Tomorrow marks the release of Randy Houser’s debut disc, Anything Goes, a contemporary country album in a traditional vein. Houser has gained fame through his performance on The Late Show with David Letterman and his songwriting skills on Trace Adkin’s “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” and the title track to his first album is firmly entrenched in the top 20 of the country singles chart. The newcomer called Country Universe recently to discuss his first foray into the spotlight and his thoughts on the music that inspired his chosen path.
“Anything Goes” is a rarity on country radio, a story of solitary drinking followed by a one-night stand. What first attracted you to the song?
Definitely, for country fans and country listeners, I think the song breaks down what our format is about. It’s a theme that country music was built on, going through tough emotions. A lot of people have lived through this or something like this. It may not be to that extreme, but it still hurts. And we all find our redemption in different places. It talks about doing something you normally wouldn’t do and how you mask your true feelings instead of facing your real problems. It’s something that hadn’t been addressed in a song in a while. It’s just a guy telling the truth, and the listeners wanna know what you went through.
You co-wrote eight of the eleven tracks on Anything Goes. As a creative passion, how does songwriting personally influence you?
I have to write. For me, it’s kind of like breathing. It’s a way to say the things that I can’t say. I can express myself. It’s like my transportation, my vehicle. It’s been my soft place to fall for a long time. But a lot of people expected me to write the whole record. On all the paperwork it said, “Randy will be writing most of the songs.” I’ll always have a part in it, but it’s good to get a different perspective, too. And it’s important to support the songwriting community. It’s a good way to make sure you’re taking care of the songwriters.
What’s the common thread that listeners will find once they play Anything Goes?
It represents all that I’ve gone through. There’s some silly stuff on there, and songs about losing love and making mistakes. It’s not like it’s a picture of the last year of my life, it’s a lot of feelings that I’ve had since childhood, which is what a first album should be, a representation. It should be personal. There’s one song on there that I wrote about my dad, “I’ll Sleep.” There’s a lot of songs about losing a loved one, but I tried to give it a different perspective. It’s more of a celebration. I was definitely hands-on when making this record. As a songwriter, I’ve spent so much time in the studio, so Mark Wright and Cliff Audretch (co-producers) let me do my own thing, and they were there to help and develop the music. Now, with the budget to do the recordings, we have the ability to make the record I wanted to make.
What’s your favorite country album of all time? And what’s your take on the album as a cohesive art form?
I would say Red Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson. I love that it’s a themed album and the simplicity of the production. You don’t hear the same guitar like on all the music nowadays. You hear different drum sounds and not so many bells and whistles. And it’s all about the message. And my friend Jamey Johnson, I love his new record. It reminds me of those albums from the past. I like some of the new stuff, but when I want to listen to a whole album, I tend to listen to older albums. I would love to see that style come back.
Your claim to fame, so far at least, is your appearance on The David Letterman Show. He was prompted to schedule a performance after hearing “Anything Goes” on satellite radio. What does that say about the different methods used to promote music nowadays?
For him to be listening to country music is just great. It goes back to what’s so great about country music. Through song, we get to tell the truth. We really break things down, tell a story, pull at people’s hearts and make them think about life. It’s reality. I think that’s what touched him about the song, that it speaks to people.
Country music is moving closer to the mainstream, but some would argue that the old sounds and themes have been sacrificed. How do you feel about this shift?
Right now, there’s a poppy state of mind. But I think people are starving for the real stuff, songs that talk about real life, whether it’s a one night stand or love or just life in general. They’re looking for the real stuff, the real guy, and I hear that from people so often on the road. I hope that radio embraces all of these different types. I don’t mind the popular stuff being out there. It’s “easy to hear” for the listeners. A lot of it is ear candy. And I think a lot of it is designed to be played between radio commercials. But it’s good to have some of that type of music out there. It gives a lot of guys the platform to stand on and tell their stories.
You know, my new album has a lot of different styles of music on it, and we have to compete with the albums out there. We used a few effects and some of the tools available. It’s not the most traditional-sounding, and I wanted to experiment a little, but it’s all got soul. There’s some Mississippi rock and roll and even a little jazzy number. Those are some of the styles I listened to growing up. We live in a crazy world. Everybody’s got a lot to think about. Whether you’re picking up your kids or working different jobs or just trying to figure out how to pay the bills. Music’s getting harder to fit into your time. But it’s important for its survival to have a story and to not lose the traditions that it was first built on.
What in your mind is going to make your career matter? What goals do you hope to achieve?
In terms of the recording process and the writing, it’s going to get a lot more focused. I want people to know what I’m going through. I’ve had so many different blessings, and I just hope for more things like the Letterman show and other opportunities to keep coming at me. The main thing is playing music. If I can make a living doing what I love, that’s all I need. The music’s helped me deal with a lot of different things, way before I knew there was any money to be made. I’d be sitting in the bedroom to hide from all the bad stuff happening in the house, and it was my way to lock myself away and escape from all that. Music’s what I do and it’s what I love.