Even though he’s had several big country hits as a performer, Tyler Farr first made his name as a songwriter. In just a few weeks, he’ll go back to pen and paper for what he said is one of his favorite sides of the business.
“I’m doing a writer’s retreat with a couple of songwriter buddies,” said Farr from a recent tour stop in Albany, New York, toward the tail-end of his current tour. Those buddies, by the way, are two fellow performer/songwriters, Josh Thompson and Jonathan Singleton. “A buddy of mine has a lake house, and so we’re just going to get together and write all weekend. I might get two songs, maybe three out of it. Or maybe just one.
“I remember doing one about three years ago or four years ago in Tucson, Arizona. We did it out there because my tour buses are out there. We just flew some writers in and rented out a little house. We’ll just drop a bunch of song ideas on each other and record things on our phones and what not. It’s not a forced thing at all. We usually all have a lot in common, so we also just shoot the bull, y’know?”
Farr, who plays on Dec. 8 at Silver Legacy, said he’ll write throughout the winter months while off the road: “Nashville shuts down pretty much for December, and then for January, I’ll take off to write some more.”
This is all in anticipation of more work in the studio as well in 2018. Farr said he’s hoping to have more songs out in March and an album later in the year. His two latest works are both singles: “Our Town” in 2016 and “I Should Go to Church Sometime,” released earlier this year.
“We’ve been working on it a little bit here and there and trying out different producers,” Farr said. “It’s been a long process.”
Getting ‘Redneck Crazy’
The journey to country stardom also took a while, although Farr has a great pedigree. He grew up in Missouri and went to school on a music scholarship to Missouri State, majoring in vocal performance, so he knows all about the music theory that helps with songwriting.
As Farr recounted his instruction on the more classical-music side of vocals, it begged the question of how he got into country music as a career instead. As it happens, it was in close proximity to a country music legend.
“When I was 16, my mom married George Jones’ guitar player (Dwyane Phillips). And, she sang and my dad sang, too, so country was always around.
“I would hop on the (tour) bus with them sometimes just hanging out and George Jones would be there, but I didn’t think anything about it. But, now I know that’s when I really dug into country. Watching them play on the side of the stage, I’d be going, ‘Wow, I could do this. This would be good, to be able to sing and get paid to do this.’ So, at age 21, after being in college a couple of years, I literally packed up my bags and moved to Nashville.”
That move started out humbly, as Farr said he had to go from working the door at famous nightclub Tootsie’s to eventually playing there. It was songwriting that helped his career along, as he wrote hits for Cole Swindell and Joe Nichols. It was in 2010 that Farr ended up on indie label BNA Records and had two modest hits of his own, “Hot Mess” and “Hello Goodbye.”
Things accelerated when Farr moved to Columbia Records. His first album with Columbia, “Redneck Crazy,” in 2013, hit top 5 on both the regular and country album charts, while the title track and “Whiskey in My Water” both hit the top 10. He repeated the album chart feats with his next one, “Suffer in Peace” in 2015. It also spawned a Top 10 country hit, which also reached No. 1 on the Country Radio Airplay chart, called “A Guy Walks Into a Bar.”
Making audiences feel
As many may surmise, Farr does have a definitive traditionalist streak in his music. He said that he’s does appreciate country history, but he also understands what it takes these days to get radio airplay.
“Country music has evolved and changed, but the roots for the most part are still there,” Farr said. “ I literally just do what I do, and what I do gravitate towards are storytelling lyrics.”
Farr then gave a specific example, Vern Gosdin’s classic song “Chiseled in Stone.”
“The last line of that song, ‘You don't know about lonely ‘til it's chiseled in stone,’ I still get goosebumps from it. I’m more like one of those writers that likes a big hook or payoff. My main goal with music is to make people feel something, whether that means you feel like partying or you feel like we’re talking about your own relationships.”
He added that sometimes those feelings from fans can be surprising, as with his early hit, “Redneck Crazy,” a song where he sings about being jealous after his lover cheats on him.
“I get a lot of guys coming up to me saying that song was a real breakthrough for them and that it made them cry,” he said. “I never would have thought of a song like that doing that. And then I also get a lot of women coming up to me and saying that they relate to what I’m singing about in that song, too. The women get it; love is not all flowers and sunshine. The old Hank (Williams) Sr. songs -- ‘Your Cheating Heart’ and ‘I Saw The Light’ -- that’s what country music was founded on.”
At the same time, he doesn’t shy away from what he calls “uptempo country rock songs, but I like ballads, too. I feel like Vince Gill is a great example. I love Vince and I try to do what he does and combine all of the stuff that I love myself about music.”