It’s easy to be halted in your tracks by the blue eyed, Carhartt wearing, 6-foot-four frame that is Riley Green, but if you can see past his looks, you’ll realize that he’s not just another country heartthrob. The multi-skilled singer/songwriter is genuine and personable, and he packs talent that stands out in a time of genre-challengers. Although he’s an unsigned, independent artist, (I don’t envision it staying that way for long) he’s already reached the #14 spot on iTunes Country Chart, and you might also recognize him as the vibrant winner of CMT’s Redneck Island. I had the privilege of getting to know Riley better while interviewing him after his performance on the Whiskey Jam Stage at the Windy City Smokeout in July.
First things first, welcome to Chicago!
What has been your favorite thing about being here so far?
“Thank you! One thing right away is the pleasant weather. You couldn’t stand out here like this in Alabama this time of year! Besides that, I’ve been to Chicago one time before, played a brunch gig at Bub City, which was pretty cool, but I’ve never been someone where the architecture is this interesting and beautiful. And this festival is so awesome, such a great set up. I had some Martin’s BBQ sliced brisket earlier and banana pudding – I’m even allergic to bananas but it was SO WORTH IT.”
Yikes! Some things are worth the pain, though.
You’re new to the country music scene, so for those who aren’t familiar, can you give a little backstory on your music journey so far?
“I’m from northern Alabama, and I started playing guitar when I was in high school. I’d play in bands and such for fun, you know, sitting around the campfire with my buddies. It was in a little college town, and it turned into people requesting certain songs I wrote, so in the last 4-5 years it started to turn into something that I was doing more as a career, and in the last two years it turned into something more – I realized I don’t have to frame houses for work anymore, I can really start concentrating on music. As soon as I started coming down to Nashville, I’d be writing songs and my Alabama side was really coming out at that time, which was fine, but getting to write in Nashville with different songwriters has really helped me to branch out.”
Co-writes are a great way to blend different music styles and concepts to expand beyond your own thoughts. You’ve written quite a bit already…
Are there any songwriters you’ve worked with that stand out particularly?
“My new EP includes a song with Erik Dylan – who I’m a big fan of because of his awesome voice and great ideas. I also have two songs I wrote with Tyler Reeve (co-writer of Brett Young’s “In Case You Didn’t Know”) and Randy Montana. I had never co-written until I started coming to Nashville, I think I got lucky getting to write with these guys, who are just like me, but we could come up with more material writing together instead of solo.”
Social media has helped rising artists have an open platform to publicly share their music, but with an overload of artists, there has to be something that sets you apart in order to stand out.
How would you say that you are unique?
“I think something that has helped me stand out is staying out of Nashville for a while because I didn’t really get molded by anyone or anything there. It hurt me in a sense of when I got here because all of my music was really rough at first, and I needed a lot of work, but I stayed true to my roots and my following which is what has gotten me this far. I also don’t really hear anyone on the radio that sounds like me – and that’s not saying a really good thing because I’m not necessarily the greatest singer, but I think this is the era of people liking different things. I think my sound is more ‘Texas country’ than radio country, but it’s worked out so far.”
I think that’s what’s so intriguing about you. You fit into the Nashville scene and your music has hit potential, even though it’s not the trendier style that’s currently dominating country radio. People dig it, and that was very apparent watching the crowd’s reactions while you were on stage.
What inspires you?
“I wrote a lot of songs about my grandad. He’s the one who got me started on guitar. We turned his house into a music hall, and every Friday all these old people would come over and play blue grass. I would just sit there and watch their hands as they played. It steered me in the Merle Haggard direction at first. I’m also the type to hear a song that I like, and I’ll want to sit there and write something great like it. Sitting in a room with a good songwriter helps me expand my mind because I’ll be like, ‘man that’s a great idea’ and kind of roll with that.”
Experience is everything it’s all about learning from your mistakes, but knowing beforehand sure would be nice sometimes!
What do you wish you knew about the music industry before you hopped into it?
“How important production is. I was framing houses when I first got rolling with music. So, I didn’t have a lot of money, but I wish I had spent more money on my recordings from the beginning. I’ve kind of accidentally done stuff right so far which has been something I’m thankful for, but now it’s just kind of keeping it going and ironing things out in Nashville.”
With a go-getter attitude and the talent to back it up, I’m confident that this is only the beginning for Riley Green, and I can’t wait to see where this journey takes him. Keep up with Riley on his website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and stay connected to watch him grow!