Born and raised Nashvillian, Mitchell Tenpenny, incorporates a myriad of different influences in every single track on his new album, Black Crow. From blues to rock to country, he focuses on the story and the emotion, elevating the music to a level that speaks to the heart and soul of the listener. A songwriter first, Mitchell signed with Sony just a few months ago, and has been riding the wave of success for the past year as his career truly started to take form. He’s an artist that has a voice and is unafraid to step outside of the boundaries currently surrounding country music, remaining a unique, soulful performer with something authentic to say.
I had a chance to catch up with him on the eve of his first ever CMA Fest performance and dive into what inspires him, the songwriting process, and how it feels to finally be a performer at the biggest festival to come through his hometown of Nashville. Check out our chat below and be sure to take a listen to his brand new single, Black Crow, now!
Have you been to CMA Fest before?
I’ve been so many times as a fan but this is my first CMA Fest playing a stage at the festival. I’m playing the BMI stage, and then a little side performance at SoulShine.
You grew up in Nashville. How does it feel to be playing one of the stages at CMA Fest for the first time?
Yeah, it’s exciting! I’ve got a bunch of buddies that are playing this year. I’ve been going for a couple of years now to watch friends like them, so it’s really exciting.
In your opinion, what’s the best part of being an artist at CMA Fest?
I’m a fan of music first and I go to festivals. I just got back from Hangout last week and I go to Bonnaroo, but just to be a part of it and get to contribute to the music is awesome. You get to meet fans and new people, and that’s one of the best parts. You get to experience the whole thing from a different point of view as an artist. This is my first year experiencing it that way, so I’m kind of learning as I go along. It’s been a lot of fun so far.
You recently released your album Black Crow, tell me a little bit about that process? There are a lot of different influences on it, so what are some things you feel influenced you the most throughout the development?
I wrote most of those songs in college at MTSU. At the time I was listening to everything. You know, when you’re in college you listen to everything, not just country. So I think I took a lot of rock and blues influences. At the time I was playing in all kinds of bands and musically just everywhere. So when I sat down by myself or another writer, those influences would kind of come out, on top of wanting the lyrics to be extremely country and relate to what was going on. But we didn’t want to do the same sound that we’re hearing every day. So there was that, and meeting everybody, all the musicians that we really like in town that we believed in. The producers. All of that kind of came together right after I graduated and we were able to put the record together. It was a fun experience, I can’t deny that, it was a blast. I’m excited to finally get it out.
What was the inspiration behind the single, Black Crow?
I was in college and I came out of a class, and there was this girl screaming on her phone to someone about this dude. She was like, cussing him out and so dramatic. I remember her saying something like, “he’s a thief on the lose, he’s stolen my heart” or something along those lines. I just thought that was kind of a cool line. I never saw her again but I walked home and told my buddy about it and we started writing. About an hour later, the song was born, and it became the first single.
When you’re writing, whether it’s with co-writers or on your own, is it everyday moments that tend to really inspire you?
Yeah, you’ve got to find it there. I signed with Sony about 6 months ago and I have to write almost everyday. And when you do that, it’s hard to find new things to write about. Inevitably, you’re songs are going to start sounding sort of similar. So you have to be listening to social cues or things you can kind of play off of. That’s what I relate to most when I hear a new song, if it’s something I experienced outside yesterday or hanging with my friends, I want it to be something I can relate to. The best way to do that is listening to your surroundings.
When it comes to performing, what artists have you seen that have really blown you away?
I mean recently, Zac Brown, he just kills it. Everyone knows that. But his band, his presence, his voice… everyone plays their instruments and sings and harmonizes. It brings you back home for a little bit and that’s what I want, I want it to sound authentic. I love Brett Eldredge, his voice, he’s got such a soulful, cool thing going on. So that’s as far as country goes but I’ve always loved Michael Jackson, I grew up with him, I don’t dance like he does on stage or anything like that (laughs) but I definitely take some of his inflections. Him and John Mayer, outside of country. But John is the ultimate for me. He’s the man, I learned to play guitar through him, I’ve worn out all his records. His writing, I think he’s so cool.
His lyrics aren’t far from country, it all comes down to a story, which is generally what I love about country music. Lately it’s kind of imagery more than a story, but still that’s what I’m really into.
You write for other people, what do you find is different between writing for someone else and for yourself?
For myself I don’t feel like there’s any limits because I’ll go with whatever feels good. If it feels right, if it sounds good, if there’s a hook in the melody and I believe it when I sing it, I’ll do it. But when you’re writing for an artist, obviously they have their own style, their own presence, their own market, so you have to keep that in mind. Especially, if I’m writing with a younger girl that’s under 21, we can’t talk about drinking. You have to keep things like that in mind when you’re writing for someone else. It’s always a little difficult, but you go in there and you talk to them and figure out what they want, and that’s you’re job so like anyone else you have to figure out how to get it done.
Is there anything, maybe in the past year, that has happened that made you feel like all this hard work is really paying off?
Yeah, signing with Sony was probably the biggest. My dream has always been to be a songwriter and the artist thing just kind of happened by playing songs and getting feedback. But when I was able to sign a publishing deal and write in town, and do what I’ve always dreamed of, that was finally what I’ve been working towards my whole life. Once I got that, I’ve been going off the momentum and it’s been a crazy year. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m excited to keep going. But that was definitely the peak for me.
You have your new album and single out, what else is coming up for you this year? What can fans expect?
We’re going to be playing out on tour across the country, we’re just finishing up those dates. Still including radio tours on that, hopefully getting those stations and playing in those cities at night. As well as just doing my thing in Nashville, writing, still trying to get more cuts on some great records. Just trying to have fun with it!
I asked Michael what his TOP THREE essential Festival Roadtrip Playlist tracks would be. Check them out on Instagram, and follow me if you’re not already!
Huge thanks to Mitchell Tenpenny for taking the time to chat with me. Be sure to check him out on his official website for all his latest news and tours dates, then follow him on Twitter and hit that like button on Facebook!
What do you think of Black Crow? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @JukeboxMixtape!