It's the second day of the Anything Goes Tour, and Thomas Rhett — who'll be spending the next nine months on the road, opening for Florida Georgia Line — is gearing up for soundcheck.
On the setlist for tonight's show are hits like "Get Me Some of That" and "It Goes Like This," as well as Lee Brice's "Parking Lot Party," which Rhett co-wrote with his dad in 2012. For the finale, he's worked up something a little different: a cover of the Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars chart-topper "Uptown Funk."
"I'm obsessed with Bruno Mars' records," he tells Rolling Stone Country, several hours before showtime. "I'd give my right leg to be able to sing like that dude."
Last month, with the American Country Countdown Awards looming just around the corner, Rhett decided to turn his fascination with Mars' music into fuel for an unusual PR campaign. Looking to drum up some extra votes for the ACCA's Breakthrough Artist of the Year award, he Tweeted his fans on December 10th, promising to record his own version of "When I Was Your Man" — Bruno Mars' blockbuster power ballad from 2013 — if 3,000 followers showed their support by retweeting the post. Nearly 4,000 fans complied… and Rhett got to work.
Although he wound up losing the Breakthrough Artist award to Kip Moore, Rhett kept his promise. Today, he delivers his recording of "When I Was Your Man" via an exclusive premiere with Rolling Stone Country. [Watch the video above.]
"We rehearsed it a lot on the road," he says of the song. "After soundcheck, I'd sit there with Josh (Reedy, Rhett's bandmate) and we'd play it over and over, with Josh playing keys and me singing. We'd work on the phrasing, the breathing, the notes, the key… I think we had to lower it, like, five keys before I could sing the song, because Bruno sings so high."
The day before Christmas vacation, Rhett and Reedy booked a few hours at Nashville's Creative Caffeine studios, where they knocked out an emotional, stripped-down version of "When I Was Your Man" in a single take. The accompanying video shows the pair's recording process, along with footage of Rhett spending some time with his wife of two years. ("In the context of the song, it doesn't make sense that she's in there," he admits with a laugh, "but any time with my wife is great.")
"We kept the video really simple," he adds. "I wanted everyone to see that all we did was go in there, grab a mic, play the piano and sing the whole thing down. It's a live take with a live vocal. The whole thing wasn't nearly as funny as I thought it would be. It was serious. The moment Josh started playing and I started singing, I felt it. That song gave me chills the first time I heard it, and it still does."