After logging nearly two decades in Nashville as a songwriter, Kendell Marvel turns a corner with this year's Lowdown and Lonesome, a solo debut album rooted equally in outlaw country and southern rock.
"I seen all this cool stuff going on with Stapleton and Cody Jinks and Sturgill," he tells Chris Shiflett during the newest episode of Walking the Floor, "and I thought, 'Man, if I'm gonna make a record, now is the time.'"
Lowdown and Lonesome serves as the centerpiece of Marvel's conversation with Shiflett, anchoring an interview that also touches upon his childhood in southern Illinois, his first co-writing session in Nashville and his yearly songwriting trips to Alaska. A list of highlights is below, followed by the episode's full premiere.
Despite being a modern songwriter, Marvel is a fan of the old stuff.
A decade before his 1998 relocation to Nashville, Marvel found himself drawn to the city's newest class of rule-breaking songwriters. Leaders of the pack included Rodney Crowell, Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle, with Earle jokingly naming the movement "the great credibility scare of the Eighties." Years later, Marvel still misses that time. "I wish the country music industry was like that now," he admits. "Everybody was cool. Everybody sold an assload of records. They all got a lot of radio play, and they all done completely different stuff. Nowadays, if you've got something going, everybody jumps on that."
He wrote a hit song during his first day as a Nashville resident.
"I wrote it with Casey Beathard," he says of "Right Where I Need To Be," which became a Top 5 smash for Gary Allan. "He just happened to be my first writing appointment. I had a melody, he had a title, and we wrote it. It was put on hold pronto." Although the writers initially hoped a neo-traditionalist like Mark Chesnutt would record the song, they were pleasantly surprised when Gary Allan and producer Mark Wright tackled it instead, turning the original demo – which sounded a bit like "Werewolves in London" – into a modern-sounding, monster hit.
Looking for the next bro-country hit? Then Marvel isn't your man.
"If we're chasing mainstream radio, I have no desire at this point in my career – until I'm broke again – to do that," says the songwriter, who prefers artists like Chris Stapleton and Brothers Osborne. "When I first moved here," he adds, "[mainstream country] was still pretty cool. I caught the very tail end of the Nineties, where there was so much good music. A lot of good country stuff: Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Travis Tritt. . .But it seems like probably in the mid or late-2000s, it started going more toward the tailgates and bonfires and bare feet. That's fine, I totally get it, but there's about three or four guys in town who write all of that stuff."
He's written 60 songs with Chris Stapleton.
That's right: 60 songs. Marvel and Stapleton's partnership dates back to Stapleton's earliest days in town, and includes personal highlights like co-writing Blake Shelton's "Never Losing You."
Every year, he heads to Alaska with some of his favorite Nashville artists in tow.
The Backyard Country Barbecue has become a tradition for Marvel, who heads to Alaska every summer – during the peak of king salmon season – to play music and fish. Artists like Jake Owen, Brothers Osborne and Lee Brice have joined him for the yearly trips, which usually include an acoustic show and a fishing trip. "We woulda done it for free, just for the free fishing!" he says of the treks, which have become a permanent part of his touring schedule.