Curtis Grimes’ stock has been rising on the Texas country scene for many years. However, you may not know that Grimes was a contestant on the first season NBC’s hit show, The Voice, and how long Curtis has been working to make his music dreams a reality.
In an era of country music where the line between pop and country has been blurred so much that it is almost invisible, Grimes took a step back and released “Undeniably Country” in 2016, which may be the most fitting album title in any genre in quite a while.
In this interview, Grimes gives his honest thoughts on his The Voice experience, being in a nationally televised commercial, a career retrospective, his thoughts on the current state of country music, and what fans can expect from him in the near future. You can read the interview below.
JL: Who were some of your biggest musical influences growing up?
CG: I listened to a lot of Alan Jackson and George Strait, those were probably the big two. 90s country- that era was kind of what stamped my sound and was the biggest impression of country music on me. When I got older- into high school and beyond, I started kind of appreciating and going back and listening to a lot of the Keith Whitley’s, Vern Gosdin, and guys like that. But really, George Strait and Alan Jackson were the biggest influences.
JL: Are there any current artists you listen to? Texas, mainstream, or anything you really think helped you evolve your sound?
CG: I think as a songwriter, Eric Church is pretty spot on. I think he’s one of the best ones coming out of Nashville right now. On the Texas scene, I appreciate a lot of those guys and I get to play with them quite a bit. I would say I like what Cody Johnson has going on. Cody Jinks too, I think he keeps it pretty traditional, and that’s more of the stuff I lean towards.
JL: When did you know you wanted to make music for a living? Was there a specific moment?
CG: There wasn’t really a specific time, it just kind of kept going. I played baseball growing up, so that was kind of my thing until college, and then I started messing around with the guitar, and just kind of got to figuring it out and trying to write songs. I was really big on that Texas scene at the time, this was when Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen, Eli Young- that generation of guys. I just enjoyed that stuff and liked going to the concerts. So when I was messing around with the guitar, those were the songs I was trying to play, and that was the stuff I was trying to write. I just kept doing that, started playing a little acoustic gig, then I pieced together a band and played on 6th Street. Next thing you know, we were playing shows outside of Austin, and it just kind of took off from there.
JL: How did the opportunity of auditioning for The Voice come about?
CG: I was actually on my way back from the Texas Music Charts Seminar, and they emailed my manager at the time. They were doing a casting where they would go out and seek out artists in the markets where they were going to be. They set up an appointment for us, so I didn’t have to do the whole “line” thing, I just showed up and did my appointment. I didn’t hear anything for a couple weeks, and then they called and said that I was coming to LA! It all just happened really random and really fast.
JL: I imagine you thought you were going to end up on Blake’s team.
CG: I did, and that’s who I would have rather been with if I would have had a choice. CeeLo (Green) was the only one who turned around for me, so I was happy for that, but I was just trying to think long term. Blake is a country guy in the country business, so he would be someone more beneficial for me personally. And then I had to sing a Blake Shelton song, so I don’t think that helped my cause. If I was going to sing one of Blake’s songs, I probably would have done a different one than “Hillbilly Bone.”
Curtis Grimes’ blind audition on The Voice:
JL: Was that a song that they made you sing or one that you picked yourself?
CG: Yeah, they tell you what you’re singing.
JL: What was the most valuable lesson CeeLo taught you during your time on the show?
CG: His big deal was being yourself, just being you. Not necessarily following what’s trendy. And he was kind of doing stuff that was out there, it was right after “Forget You” came out. If you go way back, he started with the Goodie Mob, then he started doing the stuff with Charles Barkley. He just had different things that were kind of out there for someone- you would think of him being a rapper, so being myself was his big thing.
JL: As a whole, what would you say you took away from The Voice experience that has really helped you in your career?
CG: I would say the knowledge of the music business. Before that, I looked at it as just playing music and just doing shows at bars, but that really opened the door for me in the publishing world, getting into Nashville and getting some quality writes, and just getting better quality music. That was definitely the big thing. And I got to meet a lot of cool, up-and-coming artists from all over the country in different genres too, so that was the coolest thing. But I learned the most about the business and just how the industry works.
JL: Do you remember the first song of yours that you heard on the radio? And what type of reaction do you have when something like that happens to you?
CG: It was the song we had called “Rain” back in the day, before The Voice even. It was the station in Austin, the local Austin station. I had my hometown DJ play my stuff before, but that was the first time it was actually a legitimate station that wasn’t just doing it because I was from the area. That was pretty awesome. And it’s still cool, it never gets old. Every time- if I get in my truck and it’s on, I just think that my phone is plugged in or it’s a CD or something. It feels surreal.
JL: You’ve had six number one songs now in Texas. What kind of validation is that for you as an artist?
CG: Man, I appreciate it, it’s awesome for me. I think it’s really cool that 1) radio stations play my music, and 2) play it enough to where it has significant airplay and makes it on the chart. At first, you just want to get a top 20, or top 10, or top 5. It’s just kind of icing on the cake to have a number 1. So I’m just mostly thankful and appreciative of that, and then whenever it consistently happens, it’s pretty awesome.
I try not to get used to it, because I know that’s not a guarantee, just because you had one before, doesn’t mean you send out another one and it’s automatically going to go. So I just look at every one as a reset of a clock. I just keep staying in touch with my radio friends, and just doing what I need to do to make sure we keep having the radio success we’ve previously had.
JL: Your song “Home to Me” was in a Supercuts commercial that was aired nationally. What kind of moment is it for you to see yourself in an “acting gig” and your song on TV being used nationally?
CG: That was really cool because that was a song I had written the first day I went to Nashville. I actually got kind of stood up by a couple of writers, and I went back to my hotel room and started that song. It was cool that something like that turned into, 1) something that someone reached out to us about using in a commercial, and 2) they flew me out there to Los Angeles, they wined and dined, the whole nine, so that was just another awesome experience.
That was a few months after The Voice, so that was kind of going back to LA to do something else in front of the camera. It was just surreal, it was like going on a really awesome vacation, and then having a winning lottery ticket on the vacation, you know? It’s awesome.
Curtis Grimes’ Supercuts commercial:
JL: The “Bottom of the Fifth” EP was the most progressive work you have done to date, was this intentional or did the music steer you in that direction?
CG: It was. I had two albums, and I had management in Nashville at the time, and those guys paid for the records, so they kind of have a say in the songs and the style. Obviously, at that time, we were trying to do more so we could get secondary radio airplay, which is airplay not just in the Texas region. So I was just doing what was recommended, or told to do to get that secondary radio. So that kind of stretched the limits.
“Me and Trouble” from the “Bottom of the Fifth” EP:
And then after the “Bottom of the Fifth” record, I just stepped back and said ‘Alright, this is a little too progressive for me,’ so I wanted to dial it back and do something that I think represents me as an artist and just where I am in my music, what I want my sound to be like. I want my albums to reflect what I would sound like if I were to sit down at a campfire with my buddies and play the songs I wanted to play. So I made the “Undeniably Country” record, and it was kind of a risk because it’s moving backwards, you know? Once you’ve started going more commercial, more progressive; to stop and go back is a change, but I would rather do that and be comfortable with the songs and the record than keep going and get to the point where I was doing stuff just for the sake of what somebody else was telling me to do.
JL: What has the response to “Undeniably Country” told you about the public’s thoughts on true, traditional country music?
CG: Well, it’s been my best album to date, so that was a good feedback on taking that gamble. For me, I feel like it establishes what I want my music to sound like, where I want to be as an artist. When I put out a new record, that is what someone should expect from now on. It kind of set the bar for me, it’s the starting point for where I want to go, which is pretty traditional, more positive faith-based stuff and less partying and drinking that my previous stuff.
JL: Do you have a favorite song on the “Undeniably Country” record or a favorite song you’ve ever recorded?
CG: I would say “Had a Thing” would be my favorite song on this record, just because it’s a little bit of my testimony, my story, and it’s the only song I wrote 100% by myself. The others were either co-writes or cuts. Of the stuff before, “Home to Me,” that’s another I’ve always really liked. It’s just really about being from Gilmer, or just outside of Gilmer, and just sticking to your roots and not forgetting where you came from.
JL: What do you think of the current state of country music? Do you think there is any way to “right the ship” back to a more traditional sound?
CG: When I was telling you about the industry and how it works, that was one of the things I was really talking about, how it’s not necessarily just about the music, it’s about the marketing aspect and how much money the labels or the people in charge can make from it. It’s a business. They’re not in the business of doing something that they like to do, they’re in the business of doing something that the most people will like and make the most profit from. So once you establish that, it kind of makes sense; why when something worked, and something worked again, that they’re like, ‘Oh, this is what the majority of people are liking,’ so they just went with it.
I don’t have any problem with what we’ll consider the modern or current artists that have the more progressive, the more “Bro-country” sound, if you will, but in my opinion, that’s just not country music to me, like sonically, that’s not country music to me. There’s some lyrics that are, but it would be the same to me as if they tried to put rap on the Christian music station and call it Christian music, you know? There’s nothing wrong with it, you’re calling it something else just for the sake of it being a hot market and trying to get into that market. That’s my ultimate problem with it.
There still are some good ones out there. You’ve got Mo Pitney, William Michael Morgan, there’s some guys coming through- and girls too. You have Ashley McBryde, Brandy Clark; up-and-comers that I do like that do have that more “country” sound. Chris Stapleton is a good thing for swinging the pendulum back, and it kind of goes in cycles; you have to think back in the 90s, there were people that thought that was just, ‘oh pop,’ watered down stuff, and compared to Merle, George Jones, it was you know? (laughs) I just personally enjoy traditional country and that sound, and that’s my perception of country music. I would like to see, when I’m flipping through the channels, and I land on a country station, for me to be able to decipher that from the pop station, rap station, the Christian station, etc. I don’t want to bash anybody and how they do it, but it’s just not my cup of tea.
JL: What is your biggest piece of advice to a new traditional country artist in an era where the industry may try to steer them in a more “pop” direction?
CG: Just be you. That whole thing I talked about from CeeLo, be you because the worst thing I feel an artist can do is to just be chasing whatever they think is going to work, because then you never get to be yourself. You never really find out what your sound is, what your style is, what your deal is because you’re just so concerned about what’s going to get you radio play, what’s going to make you money, what’s going to advance your career that you’re just going to stop about, at the end of the day, you’re a singer, you’re an artist, it’s about the music. So if you don’t really like the stuff you’re doing, you’re just doing it to get by, that’s songs you’re going to have to sing on stage in front of people, and really believe in and sell for the rest of your career, so it’s not worth it, in my opinion.
It happens too, you see guys stick to their roots and they’re different from what’s being mass-produced. I would just tell a new artist to be patient, and don’t worry about chasing whatever somebody tells you to do.
JL: What’s next for you and your career? Any new music, any new shows, etc.?
CG: We’re going to Europe! I have a couple festivals, and I’ll add some acoustic shows while I’m over there in June. We did France last year, maybe two years ago, so this is going back and revisiting that market that we first got in to. We have that coming up, we have a cruise that we’re going on, the Texas Country Cruise, going on in September. Obviously, we try to play as much as we can, between those. I’m trying to go in to do a gospel record, if I can afford it (laughs). I grew up on that stuff and that’s what I would like to do, make a traditional sounding gospel record. So a lot on the plate, and of course, you have to pay for that stuff, so we’ll see how much money I’ve got in the bank when it comes time to record (laughs).
Thank you again to Curtis Grimes for his time and generosity.
*feature image of Curtis Grimes’ official Facebook page*