Interview: country singer-songwriter Eric Paslay heading to Cambridge
Although he has enjoyed success as a country music performer in his own right, it is for songwriting that Eric Paslay is best known – and he has been behind some real modern classics.
Indeed, upon first listening to his latest long-playing release, Even If It Breaks Your Barefoot Friday Night Part 2 – Eric’s take on his biggest songs as a writer and reimagined versions of his hits as an artist – my initial thoughts were it was predominantly a covers album, before I remembered that he had actually had a hand in writing many of these familiar tunes.
The 39-year-old has achieved five number one hits, both as an artist and songwriter, including the single Friday Night from his self-titled debut album. He is returning to the UK this spring to join British duo, The Shires, on a long-awaited nationwide tour, which stops off at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Sunday, May 15.
Eric’s songwriting has resulted in him receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song for Even If It Breaks Your Heart, performed by the Eli Young Band and, in 2016, he was recognised in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category for The Driver (with Charles Kelley and Dierks Bentley).
Other number ones co-written by Eric include Barefoot Blue Jean Night, cut by Jake Owen, and Love and Theft’s Angel Eyes. He recently signed an exclusive songwriting deal with the Big Machine label – home to the likes of Tim McGraw and Sheryl Crow – and is also a spokesperson for Habitat for Humanity, alongside former US President Jimmy Carter, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.
Speaking to the Cambridge Independent from his house in Nashville – the Home of Country Music – Eric says he’s “super excited” to be returning to the UK, revealing that the last time he was here was in March 2020. He was scheduled to appear at that year’s C2C country music festival at the O2 which, unsurprisingly, ended up being cancelled.
“I was at the hotel right beside the O2 in London,” he recalls. “We were going to play it the next night and that’s when the world shut down, so I was there literally the last day I could be there. I think we had played Amsterdam and Berlin and we had a few more shows to do... and then we were going to do The Shires tour.”
Eric says he wrote “a ton of songs” during lockdown. “I don’t mind writing on Zoom,” he notes. “I know some writers and artists don’t like it but it was fine with me. Heck, we wrote Keith Urban’s hit [Wild Hearts] that’s on the radio now – top 10 – and I think I’ve got some more to come. We went with what happened and it’s all good. I think it’s kind of amazing to have one event that everybody’s gone through.”
Eric’s 2020 album, Nice Guy, was written and recorded before the pandemic. “Actually, kind of like fall of 2018, probably,” he says. “We were on tour in Europe and I filmed all the music videos for that album over there. One was in Berlin, one was in Amsterdam, I think we were in Oslo, Aschaffenburg, Germany...
“I had a videographer with me and was like, ‘Hey, this would be cool for this song’. So they were a lot of fun and I’m glad we filmed because there would have been no music videos whatsoever released from that album if we hadn’t.”
Eric, who as well as writing songs and performing also enjoys retiling showers and kitchens, says: “I realised that I’ve never done studio versions of all those songs that I play at shows and number ones that I’ve had here in the States – songs like Barefoot Blue Jean Night, Even If It Breaks Your Heart, Angel Eyes, Rewind, and then my number one Friday Night. I’ve had some of them on live records.
“And I also could re-record the songs that I’ve had hits with myself... My mother-in-law had the very genius title of that, of just merging all the hit songs together, as many of them as we could, so we put Even If It Breaks Your Barefoot Friday Night.”
Eric says that it will be a three-part release. “The first one came out a few weeks ago and we just had a recent one drop on April 1,” he observes, “and we’ll have one coming out right when the tour starts.
“There’ll be nine songs total for that project and I mean there’s like five number ones, which is kind of fun. It’s like, ‘Cool, here’s an album with five guaranteed number ones on it!’”
Highlighting Eric’s talent for songwriting, Barefoot Blue Jean Night by Jake Owen – which Eric co-wrote with Dylan Altman and Terry Sawchuk – was named the most played country song of the decade (2010-2019) by Country Aircheck.