Country newcomer Russell Dickerson is currently on the road opening for Thomas Rhett, an artist with whom he has much in common: like TR, Dickerson draws on his home life with wife Kailey to write engaging, personal country-pop that reinforces his status as a happily married man.
The approach is clearly working for the Tennessee native – his debut hit "Yours" has been streamed more than 100 million times across sites like Spotify and YouTube. Dickerson called in from a concert stop on Rhett's Home Team Tour in Lafayette, Louisiana, to talk about his early streaming success, his creative partnership with his wife and the cinematic new video for his latest love song, "Blue Tacoma."
"Blue Tacoma" has been on the streaming sites since January 2016 and streamed more than 54 million times on Spotify alone. How has streaming changed the timeline of when a new artist can reach an audience?
As a new artist in this climate, there's so many outlets. If you look at hip-hop, there's so many big rappers, like Instagram-famous rappers or on Soundcloud — there's so many outlets to find music now, and it's blowing up on all these platforms. For me, Spotify was that platform. [Their country programmer] John Marks believed in me. It's a credit to the reaction of the fans, too. This song stayed on Spotify playlists and kept growing and growing. They were just like, "We can't take it down because it's working so well." That’s why, I think, it's been such a big explosion in the digital world.
What's the story behind the song? Does it come from a specific memory you have with your wife Kailey?
The part about the Tacoma was taken from one of my co-writers. The guy she was dating at the time just got a new Tacoma, so we were just vibing on how cool it would be to take a road trip in California. It started out hypothetical. Then Kailey and I went out to California for her brother's wedding, and we literally drove from L.A. all the way up to Big Sur, which is like a five-hour trip up and down the coast. We got to live out what I was singing about in that song, so I came back and we rewrote the song to get the feeling of that specific California road trip. I redid the melody to capture what it felt like to be in that moment being in awe of that beautiful scenery along the California coast. We plugged in new lyrics on the verse and changed the hook. It wasn't even called "Blue Tacoma" before. It was called "Heaven Right Here."
The splashy video for "Blue Tacoma" has these grand, sweeping shots of the California coast. Kailey is your co-star in the clip, as she was in the "Yours" video, which she directed. Do you collaborate on all your videos?
The "Blue Tacoma" video is kind of our last hurrah. Now that it's growing out of our control, we wanted to do one more video together. I wanted it to be this very intimate road trip. I wanted it to feel like it was just Kailey and me together in the entire world. Her brother, Toben Seymour, who's done videos for Kanye West and Black Eyed Peas and tons of people, he came in and helped us get all those shots with the drones. He helped us a lot. I just really wanted that intimate feel. I think it was just captured beautifully.
You say it's growing out of your control. What do you mean by that?
We started out just the two of us, and my manager and agent. But aside from that small team, Kailey did everything visual. She took all the photos and shot the video of my shows. It was just the two of us creating content and the graphics for how to present the music for the world to see. Now there's so many people on our team. We just kind of have to let go in little ways. We still have creative control, but they're just running with it.
There are a lot of new male artists looking to make a name for themselves in country music – how do you distinguish yourself from the pack?
I've realized that I'm one of the pioneers of artists presenting a positive outlook on marriage. Some artists try to appear as single as possible, and I feel like I'm the opposite. I'm one of the guys saying, "Hey, marriage is amazing. Check out my Instagram. See how great it is to share this life with someone." I think that's a thing that sets me apart. And then second is just me being myself — just being goofy and just being so energetic onstage. I think word of that is spreading among country fans. I think it's working.