Thomas Rhett is a man with a lot on his plate.
Still celebrating his sixth and seventh Number One singles – the casual cool of “T-Shirt” and out-of-this-world romance of “Star of the Show” – he just started his first-ever headlining tour, and he’s about to become a first-time father of two. Meanwhile, the 52nd ACM Awards are just around the corner, and Rhett will be in the running for both Male Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year (for “Die a Happy Man”).
In the meantime, Rhett has also managed to stay hard at work on his third album.
His second, the funk-and-soul-embracing Tangled Up, shrugged off the feared sophomore slump with the ease of a hip-swivel and moonwalk. Along with Rhett, many other country artists have found success nodding to other genres of late – think Keith Urban’s electro-inspired Ripcord or the edgy millennial pop of Maren Morris’ Hero. Where Rhett’s heading next, though, may take listeners even deeper into the musical old school.
During a party just off Music Row this week to toast the songwriters of “T-Shirt” and “Star of the Show,” Rhett gave Rolling Stone Country some exclusive insight into what’s on tap for his still unannounced third set of tunes. Here are five things we learned.
1. Tangled Up is officially in the past.
“There will not be another single from Tangled Up,” he says, noting that the next album is well underway. “We spent all of January recording and the tracking is done, but I have a lot of singing to do, a lot of mixing and mastering, and then comes the whittling-down process because we cut about 20 songs.”
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2. Fans won’t have to wait much longer to hear new music.
With seven singles released from Tangled Up and its deluxe edition, Rhett’s covered a lot of ground since that album originally appeared in September 2015. Fans are hungry to hear something new. “We’ll have a single out for sure somewhat soon,” he shares of the follow up to “Star of the Show,” “and then the record will come out sometime this year.”
3. Rhett’s growing family is a big influence on the new album.
Rhett and his wife Lauren are expecting a baby girl in August, and had already started the process of adopting a child from Africa when they found out. Needless to say, things are about to change for Rhett and family, and one lyric in particular sums up the tone of the new album.
“There’s a song called ‘Life Changes’ that’s gonna be on the record,” he says. “And there’s this one line that says ‘Ain’t it funny how life changes? / You wake up and nothing’s the same,’ and I would say that completely sums up the journey of my life right now. You think you have it all figured out and all of a sudden you wake up and you’re having a baby. So many things are changing as far as going from a [show] opener to a headliner – there are a lot of firsts for us this year – and there’s a couple of songs on the album that sum it up, but I would say that one line represents life as a whole for me right now.”
4. Rhett has found an artistic sweet spot with his feel-good songs, and that won’t change.
“My life is changing in such an emotional way, so you can probably expect to hear a lot of sappy songs about my children soon, but I love feel-good music,” he says. “My show is so bonkers and uptempo and feel-good, if I just flooded the album with sad ballads it might come across as strange. I am a sucker for sad songs so there will be a couple on the record for sure, but we’re gonna keep the energy rocking and making everybody want to dance.”
5. Danceable beats will visit the sock hop with some ‘Grease’-inspired tracks.
Tangled Up established Rhett as an artist who’s willing to act on an old-becomes-new approach, as well as one who’s committed to variety. Pressed to reveal any new stylistic experimentation, Rhett says he’s looking to add something new to his funk-and-soul country stew. And the secret ingredient should be a pleasant surprise for fans of Rizzo, Frenchy and the gang.
“We dabbled with more ‘Crash and Burn’-y songs on this one,” he admits. “And there’s a few songs with just straight-up Grease soundtrack kind of vibes, which I know makes no sense. I’m always terrified of those songs until my voice gets on them, and then for some reason it just sounds natural. I think I get that from my grandparents always showing me different doo-wop music and teaching me to dance. It’s really nice to experiment with the past and try to make it modern and current.”
Thomas Rhett is currently on the road with his Home Team Tour, his first headlining run. It features Kelsea Ballerini, Ryan Hurd and Russell Dickerson as opening acts. The 52nd ACM Awards air live April 2nd at 8:00 p.m. ET on CBS.