Songwriter Interviews

Randy Houser

by Dan MacIntosh

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Invited personally by David Letterman to appear on The Late Show and sing his bust-out hit "Anything Goes," Randy Houser has been riding the waves of the perfect storm ever since. With songwriting cohorts as illustrious as Jamey Johnson and Zac Brown, Houser's own success was all but assured.

With his 2013 album, How Country Feels, solidly ensconced at the top of the country charts, he took some time out of his ACM weekend in Las Vegas to talk to us about his songwriting style, growing up in rural Mississippi, and what he really thinks of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): This interview is for Songfacts, so it's about songs and songwriting. I wanted to start out by asking you if there is a way that you know when you've written a good song?

Randy Houser: Usually, right after I write a song, I don't know. Because you're so submerged into it and your brain is so far into it you don't even know what you've done. But usually I'll go back a few weeks later and listen to it and decide then. And then the way that I would know after that would be if I want to listen again. If I want to hear the song again, it might be good.

Songfacts: Do you write better by yourself or with collaborators?

Houser: It depends. I write more often with a collaborator, but it depends on how personal the song is. Better is a matter of opinion.

Songfacts: Do you write mainly on guitar?

Houser: Yes.

Songfacts: And you come up with the melodies first?

Houser: All of it tends to come at the same time. Sometimes the lyric will tell you what the melody is; the alliteration has a lot to do with the melody.

Songfacts: What is the last song that you wrote that you just thought, Man, I hit it.

Houser: That don't happen very often. But the last song on my new album is called "Route 3 Box 250 D." That's one of my favorite songs I've written in a long time.

Songfacts: What's that one about?

Houser: It's just about my life growing up. Pretty simple.

Songfacts: Did you have a good life growing up?

Houser: Yeah. I mean, what kid doesn't? Even though a tough life can still be a good life. When I look back, I can obviously say it wasn't an easy life, but it's how I became who I am. I can't say it was a bad life.

Songfacts: Was there a moment when you realized that you had a talent for writing songs?

Houser: Not a particular moment. I think that it's just something that was in me, something that was continuous. I do it all the time. I haven't had as much time lately to write as I'd like, but I think it's just part of who I am.

Songfacts: Do you feel with so many great writers in Nashville there's pressure to write as well as they do?

Houser: There are so many great songwriters in that town, and once upon a time that was my focus, was to compete at that level. Now I don't try to craft songs for other artists on that competitive level. It's just a matter of me - if I have something I need to say, I do know how to do it. It's more just writing to express something that I need to express. Not how many songs can I write this month to get pitched to get cut by other artists. And most of my best friends are the best in the world at that, and that's what they focus on every day. I can't do that.

Songfacts: When you do your full set, do you do any covers?

Houser: Yeah, sometimes I do. I never know what they're going to be. It goes back to playing bars for so long growing up. We read the crowd. Some nights we'll follow a set list and some nights we'll veer off and take a left.

Songfacts: What do you think is the song you cover the most?

Houser: We did a version of "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, which is we actually recorded the song on a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute album a few years ago.

Songfacts: I hear some southern rock in your sound. How big of an influence was southern rock?

Houser: Huge influence. It was just rock & roll to us. Growing up, Lynyrd Skynyrd was obviously what we played in the bars all the time. We played all those songs.

Songfacts: Do you think if Lynyrd Skynyrd were starting out today, they would be country stars?

Houser: Yeah. Probably.

Songfacts: I think they would, just because of how country has sort of evolved.

Houser: Well, you've got to think about what they consider Classic Country now. I mean, all those rock & roll bands were really evolving themselves into these different sounds. With the way that we get music these days, with iTunes and Rhapsody and Spotify, you can hear everything. But back in the day kids only had access to what their mothers and fathers were listening to. That's changed. We can hear so many different things now. So obviously the country kids, the rural kids, are listening to everything, so country music's going to change. Even a guy like me, if you talk like I do, whatever I do is going to come out sounding country, even if it was pop. The instrumentation's not going to take it away.

April 25, 2013. Get more at randyhouser.com.
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