Taylor Swift may have traded Nashville for New York and country for pop, but she made a stop back in town last night to toast Music City’s Grammy nominees — and take a string of seemingly endless selfies with eager guests — at the annual bash thrown by the local chapter of the Recording Academy. Brandy Clark, Hunter Hayes, the Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston, Old Crow Medicine Show and everyone from Christian acts to Keb’ Mo’ showed up at the Loews Vanderbilt hotel to stare at supersized gold versions of the coveted award and answer the omnipresent question: So, how does it feel?
“I’m trying to give different answers,” joked Johnston, who is nominated as a writer for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,” up for Best Country Song at next month’s Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. “But it’s wild and cool. It’s one of those things you dream about when you are a kid — and when you actually get it, it’s pretty frickin’ wild.”
Clark, the dark horse vying for Best Country Album and Best New Artist, is happy that the Grammys welcome Nashville talent in the big races — in the latter all-genre category, she’s up against Sam Smith, Bastille, Iggy Azalea and Haim. “I think the Grammys are very inclusive of country,” she told Rolling Stone Country on her way into the party. “Just look at me being nominated for Best New Artist overall. And last year, Kacey [Musgraves]. I think they want to help be a launching pad. And it really is helping me, someone who hasn’t had a lot of airplay or sold a lot of records.”
Hayes, who is up for his fifth nomination for Best Country Solo Performance for “Invisible,” is pretty astonished by his track record. “That’s a heck of a number for a 23-year-old,” he said, sporting a pinstripe blazer with frayed edges. “I guess it could get in your head, but that’s something you have to look in the mirror and go, ‘Do this for yourself.’ Because you never wake up on Grammy morning expecting a nomination — or at least you shouldn’t.”
This go-around, his nomination is special for a different reason: it represents a lesson learned to not overthink the recording process. “We worked very hard on this song in the studio,” Hayes said of “Invisible,” “and I let it get to me. Whatever it was got into my head and messed with the production of the song. So we scrapped it. I called my band, said, ‘We’re going back to square one and we’ll not use any of the pieces — except the strings, because that was special.’ The more time you prepare, sometimes the worse the song is.”
Like Hayes, Lee Ann Womack certainly didn’t anticipate her own Grammy nomination. Her LP The Way I’m Livin’ scored a nod for Best Country Album. “I feel a little bit like Cinderella — it’s unexpected,” she said. “I learn something every time I make a record. And I learned with this one that if you do follow your heart, it will be successful.” That doesn’t mean accolades aren’t fun when they happen, however. This year, Womack and her producer-husband Frank Liddell get to make it a date night of sorts, as he’s also nominated for his contributions to Miranda Lambert’s Platinum.
Shane McAnally, who took home two awards last year for his work with Musgraves, and is up again for writing Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids,” is just holding on tight to his gold hardware. “I have the Grammys on a mantel in my house and I don’t think an hour goes by where I don’t look at them,” he laughed. “I’m still waiting for someone to knock on the door and say, ‘Wait a minute. Those aren’t really yours.'”
Though Musgraves isn’t nominated for an award this year, she did just finish tracking her follow-up to Same Trailer Different Park. “I can tell you I have the utmost confidence that people are not going to be disappointed,” McAnally says about the LP he produced with Luke Laird. “She showed up and was ready to write the songs of this chapter of her life. I am so excited about what she has to say.”
One group of guys not spotted taking selfies with Swift was Old Crow Medicine Show, nominated for Best Folk album for Remedy — a slightly odd place for the high-energy string band. “Until Nashville is ready to come to terms with the fact that we’re a country band,” said ringleader Ketch Secor with a hint of a smirk, “sure, we’ll take a folk Grammy.”
The 57th Grammy Awards air February 8th on CBS.