Songwriter Spotlight: Troy Verges

Oscar-nominated writer tells unlikely stories behind hits by Faith Hill, Hunter Hayes, Little Big Town and more

Troy Verges
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Troy Verges smiles backstage before a performance with the Boston Pops
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Troy Verges humbly credits his success to serendipity. The Louisiana native was a student at Nashville's Belmont University when he saw a flyer posted on a corkboard for an internship at Patrick Joseph Music, which at the time was on a hot streak with a roster that included Matraca Berg, Carolyn Dawn Johnson and Brett James, among others. Verges had written songs as a teenager for his high school rock band, but had never really considered songwriting as a potential career.

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"I always just thought if you’re a musician, that means you're touring and making records, or you find another job," he explains to Rolling Stone Country. "But then I watched these people who were writing songs every day, getting to play and record but able to live normal lives because they're not on the road. I was like, 'This is the best gig in music!'"

After paying his dues in the tape room for three years, Verges signed a writing deal with Patrick Joseph (which later merged with Universal Music Publishing). His first major taste of success was landing "Love Is a Sweet Thing" (co-written with James) on Faith Hill's Breathe album, which went on to sell 8 million copies and win the 2001 Grammy for Best Country Album. Though the song wasn't a single, having his name on the credits of that LP opened the Music Row floodgates. Within a year, he had Number One hits with Martina McBride's "Blessed" and Jessica Andrews' "Who I Am." Chart-scalers that followed were Carrie Underwood's "Wasted," Kenny Chesney's "You Save Me," Lonestar's "With Me," Tim McGraw's "Drugs or Jesus" and Kellie Pickler's "Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You," among many, many others.

As with his Faith Hill cut, Verges had another career-catapulting tune that wasn't released to radio but landed him among songwriting elite: "Coming Home," co-written with Bob DiPiero, Tom Douglas and Hillary Lindsey, was recorded by Gwyneth Paltrow for the film Country Strong and received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. (They lost to Randy Newman — whom Verges calls his "icon" — for "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3.)

"Living in Nashville, everybody is really low key about country stars because they're so down to earth here. But to be in the same room with all those movie stars… that was surreal," Verges remembers. "We actually walked the red carpet. Nobody really cared [laughs], but we did the whole thing. It was like being in a new world for a few days."

Back in the country music world, he remains a big fish in a little pond to this day, almost two decades after seeing that internship flyer. Most recently, Verges has celebrated the success of "I Want Crazy," "Wanted" and "Tattoo" with Hunter Hayes, as well as "Day Drinking" with Little Big Town. He tells us the serendipitous story behind the latter tune, along with a few more of his most memorable songs:

Faith Hill, "Paris" (Blair Daly, Gordie Sampson, Verges)
"'Paris' was written in London while we were writing songs for Gordie's record. We had just finished writing the last song and it was Bastille Day, so we decided we should go to Paris for just one day. We partied until late in the night, and around three in the morning we went to get in a cab to go home and a fight broke out in the cab line. And for the only time in my life, I ended up getting in this fight and got knocked out cold. My nose was broken, my face a bloody mess. I woke up in an ambulance on the way to the public hospital in Paris, and my friends lost me because they didn’t have the address…. The next morning, I walked around Paris trying to find my friends and we finally get on the train back to London and I’m covered in bandages, my nose is broken and I look like I had just killed someone. We got back to London and started writing 'Paris.' It sounds like a love song, because that's just the way the lyrics came out, but it was about that night. Faith heard it and thought it was a love song, so we were kind of scared to tell her the real story behind that song."

Little Big Town, "Day Drinking" (Barry Dean, Karen Fairchild, Phillip Sweet, Jimi Westbrook, Verges)
"We were putting together some ideas for their new record, and one of the titles that everyone was throwing out was 'Day Drinking.' One of the interesting things about that day was that Karen’s voice was really worn out. We were working with that melody that ended up being the chorus, but she was like, 'Just for now we need to whistle it because I want to try to save my voice.' That whistling ended up being the hookiest part of the song, and it certainly wouldn’t have happened if Karen’s voice had been 100 percent. It was a fun write, and we decided that while writing a song called 'Day Drinking,' we had to do some day drinking. A few cocktails helped!"

Kip Moore, "Beer Money" (Blair Daly, Moore, Verges)
"'Beer Money' was written in 2012 — it was the very first song that year that any of us wrote. We had come back from Christmas, which is almost like coming back to school as a kid when you're like, 'What did you guys do over your break?' So we just sat around and caught up for a while and Blair had that title. He'd gotten it from this little thing; I don't know what you'd call it. It's a little barrel with a coin drop slot that said 'beer money' on it. Kip recorded it really quickly after that and released it as a single. It was written, recorded, released and hit Number One all in a year. That never happens that fast."

Hunter Hayes, "Wanted" (Hayes, Verges)
"Hunter and I started writing together right when Universal Music publishing first signed him; he was probably 19 [years old] and so excited to be in Nashville. We immediately hit it off; he’s such a talented guy. We wrote probably six or seven songs together before ['Wanted']. I have this giant grand piano and I have no idea why, because I'm terrible at piano. Hunter came over and just started playing the riff that ended up being the intro and the main lick of that song.

"There is a line in 'Wanted' says, 'Like everything that's green, girl, I need you.' Hunter came up with that, and I said I didn't get it. We had a little debate over it. But he convinced me to keep it and I'm glad he did. People will tell me they love that particular line in the song. I don’t get it, but that song ended up being the biggest song in my career."

Tim McGraw/Josh Gracin, "Telluride" (Brett James, Verges)
"Brett and I wrote that at his parents' house the day after we wrote 'Who I Am.' I had actually never been to Telluride. Colorado always seemed like the place where the cool kids went when I was little. Growing up in Louisiana, if you were cool and maybe a little bit rich then you would go to Telluride to ski. It seemed like the romantic thing to do to go to Colorado and work at one of the bars, so we tracked that story and then Tim McGraw took it to another level."