Joel Crouse

by Dan MacIntosh

Joel Crouse is on the fast track to country music stardom. Just 20 years old when we spoke with him at the 2013 Academy of Country Music Awards, he has already packed in plenty of music and life experiences that are the makings of a great songwriter. The son of a preacher, he grew up singing in church, where his mom is a secretary. A musical and academic prodigy, he graduated high school at 16 and three years later had a record deal. Raised on Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, you'd never guess that he's from Massachusetts - a piece of information cleverly omitted from his bio.

When we spoke with Joel, he was touring as Taylor Swift's opening act on her Red tour and had yet to release his debut album. His first single is a track he wrote with Luke Laird and his producer Jamie Houston - "If You Want Some." Released in February, that's the extent of his major label discography, which is pretty good considering he can't order a beer. Based on what Joel tells us about the rest of the album and what we've seen of him live, there is some depth to his songs that could make him a regular visitor to the ACMs.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): How do you know when you've written a good song? Do you know in yourself or do you have to run it by somebody?

Joel Crouse: I think it's a self appreciation for it, for sure. If I really feel in my heart that this song is great and the tune's great, I'm going to believe it, and I'm going to play it, and I'm going to present it to the people I work with and just show them it, and get them excited about it. Doesn't mean I'm always right. So I guess it's a subjective kind of thing.

Songfacts: Have you ever written a song where you didn't think it was that good and somebody said, "Oh, no, it is definitely good"?

Crouse: Yeah. That happens. Everyone's got their insecurities as an artist and a songwriter. Because when you're song writing, you're reaching this emotional part of you and you're presenting yourself to other people. You're writing a song as an artist and you're basically saying, "This is me." So everyone's going to get that insecurity. But I've had plenty of times where I've written a tune and I didn't like it, and some other people did, and I re-looked at it, maybe fixed some things I didn't like, and the song was still there.

Songfacts: Do you know when you're writing if you're really onto something?

Crouse: That's definitely a feeling: if you're on it, you're on it, and no one's going to take that from you. But if it's a struggle, that doesn't mean the song's not there. I've written songs that have taken days, months, just because you'll write it and then you'll think about it forever, just kind of developing the song. But there have been times where I've been writing with other people, and I was like, "Yeah, guys, this isn't going anywhere."

Songfacts: Let's talk about the new album. What are the songs that you like best on it?

Crouse: The songs I like best on the record, obviously the new single, that was really cool. But that was actually the last song that we wrote for the record. It's kind of crazy.

Songfacts: Were you worried that there might not be a good first single?

Crouse: No, no, man. I'm really grateful for the songs I have, and that one just seemed like the right one to release for summertime. It's a feel good kind of song. We've got this tour coming up, so we just said, you know, why don't we just go with a really uptempo, feel good, summer tune. And then we'll hit them with a little bit more on an emotional side in the fall. So the rest of the record really portrays me as an artist, what I'm trying to represent.

Some of the songs, they just reach on an emotional level. One thing I love about songs, man, is how they can change your feeling, and I actually even write about that in a tune I call, "Why God Made Love Songs."

Songfacts: What a great title for a song.

Crouse: Yeah. That song's about how much music can bring back that certain feeling you felt, even spark love between two people. So I think that's really cool.

And there's another song on the record called "Ruby Puts Her Red Dress On," and it's written from the standpoint of this lady who's lost her husband or loved one. So what she does is she puts a red dress on, because that's when he had told her she was the prettiest. Whenever they went out on dates, that's what she wore. She wore this dress, because he loved it. So now that he's gone, when she's alone, she puts on the red dress.

Songfacts: Did somebody you know inspire that song?

Crouse: It was just one of those things where it was me, my friend Jamie (Houston) who produced my record, and Wayne (Kirkpatrick), and we're all sitting there, and there just a feeling and a vibe in that room that we couldn't explain. We were like, Ruby puts her red dress on - how do we do that? And then one of my very good friends lost his first wife.

Songfacts: So you drew on that to write the song?

Crouse: For sure. And the cool thing about the song is it's relatable for other people in general, too. It's not just one topic.

Songfacts: I want to go back to "Why God Made Love Songs." Is there a spiritual element - do you think that God inspires some of the songs that you write?

Crouse: I'm very big on my faith, man. My father's a pastor.

Songfacts: Oh, you're one of those. [Laughing]

Crouse: I don't know what that means.

Songfacts: Well, I grew up with the church. The pastor's kids, 9 times out of 10...

Crouse: Were always the worst, right?

Songfacts: Uh huh.

Crouse: I don't know if I'm the worst. But everyone's got their struggles, right? But my faith plays a huge role in that. And if I'm getting inspired to write a song, it's stuff that's happening from my life. God's in control of my life.

Songfacts: So He's got to play a part in that.

Crouse: He has to, yeah.

Songfacts: A lot of people talk about songwriting and what percentage is inspiration and what percentage is perspiration. You've heard that. I imagine there are times when songs are just inspired, and other times when you have to work and work to make a song out of it.

Crouse: Yeah. You're exactly right, it can go either way. I can just be, Hey, I've got to write a song today. Or, Hey, there's something happening - I just need to write this and get it out.

It's hard for me to just sit and write. I need to feel inspired. So I guess what I'm saying is I'm always writing. I remember getting off the elevator out of a cab last night, and I'm typing lyrics in my phone. Just what I'm feeling, so I just categorize all those different lyrics.

Songfacts: What are one or two examples of your favorite songs that you've written?

Crouse: It would be "You Can Break a Heart Like That." It's just a heartbreak song, but the cool thing about it, it's not "I hate you" heartbreak, it's like, we can still be friends, but what you did hurt me, and it's going to take some time to get over. "Why God Made Love Songs" would be one of them. "Ruby Puts Her Red Dress On" would be one of them.

Songfacts: So it's newer ones?

Crouse: Well, I actually wrote "You Can Break a Heart Like That" about three years ago.

Songfacts: That's still relatively fresh.

Crouse: Yeah, well, I'm only 20, so I'm trying.

Songfacts: You're just a kid.

Crouse: Yeah, man. And there's another song, it's called "Slow Motion," and it's just a really cool kind of sexy song with a girl and guy.

Songfacts: You're mature for your age.

Crouse: I had older siblings. I grew up young, I moved to Nashville right at 18 and just been on the grind ever since. And I've had a band since 15. I was in a band in high school and we went up and down the East Coast, and I think I skipped like 40 days my senior year just because we were playing shows - I knew that's what I wanted to do. So that's been my job for about 5 years now.

May 9, 2013. Get more at Joel's website.
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