Curtis Grimes is no stranger to the Texas country music scene. His first single is more than a decade old, and he is nine years removed from a stint on season one of The Voice. Over that time, Grimes has produced several number one songs in Texas, including the rowdy “Irresponsible” in 2011.
Fast forward to 2020, and Grimes is proudly showcasing a new, faith-based approach to his music. That began with the singles “Born to Die” and “Had a Thing” from his 2016 album Undeniably Country. That album was followed up by Faith Based Country two years later, an album comprised of eight gospel songs with a proudly traditional country sound.
Grimes has devoted his life and music to the Lord, and vows to release music with substance and a message, proven by his optimistic new single “River Road Dream.”
Read along as Grimes talks about devoting his life to Jesus, spreading the gospel with his ministry, his musical journey to making faith-based country, his future plans with his music and more!
Pro Country: Your faith has always been a part of your music, but how important was it for you to devote an album to your faith and put it in the forefront with Faith Based Country?
Curtis Grimes: I grew up in a pretty Godly household. We went to church twice on Sunday and also on Wednesday night. I had a good foundation going back as far as I could remember. When I got into high school, I was into the Texas country scene.That’s when Nashville started turning more pop, and that’s about the time I started partying on the weekends. Going into college, I kept backsliding further, and just got into the lifestyle you hear about in a lot of those Texas country songs. I had stopped going to church and had gotten out of the Word, and my life was a reflection of that. That was where I was in for the first half of my music career.
I’ve been given this opportunity, platform and ability to reach and influence people, and I kind of felt like I was throwing it away and not doing what I should be doing with it. I had gotten to a point where I was thinking if I couldn’t do that with this opportunity, maybe I don’t need to be doing it at all, and maybe I need to seek a different path. I thought if we couldn’t give glory and honor to God and tell them about Jesus, then maybe we need to reanalyze what we’re doing. I applied that to my music; the content specifically.
I’ve always been a fan of the more traditional sounding stuff, and I got to a point where in the process, I lost my management that I had in Nashville, my booking agent, and it all got stripped down to myself in the band. I had the opportunity to have 100% control of what I recorded and how I recorded it, and I took advantage of that. That’s when I put out my Undeniably Country record, which was a shift in my music in the direction of doing more faith-based stuff and inserting my faith into my music, all the while, having a more traditional sound. I also felt like I was at a point before where I’d listen to my albums; and I understand there’s a purpose of the commercial aspect of recording where you want to appeal to as many people as possible for the sake of growing your brand, but when you do that, you can kind of lose touch of your own personal identity, because then you get to a point where you’re chasing a little bit. I wanted to put out an album that would reflect me as an artist and where I’m at in my life. From that point on, that’s been my goal. I told myself that if I did this and it didn’t work, then God will put me in a place where I’m supposed to be and open up whatever other door needed to be opened. Fortunately, it’s been working, and I’m able to do the same type of shows in the same environment and in the same venues and radio stations that I was before; I’m just using it as an opportunity to share the gospel without aggressively hitting people over the head with it. I feel like there’s a tasteful way to do it. I don’t think of myself as holier than anybody, I just lived my life a certain way for so long, and I know that trying to live for Jesus is a better way to live, so I just hope that I can use that influence to bring people down a better road and a better way of living.
That opened up the door where I was able to go in and record a gospel album. We did a Kickstarter for that project, and we raised enough money to not only pay for the album, there was money left over. I didn’t want to profit off of it, because my main goal with it was to spread the Word. With the extra money, I opened up a ministry, and all future money that comes in with streams, royalties, or a faith-based events, all of that money will go to the ministry.
We always have a stack of Bibles on the merch table, and with the rest, if I have the opportunity to give someone a Bible that doesn’t have one, we do that. That might be something we take advantage of here; there’s people on the other side of the world that can get persecuted or even killed for owning a Bible or talking about Jesus. That was one of the things that was on my heart and something that I could do on the ground level to share the gospel. A lot of people have digital versions of the Bible, but to me, it’s not the same as having a physical Bible that you can carry around, carry to church, and to be able to highlight, underline, and possess a physical Bible. That’s my passion these days and what I’m trying to do with music and my career.
PC: What validation is it for you to be having success with Undeniably Country and Faith Based Country after devoting your life to Jesus and being able to do all of the amazing things you’ve been able to do to spread the Word?
CG: It’s comforting. There’s no guarantee in a secular music industry that is fueled by alcohol sales that people want to hear, buy or play stream songs like that. We’re not selling out venues or selling a million copies, but it’s enough to pay the bills, and I’m thankful for that. For me, it’s a lesson in trusting that God will provide, and also a lesson in having patience. I have a tendency to want the ministry to grow and to have other things happen, but at the end of the day, it’s not about me. I’m supposed to be available to God so he can use me how he wants to use me for His plan and purpose.
Another cool thing that is coming up is that we’re starting up a radio station that will be another leg of the ministry. It’s cool to see the things that are opening up outside of playing venues, releasing radio singles and staying up-to-date on social media. We had the opportunity to play in a maximum-security prison for mostly lifers. That was the first thing I ever did like that, and it was a pretty amazing experience. It was one of the most spiritual moments of my life; to see a room full of people that that is their only hope that they have left, and reacting the way they did and being able to experience that. All of the things that have happened are aside from anything that I had ever envisioned doing with a ministry. Initially, you think you’re just going to sing gospel songs and do worship at a church, but I get the opportunity to go beyond the walls of churches and reach the people that are in the same position I was in several years ago. You also have to think that a lot of the people that come out to the venues are half and half; half of the people didn’t grow up in the church, and you’re able to plant and water seeds, get the ball rolling and let people know where I stand. Second, you’ll reach people that have backslidden a little bit, and get the wheels turning. Maybe they haven’t been to church in a while, and maybe they should go next Sunday. For all the frustrations that come along with the limits that potentially arise from taking that leap, I feel like it’s rewarding to see the other things that have opened up.
PC: “Had a Thing” was several singles deep into Undeniably Country and became a number one, award winning song. What does that success say about the strength of that album and the songs on it after deciding to devote your career to that style of music?
CG: That was the only song that I wrote 100% by myself on that album. That was a really personal, vulnerable song where I dug into a lot of stuff that I don’t really talk about with people. I don’t dwell on my past actions too much, but I know that people that can relate to it. Songs like that break down the wall where it may look like an artist is looking down on them. There’s none of that at all, I want to lift people up. I don’t want to make them feel bad for anything they’ve done, because I’ve been there. We’re all sinners and we all fall short. I feel like that song reaches down and puts me in that spot, and shows that there is hope, and I’m thankful that I did get back on track with my faith. It was special that that was “my song.” I’ve co-written a lot, and I’ve cut some outside songs, but I always try to make sure that there’s at least one song on every project that is 100% coming from me and my mind. That was that song for this album.
If you back up a couple singles, “Born to Die” was really the turning point when I established the direction that I was going in and seeing what happened with that. To be honest, from a lyrical perspective, that’s a straight-up worship song condensing the gospel into 3 and a half minutes; not anything related to Texas country content. The fact that that song got played was very reassuring, because that let me know that I wasn’t going to be abandoned because I started singing about Jesus and not “living it up.” “Had a Thing” was a follow-up to that, and it told my backstory. If you’re following my discography, it starts with “Irresponsible,” and all the songs in between, and then you hear a song like “Born to Die” and you ask where it came from, then hear “Had a Thing,” and that shows you how I went from “Irresponsible” to where I am now.
PC: “Still” became your ninth number one, and has continued to perform very well on Spotify and YouTube since its release. What do you think it is about that song that has allowed it to connect with people the way it has?
CG: I always tell everybody that if I had to write a song about what my thought process is on the kind of music I’m making, the chorus of that song directly applies to coming into doing more faith-based stuff was me putting my foot down and showing where I stood. I wanted a song with substance. I try to make it a point when I put out a song, I wanted to say something. There’s been times in my career that I’ve done a song for the sake of chasing a radio single or sounding good on the radio, and now I try to look at it from the perspective of what the song is saying. I look at it and ask if it’s a song that will stick around in 20 or 30 years. I feel like this song has depth.
I didn’t write this song. I’ve been working with Trent Willmon as my producer for the last couple projects, so I tribute a lot of my success as an artist to Trent. He’s one of the best songwriters in Nashville, so I’ve been fortunate enough to write with him since my first trip to Nashville. Every time I go in to record a project, Trent will play me outside songs, and we’ll try to find at least one or two songs that we either wish we would have written or songs that are better than anything we’ve ever written. At the end of the day, it has to be me; it has to be authentic. It can be a great song, but it’s hard to be genuine and sell that every night on stage with conviction when I’ve never lived it.
Trent played “Still,” and he told me it was a song that Cody Johnson didn’t cut. I lobbied for him to ask for permission for me to cut it. I changed a couple lines, but that song felt like me. It was saying exactly what I feel right now and where I am in my life. I’m just thankful that I was able to cut it, even more thankful that the radio stations have played it quite a bit, and that people latched onto it. It was the first single off of our next project, so it set the tone of the direction that album will go in.
Right now, I’m recording four songs at a time. I went in last February and cut four tracks. Next month I’ll cut four more. Next February, I’ll cut four more, and then we’ll have a full album to release next year. In the meantime, we’ll just be popping out singles. As soon as one falls off the charts, we’ll have another one ready to go, so by the time we put out an album, there will be a few radio singles that people will be familiar with, and then we’ll probably leak a few others out between now and then as well, just so we can get the full life of it. The most frustrating thing about doing albums these days is that you put out an album, it gets buzz for like a month at best, and then it’s done. By the second single, the album is six months old, and by the third single, the album is a year old, and then you have to move on to something else. This was a way of maximizing everything. You don’t want to get so deep into an album and then cross your fingers and hope you recoup the money you put into it. It’s a lot easier to buy it off one piece at a time and pay it off as you go. “Still” was the first single off the project, the ministry is rolling, and every time we get $8,000 or $10,000 in the account, I go and buy that many Bibles and get them in the hands of as many people as possible.
PC: You’ve talked about releasing music with substance and with meaning behind it. Can you talk about the inspiration behind “River Road Dream” and what you hope listeners take from it?
CG: That was a song that I wrote with Trent, and it’s the second song from the batch we recorded last February. I was enrolled in class at Texas State when I was living in San Marcos. The big attraction for me was the live music scene and floating on the river. During that period in my life, that’s what I did, a lot of times during class time [laughs]. I just remember floating down so far that it kind of breaks down into no-man’s-land where it looks like nobody even owns the land, or if they do, they don’t maintain it. I was just thinking that it would be nice to own a piece of that property one of these days, just soak it up, float and really appreciate the environment that I loved so much while I was in college. I was telling Trent about that one day, and he asked if I had ever written a song about it. I said no, and honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to afford a place like that [laughs]. That’s where we got the idea of his settling down and having that as your retirement and where you went after your kids grow up. It’s just you and your wife and where you would want to spend your last hoorah. That’s where we took the direction of the song.
I wanted it to be a feel-good, up-tempo kind of song with a 1990s feel. I was a big Alan Jackson and George Strait fan, so we really channeled Alan Jackson with this song sonically, and it turned out to be my favorite sounding song of all the new ones we’ve recorded. It’s exciting when people get to hear your babies that you recorded a year ago that are still new to them, and it’s something that you’ve wanted everybody to hear for a while. It’s nice on release day to get feedback and to hear what other people think about it!
PC: What are your plans for 2020?
CG: I want to grow the ministry aspect of what we’re doing and grow the radio station. I thoroughly enjoy touring in different cities and going on the road and meeting people. I didn’t realize it, but if you take my freshman year of college when I started off playing guitar until now, it’s been 14 years, and I probably been on the road for 10 of those years. In my adult life, that’s all I know. On top of that, we have a two year-old girl and a newborn baby boy, and I want to be present in their lives. I want to be there for them and my wife, and balance that with being on the road. That’s the most challenging aspect of it. We’re going to play as much as we can, try to reach as many people as we can, and take advantage of every opportunity I get to play a church gig. I’m really drawn to reaching and kids and youth groups. I feel like in high school and college, that’s the most vulnerable time in your life. That’s when you really get opened up to temptation; that’s when you start facing scenarios outside of the bubble you grow up in. I’d love to do more of those where and just reach as many people as possible. That’s the goal. I’m just looking forward just seeing what God has in store!
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
CG: The more I talk about the ministry aspect of it, the less I talked about the music, but I appreciate the fact that all of the Texas country radio stations that have been playing my music from 10 years ago, are still very supportive of everything I have going on, even through the ministry. I just appreciate the people that help me share the gospel and reach people by supporting my music. That’s really the catalyst; if you take the music away, that diminishes my ability to reach people, so I’m thankful that people are coming out to shows, buying the music, sharing it with other people, and allowing us to achieve a greater purpose. As much as I talk about the ministry, I appreciate the music and my career as an artist.