Chances are, if you’re familiar with Billy Gilman, you automatically think of an adorable big-voiced kid who was all over shows like Oprah and Rosie back in the early-2000’s. However, if those are your only preconceptions, I’d kindly ask you to wipe them from your mind and meet the grown up Billy Gilman, a big-voiced adult with so much genuine passion for his craft that it’s contagious and refreshing.
While it may seem that Gilman has been MIA for much of the last decade, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Rhode Island native has simply been making himself a better artist, spending time in Nashville to hone his skills as a songwriter and a producer. He’s also been actively involved with a wide variety of charities and philanthropic world, making the world better in his own unique way. However, just recently, Gilman released his first solo single in years, a romantic ballad called “Say You Will” that may be best likened to Rascal Flatts or Dan + Shay.
If you’re wondering why “Say You Will” and why now, you wouldn’t be alone. Gilman says that he’s been working on a ton of songs, but that this was the one that kept rising to the top due to the fact that it’d be “recognizable to fans, but still a growth.” He says that “you can write 100 songs, but it all depends on one,” and for him and his team, “Say You Will” was the one. “A lot of people that hated ‘Billy Gilman’ as a child loved this song,” says Gilman, laughing. “It’s speaking to all of the possibilities and not just my fans.”
While it’s hard to believe that anyone would’ve hated the child form of Billy Gilman, he admits that there’s definitely a stigma attached to being a former child star. “You are over the fact and you’re an adult…It’s a battle, but if I didn’t have that career, I wouldn’t have been blessed with so many wonderful opportunities that STILL enable me to do so much.” And those opportunities include being able to write and co-produce music with some of the best musicians in Nashville, something Gilman wasn’t sure he’d ever get the opportunity to do. “I always had a vision of what I wanted to do, but at 13,14,15 years old, people aren’t really going to listen to you. I just stuck it out to hopefully have the time to do a “‘Say You Will.”
Gilman co-wrote his new single with Dan Murph and Phillip Douglas, but admits that his writing process depends solely on mood and a little bit of luck and inspiration. “Sometimes I’ll be on an airplane and write a chorus in 15 seconds that becomes a whole song…it really depends on the moment,” he says, noting that authenticity is the most important element when it comes to writing. “It just has to come from a place of truth. If you expect someone to listen to it and recognize their own life through it, you have had to experience it or have it come from a place of truth.”
While the road from child star hasn’t necessarily been an easy one, Gilman says that that’s what makes it worthwhile. “Everything in life is not easy, but it’s the not easy stuff that’s the worth it stuff.”
He also admits that it hasn’t been all bad. “The best thing that ever could’ve happened was the songs they chose (for me). They didn’t choose the teenybopper song…they gave me songs that I could sing right now….My first song, ‘One Voice,’ with all of the violence and the guns, it could probably make it nowadays. It’s a timeless song and that’s what I’ll forever be grateful for because …it wasn’t a child bubblegum song,” he says. “Timeless songs put it in a little different light which makes it easier. I’m so grateful for that.”
In addition to “Say You Will,” he has other songs that he hopes to release in the near future, admitting that the changing musical landscape is something that excites him. “It’s exciting because you can be nimble and move in a different direction,” he says. “Whereas you may have 12 great songs on a CD, but will they listen to it and get it? This way, you can put one song or two songs out and people can digest and understand them…they have a longer shelf like because it’s one at a time…Blake Shelton did something like that a few years back and I thought it was brilliant.”
Gilman speaks with such genuine excitement when it comes to his current project that you’d think he was a brand new artist rather than one who has already accomplished so much. “It’s totally different than what I’ve done before, but it’s refreshing,” he says. “I get to really be organic with everything and that’s what it’s about…It’s about just being out there and connecting with the song because I wrote it.”
Writing his own music has become important in developing his identity as an artist. He admits that as a kid, he wasn’t as connected with the music and the lyrics. “I don’t want to sound rude, but I really didn’t care, I just wanted to show off my long powerful notes,” he admits, likening the craft to cooking. “It’s like if you’re a chef – If you’re just a cook with other people’s recipes, you put it out there and it’s not your problem, but if its your dish or your passion and the table doesn’t like it, you’re gonna be offended. Same principal as a songwriter. I want them to understand who I am as a writer and a vocalist because people still have that 12 year old in their head.”
As Gilman looks to the future, he says that despite the accolades he’s already received, he still has much to accomplish. He’d love to tour with artists he’s always looked up to and take part in an all day festival tour, like the ones Kenny Chesney has become known for. He’d also love to duet with many of country’s hottest artists, including Lucy Hale, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban. The latter he describes as “one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever come across in life,” while he looks up to Swift as “an amazing talent and business person.”
Of Lucy Hale, he admits that the two have a bit of a funny history. “It’s funny because she said I was one of her high school crushes and she backed me up in a Washington DC chorus when I was singing for President Bush or President Clinton. She was in the chorus behind me doing the backup and she sent me a video of it,” Gilman says with a laugh. “She’s a great singer and I’d love to do a duet with her.”
Gilman also has the utmost respect for artists who use social media to truly connect with their fans. “I love the artists who are hands on with their fans via social media, putting a single on iTunes…it’s brilliant because that’s where it’s moving.” He says, smartly, “You’re not selling 4 million CDs anymore, you’re selling 2 million or a million and a half digital downloads. I admire the artists that really get the social media aspect of the generation because it’s an easy thing, but it can be tough if it’s not what you’re used to.”
Speaking of social media, Gilman admits that sometimes it’s a double-edged sword as its often those who pull the crazy stunts that get the attention. “Sometimes you have that moment of ‘I should do something crazy’ …Well, those are fads,” he says. “I could do something crazy that will probably spark an interest for five seconds and get a million views, but there will always be that counterpoint of great music, great talent, smart marketing…There will always be an audience, a huge audience, that genuinely loves to hear a great song, relate to it and go see a good show.” Again, he speaks to being true and authentic. “I just think that there will always be a market for great music and great talent no matter how big the social media shock value goes. You just have to remain in the balance and do what’s true to you. If it’s true to you, people recognize that. You can’t fake it.”
As Billy Gilman opens the next chapter of his musical career, he still focuses heavily on the philanthropic work that he’s been a part of for the last decade. On behalf of Muscular Dystrophy, he raised nearly two million dollars and co-hosts the annual telethon, saying he draws inspiration from the kids.”I love to give back especially with kids. I can’t understand the struggle they go through and still yet have a smile on their face. I will never understand their strength.”
In 2012, he also released a charity single, “The Choice,” which features 18 of country’s biggest stars, including Reba, Keith Urban, LeAnn Rimes and more. 100% of the proceeds from the release went to Soles4Souls, an organization that goes to providing shoes to those without them. He admits that he never thought he’d get so many huge names to participate, but was touched that so many others saw the importance. “This is a huge need, I never thought that so many people need something simple as shoes,” he admits. “I also learned there was never a country version of ‘We are the World’-esque type of song so I thought that ‘Say You Will’ can come out whenever, this needs to be heard now. People need shoes.”
Billy Gilman is currently working on putting together a new band to bring “Say You Will” to his legion of fans, as well as shooting a music video in the next few weeks. However, he’s genuinely excited for what’s ahead as he knows he’s doing what he’s meant to. “If you are a singer and it’s what you are and it’s what God put you on this Earth to do, you’re gonna stop at nothing,” he says, and I admittedly get chills. “Whether it’s a 15 seat coffee house or a 2,000 seat beautiful theater, it’s not about that. It’s about getting the message out and coming from a place of ‘Ah, I’m doing what I love.”
Watch the video for Billy Gilman’s “The Choice” here!
AND we’ll have Billy for a Humpday Half Hour Hookup Video #CMchat Twangout on August 13 at 5pm Central. (3pPT/9pET)
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