Ben McPeak has covered many avenues of the music industry during his career. From Opryland performer to demo singer to dancehall and corporate performer across Texas, McPeak is no stranger to the music industry.
However, it is his newest industry role that he is most excited about: a singer/songwriter who is set to release his debut album, Better Off, on August 23.
McPeak, who co-wrote three of the album’s standout songs, collaborated with three songwriting veterans with countless hits and cuts to their names, all the while, honing his own craft and becoming a stronger writer in his own right.
Hear from McPeak about his journey through the music industry that lead him to releasing Better Off, the stories behind some of the songs on the album, writing with big name writers, and more!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Ben McPeak: I grew up with a lot of classic country music; stuff like Waylon, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Conway Twitty. Keith Whitley became a big inspiration to me in the 80s, and as we progressed into the 90s music and that sound, it was guys like Mark Chesnutt and Garth Brooks; that neo-traditional sound is where I like to hang my hat.
PC: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
Ben McPeak: I didn’t even start singing until I was in high school. I got up with a band as a dare during my senior prom and sang. I had sung around school, but I got up on stage and sang, and that was the starting point for me; I realized how cool it was. I started singing for Opryland right out of high school. They hired me when I was 17, and I didn’t take it at that point because I would have had to homeschool, so I waited another year, auditioned, and they hired me again, so the day I graduated from high school, I went to work for Opryland. My career started right there, and I was making significant money for an 18 year old [laughs]. Just playing music in front of people was where it all started for me.
PC: You’ve been very active in music for many years. Can you talk about making your journey from your job at Opryland to where you are now?
Ben McPeak: I worked for Opryland for about 6 years, and after I did that, I got into the banking business. I did that for almost 10 years, but along the way, I was still playing music at a pretty high level. I started playing clubs all across Texas. Back in the day, it was a little bit different from what you see now. In the Texas music scene now, everything is geared around original music. Back then, original music wasn’t really embraced unless you were a national recording artist, but you could make a good living playing cover music. We did that at a high level and gained a good following. I’ve just never stopped playing music. For the last 15 years or so, we’ve averaged 100-150 shows a year. The path changed a little bit while I was still in the corporate world; I was playing a lot of corporate shows and a lot of cover music, so I wasn’t hitting the dancehall circuit as much. In the last three or four years, I’ve been hungry and anxious to do my own stuff. We recorded a lot of Better Off in Nashville. It took a little time to develop relationships and connections, but that’s brought us to where we are now! We’re still doing the corporate thing, and we’re starting to book a lot of shows geared more towards getting out with the live public and getting the opportunity to do the songs on the album. It’s been great so far! We haven’t released the album yet, but we’ve done quite a few shows where we’re showcasing the music, and the feedback has been great!
PC: You have been on a long road to releasing Better Off. What emotions are you feeling as the album is very quickly nearing its release?
Ben McPeak: I’m excited! This is the first project of original music where I’ve had a hand in writing some of the material. A lot of this music is “mine.” I’ve put out music in the past and have done demo stuff and been a studio singer, so it’s not necessarily my first recording, but I’m more excited about this album because I had a hand in writing some of the songs, and I was a part of the whole experience. I was very hands-on, where in the past, I was part of projects where I was just singing the songs. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to really be myself on a project, so I’m really excited about it! The songs on the album are in the vein of the music that I still enjoy listening to, and what I enjoy singing.
PC: Many artists say that the order of tracks on a release is crucial. Why did you decide to lead off Better Off with “Fix You Up”?
Ben McPeak: Any time you release an album, you want the songs to flow. Anyone who’s been around music long enough knows that you don’t start a show with a slow song [laughs]. You want to start with something upbeat and something that gets people’s attention. I wouldn’t say that there’s a specific reason for that particular song other than we wanted a more upbeat song on the album, and then it just comes down to flow. We wanted to start out with something fast, and then we went from there.
PC: “Better Off” is one of the standout songs on its album. Why did you decide to name the album after that song?”
Ben McPeak: You look at all the song titles on the album, and it just comes off the tongue easiest [laughs]. We sat around the table, and we said that songs like “Good Woman” don’t sound like a good title [laughs]. “Better Off” sounded the best coming off the tip of the tongue.
PC: “Good Woman” is my favorite song on Better Off. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
Ben McPeak: That’s one of my favorites on the album too! I sat down to write with Bernie Nelson and Frank Myers, who are huge songwriters who have had huge hits. Frank Myers wrote “I Swear” for John Michael Montgomery, and Bernie wrote “Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind” for Confederate Railroad, and I was very humbled and excited to be in the same room with those guys. Bernie had the idea for a song called “Good Woman Waiting,” and it just flowed from there. We thought it was a cool idea, and went to the races with it. To me, it’s got that cool George Strait vibe to it, and I think it came together really well!
PC: What can you learn from writing with big name songwriters like Frank, Bernie, and Troy Olsen that can help you in your own craft?
Ben McPeak: I learned that I need to practice and write a whole lot more [laughs]. It’s very humbling. I’ve never shied away from co-writing, but it’s all about relationships. Texas is a little different because a lot of the writers are spread out, whereas the Nashville writing community is very tight-knit. It’s a little bit easier to get together and write, and for me, I haven’t had a lot of that experience with co-writing. You get into the room with these guys, and they’re just spitting stuff off the top of their head so fast. I was a student; soaking it all in, listening, and trying to learn. There’s a way that these guys write; there’s a craft to it. It’s like anything else, you have to do it a lot and do it all the time. The more you do it, you’ll get better at it. I try to write every day now. I’ve had a bunch of these guys tell me that you’ll write a thousand songs before you get one good one. I feel very fortunate that those guys have written a bunch of songs, and I was fortunate to get into a room with them. You think you have an idea that’s awesome, and sometimes it’ll flow, and sometimes it wont. Sometimes, a guy will hear what you say and just start running with the idea. That’s probably been my favorite part of the whole project. I’ve been singing forever and I love to sing, but I know how to do that. Writing at that caliber is new to me, and I’ve really embraced it and I love it!
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from the Better Off album after listening all the way through?
Ben McPeak: I think it’s a little bit surprising for a lot of people. It’s been exciting for me to do a lot of good shows already, and there’s people that are excited about hearing my music. I just want people to enjoy the music! I’m excited to put my stamp on it and say I had a hand in writing it. I hope people like this style of country music, because it’s the country music I like.
PC: Along with releasing Better Off this weekend, what are your plans for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
Ben McPeak: Right now, we’re focused on setting up as many shows as we can. We’re trying to spread the word and music, and I love talking to people like yourself about it! I enjoy talking to people, and I’m really excited about the whole thing. If I could stress anything, it’s that I’m excited about this album! I hope that’s contagious, and people get excited about the music as well!
*Images by Eric Lenington and courtesy of McGuckin Entertainment PR and Ben McPeak Website*