“You’re really digging into the dark secrets nobody knows about me right now,” Thomas Rhett tells Rolling Stone Country, calling from the road in the wake of the 48th annual CMA Awards nominations. Rhett, up for New Artist of the Year, is a little afraid of what might happen if he wins. Namely, people might get keen to his weepy, emotional side — certainly a far cry from his pistol-wielding image depicted in Brantley Gilbert’s “Small Town Throwdown” video.
“I’ll probably cry,” he says, sounding downright serious. “I cry during Nicholas Sparks movies, so if I win the award I’ll probably be in tears. All my artist buddies make fun of me for being such a sensitive human being.”
But with a year like Rhett’s, it might be the other nominees — including said buddies Cole Swindell and Kip Moore, along with Brett Eldredge and Brandy Clark — who could be sniffling back tears if the “Make Me Wanna” singer takes the crown. Since the release of 2013’s It Goes Like This, the 24-year-old Rhett has hit the road with Miranda Lambert and seen five singles hit the charts, including the heavenly-Hefeweizened “Beer With Jesus.” Still, as much as he wants to take the trophy, he’s also looking forward to an era when he’s no longer the new kid on the block.
“I’m not exactly saying that, as a new artist, you have to fit into most of what the headliners are doing,” he says, “but there’s a part of you that feels like it has to put out songs that are hits. If a new artist wants to put out some sort of off-the-wall, crazy deep ballad about the sun or whatever, it might be hard to get traction. It’s so much easier for someone established to put out a really heartfelt, deep song and get it played in radio.”
Rhett’s ready to take those risks, though. For his sophomore LP, the self-proclaimed sap will finally have a chance to go even deeper into that tender side, with “four or five songs that will make you cry. Or if not cry, at least give you the chills.”
But then there’s the rest of the record — due sometime next year — that will be “a little more left of center, a little bit more towards the pop side of myself.” Rhett’s a huge fan of Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake and Paramore’s Hayley Williams, and even confesses to wearing out his copy of Jason Derulo’s newest LP. “You’ll be able to dance to eight of the songs,” Rhett says. “They’ll be very fun and very out-there production wise.”
The diverse palate is born of influences that step outside of the boundary of traditional country — from the “Roar” singer’s shimmy to Mick Jagger’s rooster grooves.
“Growing up, as much as country was a big influence in my life, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and Led Zeppelin were such a close second,” Rhett says. “My first concert ever was the Rolling Stones in Denver. I snuck a camera backstage and filmed Mick Jagger during sound-check. To record an album and stick to one specific style isn’t really my thing.”
So while Rhett might be a “Fool to Cry” and, well, a fool to cry (at least during The Notebook), don’t think he’ll necessarily dissolve into waterworks if he loses the New Artist nom.
“Me and Cole are pretty tight,” he says. “So while he’s on his way up there, I’ll probably punch him in the stomach.”