hopefully making a good memory for them that night,” he said. “As an entertainer, we get to create an escape for people, from real life for a little bit, or to bring them back to real life and let them focus on what really matters. … God somehow allows me to hopefully influence people for good and make a good soundtrack to a memory for them, that they can look back on and hopefully fall in love deeper and dream higher. It’s a cool thing to get to be a part of that.”
He’s also enjoying his additional role as a music video actor.
“They’re always fun. You’re there all day long, for umpteen hours for a three-minute video. But I think it’s worth capturing that.”
He’s especially proud of the video for “Song About a Girl.” Near its end there some flashes of old photos featuring his grandmothers.
“My mom’s mom is holding a guitar at the very end when she was a teenager. And my dad’s mom is sitting in kind of a ball gown. … There’s even a flash of … Lady Liberty. … The neat part is, every song’s about a girl.”
In his free time and while on the road, Paslay listens a lot to country music radio, “to see what all my friends are up to,” he said. “If it’s a great song, I turn it up. It might not even be in a language I understand. I just love music and love how it takes you somewhere.”
Despite being a Texas boy, Paslay shuns cowboy hats in favor of a plain, brown ball cap.
“It’s just my thing,” he said. “I wasn’t meant to wear a cowboy hat.”