Country Next: John King

John King; Photo by Jeff Johnson
John King; Photo by Jeff Johnson
John King; Photo by Jeff Johnson
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with John King.

Rising country artist John King knows what it’s like to live in a small town with big dreams. The singer-songwriter, born and raised in Habersham County, Georgia, spent the majority of his youth singing and playing on the guitar. He credits his parents for helping him develop a love for music at an early age.

“I played sports growing up, but I also grew up singing in church, and my mom played piano in a church choir,” King recently told Country Now. “My dad also was a big music lover. We’d sit down on Saturdays and listen to vinyl records, so it gave me this passion early on.”

Once King familiarized himself with songs by some of his favorite artists, he modified them and quickly realized he could write his own music. He often used campfire settings to craft lyrics with his friends and later brought those lyrics to the stage with a touring band. After graduating high school, King attended the University of Georgia, where he says his desire to pursue a career in music got even more serious. Upon earning his degree, he moved Nashville to get things started.

Since arriving in Nashville, King has, undoubtedly, been making a name for himself in country music. In 2016, he celebrated his first No. 1 with the co-penned song “We Went,” recorded by Randy Houser. King’s current single, “Try Saying Goodbye,” has also been resonating with listeners far and wide. The thought-provoking track has been streamed over 13 million times and impacted country radio on Aug. 19. Along with that, King continues to find success as a songwriter for other artists. His latest cut, “Rollin’,” is set to be featured on Hootie & The Blowfish’s upcoming album, Imperfect Circle, out Nov. 1.

King caught up with Country Now to talk all about his years in Georgia, his latest music, and upcoming plans.

Read on for our exclusive Q&A with John King.

Melinda Lorge: What brought you to Nashville?

John King: We were doing 75-100 dates a year before I ever came to Nashville so we kind of already had a fan-base built in Georgia, and South Carolina and everywhere down there. So, I knew when I got into college that country [music] was what I wanted to do. I loved country because of the songwriting element – the songs are so true. There’s not any other genre, I think, that focuses on the lyric the way country does. So I was like, “I’ve got to go to Nashville.” So I graduated, moved up to Nashville and I’ve been here almost six years now.

Lorge: It seems like a lot of artists have come out of Georgia, like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean. Do those artists inspire you?

King: Being from Georgia, there’s a whole music scene there, so that was helpful. Coming up, I remember seeing Luke Bryan at the Georgia Theatre. When I was in high school I remember [seeing] Brantley Gilbert, Jason Aldean and all these guys. It gives you a lot of confidence as a Georgia singer-songwriter and artist. It’s like, “Man, there’s something in the water down here, you know?” So I always looked up to those guys. Honestly, being from where I’m from, I don’t know if it’s a Georgia thing or more of a culture thing, but music is so important. Growing up in church, and growing up in a family that loved music, that was the biggest inspiration for me to have it in my blood.

Lorge: Tell me about your single, “Try Saying Goodbye.”

King: I wrote it with my producer, Paul DiGiovanni, and songwriter Jamie Paulin. I still clearly remember writing that song that day. Jamie had mentioned both the song title and the idea, and it got my wheels spinning because I had been dating my wife since I was 15. We’re high school sweethearts, and it got me thinking about those turning points you have in a relationship, where it would have been easy to say goodbye and it would’ve been easy to go a different path. Every couple gets in those arguments or little fights along the way, but the cool thing about that song is the music takes into perspective that it’s not worth it. Pride, or whatever the issue is, it’s always more important to put it all aside and focus on the person you love.

That song means so much to me because I have been there. I didn’t see this happening, but it has taken on a life of its own to every listener. I’ve had fans reach out and say, “Hey, I just went through a breakup, and this song means so much to me.” I’ve had other people say, “I just lost a loved one.” One guy was stationed in Afghanistan for a year and hadn’t seen his family. He was like, “That song has put my whole world into perspective. It is the hardest thing to say goodbye.” That’s why you write songs, to help people and spread that message, and, hopefully, you help somebody get through something hard. To have that happen was huge! I never would’ve thought about it in that way. When the fans start talking about a song and putting it into their world, it’s so cool!

Lorge: What was your wife’s reaction to this song when she first heard it?

King: She was one of the first people to hear it in its raw, demo form. And it’s been one of her favorite songs for years, so she was excited when she found out that it was going to be the single. I always bounce my songs off of Hannah because she has a very unbiased perspective on them. She’ll tell me if she doesn’t like something, so I always use her as the final judge. It’s like, ‘Okay. Is this song as good as I think it is?’

Lorge: What’s been your favorite live performance of “Try Saying Goodbye” so far?

King: The [Grand Ole] Opry. A little over a month ago, we played there. It was my first time being there in a few years. I had my family there, and my baby girl was there. To play that song on the Opry stage was just so surreal.

Lorge: You also released a remix version of that song. What was the decision behind that?

King: I think its fun to do stuff like that. I think it gives the fans a little bit different perspective on it, even if they’ve heard the song a few times. When you hear a remix or even a stripped-down version of something, it always brings new life to the song. Mokita is amazing. We linked up through mutual friends. Filmore is a buddy of mine and Mokita works with him. He’s so talented, and I wanted to work with him, so it was a perfect fit.

Lorge: Let’s talk about your song on Hootie & the Blowfish’s upcoming album. How did that happen?

King: So I got a call on the morning of this write from my publisher at Sony. He was like, “Hey, do you want to write with the bass player from Hootie & the Blowfish today?” I was like, “Yes! I would love to!” It was very last minute. I went in, we wrote the song, and it was a fast day. I had this little melody idea on the way into the write, and I took it in, and he liked it. We wrote the song, and I didn’t hear anything back for a few weeks. Then, all of a sudden, I get a call from my publisher again. He was like, “They like the song from the project. It could be potentially in there.” So it was like, “Oh My Gosh.” It’s crazy to think about it. Then, we get a call a few weeks later, and they’re like, “It’s one of the favorites. We think it’s going to be on the record.” Then, two weeks ago we get a call, and they say, “It’s going to be the very first song they’re releasing off the new record.” It was insane. I grew up listening and loving that band. My mom and dad took me to a Hootie & the Blowfish concert when I was 7 or 8 in Greenville, South Carolina, and to think that I would write a song that would go on a record of theirs, I would’ve never thought that. It’s so cool.

Lorge: I read that you gave your cell phone number out to fans so they could give you feedback on your songs.

King: The decision behind that was to get closer to the fans. We have so many outlets now like social media, but there’s no way to beat that face-to-face interaction at a show. That’s my favorite part of what I do. So we were thinking, like, how can I do that even when I can’t do that? Obviously, you can’t meet all of your fans. But for this song, I wanted to do something special, and connect with people. So I gave out my number and told my fans to text me to let me know what they think about this song or text me anything about how it might be influencing them in their life. It was, honestly, so overwhelming and amazing. The amount of response we got – I was not expecting it to blow up the way it did. It was a lot of people reaching out who were fans of the song or had heard my music or had seen my show. It’s like, “Man, we’re making an impact on people’s lives.” That’s all I ever really wanted to do, and that’s the reason I want to do this.

Lorge: How do you draw inspiration for songwriting?

King: I found that songwriting is like flipping a switch. When I’m in a conversation, or talking to a family member or listening to the radio, [my] ears are always open for ideas. I think it was Tom Douglas, who once said, “The only difference between a songwriter and a normal person is a songwriter knows how to identify a song and an idea.” So I’m [always] writing songs, and I have this list of thousands of ideas, and sayings, and phrases to spark an idea. And, it could be from a conversation. It could be from something I’ve heard, something I said, or something I‘ve lived. If you’re a songwriter you never really stop. You always have that wheel spinning, so it just becomes a second nature kind of thing.

Lorge: How has your perspective on music changed since you and your wife welcomed your baby girl?

King: It makes you see the whole world differently. Everything you ever thought was important shifts, and your priorities change. It’s changed my songwriting, and it’s changed who I am as a person for the better. It makes you see the world through this child’s eyes. You realize too some of the things we take for granted every day. When I watch Scarlett, some things are such a big deal to her. When she’s seeing or experiencing something for the first time, it brings back memories of that first time feeling for a lot of things for me. So it’s been a really big gift to have that – and her. I think it’s helped me as an artist.

Lorge: What’s next for you?

King: “Try Saying Goodbye” is doing so well, so we’re going to try to keep pushing that one. In the meantime, I’ll be working on new music. We have a lot of songs, so we’re talking about a new EP coming up later this year, and possibly another single. I have so many songs that I’ve wanted to get out for the last couple of years. You write so many songs, and it’s like you can’t put them all out at once, but at the same time, you’re just slowly waiting for the right moment. So I’m excited!

Fans can keep up with John King on Instagram.

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