Sounds Like: Arena-sized country with a not-so-guilty pleasure for poptimism
For Fans of: Big & Rich, Thomas Rhett, Kid Rock on Tennessee mountaintops
Why You Should Pay Attention: Raised in Arkansas with family on the West Coast, Strickland was a competitive horse rider in his youth, where he learned the discipline and self-assurance of performing in front of crowds. It was at one such equestrian event that he met Johnny Cash's longtime bassist Marshall Grant, who took him under his wing after listening to a demo and indulged Strickland's interest in everything from classic country to Black Eyed Peas. While Grant passed away in 2011, Strickland, who ha released a handful of singles over the years, joined forces with Big & Rich producer Sean Giovanni for his first LP, California Dreamin, released in August. Now based in Nashville, he writes party-friendly anthems and doesn't try to hide his affinity for Lana del Rey and Timbaland on songs that bear heavy pop and electronic influences.
He Says: "I'm very open-minded. Anytime someone wants to talk about the old school or the new school, I'm very intrigued, especially when I'm talking to other artists. I want to know what they're passionate about, what drives them. Because I know what drives me," Strickland says about his pop leanings, which he says result from a desire to be "bold" rather than "cookie cutter." "There are so many interesting things out there with technology and the studio. [But] I love to tell stories. Country is known for that – that's one genre where you can tell a story. And of course ballads are fun, too."
Hear for Yourself: "We Don't Sleep," California Dreamin's lead single, is a country power ballad about an insomnia-inducing romance, complete with Top 40 synths. J.G.