Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Jeff Hyde talks with C&I about his solo debut, available February 23.
After being one of Nashville’s most sought-after songwriters for country music with a long list of No.1 hits, Jeff Hyde is now going solo with the release of Norman Rockwell Word.
His songs have been done by artists such as Alan Jackson, George Strait, Bobby Bare, Luke Bryan, Charlie Worsham, Nikki Lane, Becky Buller, and most notably Eric Church (who sang the Hyde-penned “Springsteen,” “Record Year,” and “Round Here Buzz”).
For Hyde’s solo singing debut, he compiled 10 of his own previously untouched tunes, including ones co-written with fellow songwriters Clint Daniels, Casey Beathard, and Michael Heeney. The result, an album titled Norman Rockwell World, is filled with strong contenders for a new No.1 hit for Hyde.
Recently, C&I caught up with the talented Texas native to talk about the new album, the recording process, and being in Eric Church’s touring band.
Cowboys & Indians: What do you hope fans will get out of your upcoming debut album, Norman Rockwell World?
Jeff Hyde: I hope they’ll hear a line that speaks to them, and maybe a melody or two that gives them goosebumps.
C&I: You have a track on the album titled “Norman Rockwell World.” What made you pick that as the album title, too?
Hyde: My friend and frequent co-writer Clint Daniels brought that title to me and Michael Heeney one day, and the three of us wrote this song together. ... It’s one that I’m honored to have been a part of, and I think it pretty much sums up the way I often feel. There are a few songs on the album that allude to that sentiment. Life is complicated, but it’d be nice if it wasn’t.
C&I: You’re already a Grammy-nominated songwriter and have been a member of Eric Church's touring band for a long time. What was it like to go solo and work on your own project?
Hyde: Yes, I’ve been in Eric’s band for over 12 years now — good Lord willin’ we’ll make it 12 more — and it’s been a great experience. As Eric’s fans can probably attest if they’ve seen us on stage, I’ve always been more comfortable in the background ... would probably sing and play my parts behind the curtain if I could get away with it. So it seems a little presumptuous to me in some ways to put out an album, but I came to a point where I felt like it would be a disservice to the as-of-yet unsolicited songs my co-writers and I poured our heart and souls into if I didn’t try to find an avenue for them.
C&I: Did Eric Church lend you any advice?
Hyde: “Don’t bring sub-par ideas to our writing appointments.” Ha. He holds himself to that same standard, by the way, and has always been supportive of me and the other members of his band keeping our chops up individually when we’re not on the road.
C&I: What are some memorable stories along the way of getting your album from concept to actual release?
Hyde: I had people pray for me to have the right doors opened when I moved to Tennessee from Texas. The music business can be a tough mountain to get a foothold on, and I don’t believe the opportunities I’ve been afforded since I’ve been in Nashville happened by chance. I kept that in mind when I talked to my good friend Ryan Tyndell, who is a great songwriter and producer, about working on this album together. We both said we didn’t want to do it unless we could take our time and try to make it something special.
So before we even started, we prayed against mediocrity — not that I’d be Elvis by the time this record was done, only that when we were done, I could listen and say that this was the best possible representation of what I was capable of at the time.
There were a couple of songs that were evasive in the studio, but then Ryan would get a great idea or me or Jordan Rigby (the studio engineer) would have an idea that would make it all fall into place. “How the Story Ends” was one that we just couldn’t seem to figure out. We struggled with it for a while and one day Ryan had a vision for the song come to him while he was mowing his yard. He and I stripped back what we had previously recorded and built it again from the ground up the next time we got together. When we listened back, I was convinced that though this isn’t a life-or-death situation, God still cares about the little things, and I think he honored our prayers against mediocrity.
C&I: What was the writing and recording process like? Where did you draw inspiration from for the sound?
Hyde: Ryan and I have been writing together for over 13 years, so he knows my style. He also knows I have a natural tendency to be about 20 years behind the curve production-wise, and he helped me keep at least one foot in the current decade. He thinks outside the box, and I think that helped give this album a fresh sound.
I had a short list of about 30 songs for consideration, some of which were written recently, but some were written seven or eight years ago. We whittled them down to 10 that rose to the top and fit together well, then went into the studio with some great musicians (Craig Wright, Lee Hendricks, Aaron Rochotte, Rob McNelly, Oscar Charles, Luke Dick, and Jordan Rigby) and laid basic tracks that Ryan and I built on later at his home studio.
Like I mentioned before, we took our time and worked on the project when we could find time between me being on the road with Eric and him being busy writing songs in town. Then Ryan, Sarah Buxton, and Clint Daniels sang harmonies. The finished product was well over a year in the making.
C&I: Do you have a song on the album that you're most proud of or that has a particularly interesting back story?
Hyde: My dad was a huge Statler Brothers fan. [He] had every album they ever recorded. I likewise became a big fan of theirs as a kid and was always impressed that they wrote their own songs. Don Reid was their lead singer and wrote many of their songs along with his brother Harold (the Statlers’ bass singer). He was a huge inspiration for my songwriting ambitions.
I kept up with them through the years, and just a couple of years ago read a blog on Don’s website where he was updating his fans on his latest writings (he has since become a respected author as well). He mentioned how crazy the world has become and joked that he hadn’t written any fiction lately because he can’t keep up with reality.
That sparked an idea, and I wrote a song called “Fiction,” which is on the album. I mentioned this story to Don’s son Langdon (I’ve become friends and written songs with Langdon and Harold’s son Will, of the country duo Wilson Fairchild) and asked him if his dad would mind that I wrote a song inspired by his quote. He relayed this story to Don, who gave me his blessing — he said if I made a million dollars off the song I could buy him a sandwich. I told Langdon I’d buy them a sandwich either way.
C&I: Are there any songs that didn't make it onto the album that we can expect later on down the road?
Hyde: It’s a surprise.
C&I: Who are some of the singers and songwriters that have inspired your creative development and made you want to become an artist?
Hyde: Tom T. Hall, Paul Overstreet, Bob McDill, Keith Whitley, Vern Gosdin, Earl Thomas Conley, and Don Williams were some of the influences that inspired me to become a singer-songwriter. I went to school at the commercial music department at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, for a couple of years before moving to Nashville, and when I was there studying in the bluegrass department with Alan Munde and Joe Carr, I discovered Tony Rice. His album Tony Rice Sings Gordon Lightfoot had quite an effect on me and is in my opinion an example of acoustic-guitar playing, singing, and songwriting at its very best.
C&I: What can we expect in terms of touring?
Hyde: No set plans as of yet, but we’ll see what the future holds. I’m playing a live album-release show with Eric’s band on March 6 at Analog in Nashville.
C&I: Lastly, you’re a native of Marshall, Texas, but moved to Nashville in 2001. What are some of your favorite things to do while you're in those towns?
Hyde: Of course catchin’ up with friends and family, but one of our favorite things to do when in Texas is eat some good hot sauce (non-Texans might call it salsa) and chips. Everyone at the table gets their own bowl of hot sauce. When I first moved to Tennessee and went to a Mexican food restaurant, they brought one bowl for the table. I thought they’d had some kind of tomato shortage. That was the biggest difference between Texas and Tennessee. Now I ask for an extra bowl.
For more information on Jeff Hyde and to purchase Norman Rockwell World, visit his website.