Anytime someone falls into a stable, competitive and rewarding industry that requires a difficult training process and leads to decent pay, they generally stick with it. But Tyler Braden isn’t afraid to let go of a good thing if it allows him a chance to chase his dreams.
A native of small-town Slapout, Alabama, Braden took on grueling preparations to become a successful firefighter. Even though he went on to work in the fire service for seven years, he always knew his true calling was to become a country singer.
In 2016, Braden moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in hopes to make his dreams a reality. He made time for music while working as a first responder at a local fire station just a few miles outside of Music City. Luckily for him, his fellow firefighters knew he had the drive and talent to turn his musical desires into a full-fledged career. They pitched in by taking his shifts when the opportunity to promote his artistry presented itself. With his powerful set of vocals, hard work and the help of his co-workers, Braden retired his firefighting duties and began to make a name for himself in the country music community, even signing a recording contract with Warner Music Nashville.
Now, Braden is returning the favor and honoring the close friends of his local fire department who helped him to pursue his lifelong passion, while also serving the community. He’s doing so with his major-label debut single, “Brother.” The song, originally performed by NEEDTOBREATHE, is about the bond that connects people and the ability to have someone on your side during the difficult and trying times.
In the accompanying video for the song, Braden shares a universal message of support by shining a positive light on his former co-workers as well as healthcare workers and heroes working on the front lines amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Country Now recently caught up with Braden to learn more about his former job as a firefighter, musical path, his single and more.
Did country music bring you to Nashville?
Yes. Country music was the basis of why I moved here, to make my dreams more of a possibility, and to put a little more in reach. But I couldn’t move here without a steady job. Before I moved, I worked for Montgomery Fire/Rescue in Alabama. I Googled Tennessee firefighting jobs from my fire station, and within a couple of months, I was working at Brentwood Fire and Rescue, just south of Nashville, so that was my job when I got here. I had a 48-hour on, 96 hours off schedule. So I had plenty of time to pursue music.
What first drew you to country music?
I grew up listening to ’90s country. Whenever I’d ride in the car with my momma, we’d listen to Kenny Chesney and Dixie Chicks. And, my dad’s hero was George Jones. So I knew all of George Jones’ music. Both my parents sang too, and they would perform at parties. My first bands were rock cover bands, but anytime we’d leave rehearsals, I would listen to country music. It was always my favorite genre. A couple of years before I moved here, I entered a local contest sponsored by a radio station in Alabama. I won that contest, and part of the prize package was coming to Nashville. So that was the first time I knew I wanted to be in Nashville.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Writing-wise, I’ve always said Eric Church. He’s not afraid to do what he wants to do as a songwriter, and I love that. Luke Combs is also a big one, just because I’ve gotten to watch him from the very beginning to now, becoming the biggest ever. I also listen to a lot of Old Dominion and bands like that.
When you worked as a firefighter, how did you juggle that lifestyle with music and touring?
It’s not an on the go, spur-of-the-moment thing when you’re on the clock working as a firefighter. I knew when I had to be there. We’d work for 48 hours straight at the station. Then we’d have 96 hours off. But since we were a small department, if there were a big fire, they may call you in. But it was never a required on-call situation. So, I knew four out of every six days, I could do what I wanted. But during my first year in that department, they had you doing a lot of testing. You had to play the “rookie” game, so I didn’t do as much then. But it was still a very steady schedule even though it got hectic. It was like chaos and order at the same time.
As someone who left a steady job and took a leap of faith, what was the transition like for you?
It was a weird mixed-emotion feeling because I loved every second of working for the fire service. At the same time, things were growing in my music career, so by the time I left, it was a smooth transition. In my four days off, I got so much busier. Whenever tours or meetings would cross paths with my shifts, people stepped up and swapped shifts with me to help me build my music career. So I was getting a lot of help from the guys at the station. They were rooting for me, and they were on my side through all of that. Then, in the end, we had a farewell dinner, and that was kind of emotional to have everybody show up and see me off.
Tell me about that last day on the job and the farewell dinner.
Firefighters always [have] horseplay and joke around with each other. A funny story from that day is they picked me up in the kitchen of the station and carried me outside. People waiting outside for me shot at me with fire extinguishers. The guy, who was holding my upper body, he was 6’2.” I slipped out of his hand, and he dropped me on the blacktop. I had a relatively serious back injury from [the fall]. I could hardly move for three months. My co-workers felt so bad, but looking back, it was pretty funny. They checked up on me all the time after that until I got better. But that was how I went out. I went seven years without a back injury, which is a big possibility working in the fire service, and part of a joke on my last day is how I hurt my back (laughs).
Speaking of your former co-workers, you pay tribute to them in the video for your debut single, ‘Brother.’ What does that song mean to you, and why was it important for you to record that song?
We picked that song to play at shows over a year ago as a way to pay tribute to those guys who worked for me whenever touring interfered with my shifts. At the time, we were doing it acoustically. They did all that work. And for someone, when you know they’re trying to leave, it’s a big deal, especially when you work for 48 hours at a time and leave your family and do all that. So it just made sense to play this song for those guys. And then we decided later that we should look into a recording our version and putting it out. Luckily, we got into the studio right before quarantine in February and recorded some new songs, and this song was one of them. We had planned to put it out sometime this year. But, when COVID-19 hit, and everybody was showing thanks to people working on the front lines, it made sense to put it out now.
Tell me about the images in the music video. Was that footage sent in by the fans?
Yes. I get asked all the time if I miss the fire service, and I do. But the main thing I miss is the brotherhood and camaraderie. It is a very stressful job, and you see things you don’t want to see. The only way around that is to talk to the people there that work with you. They know what you are going through. So I knew that that’s how nurses and doctors and everyone are getting through this now. You have to be close to those around you. So I put out a message wanting to show as much as I could with behind-the-scenes shots of them and that brotherhood and sisterhood [bond], where they’re blowing off steam at work, and that’s where all of those came into play. It had a good response. It was so great!
Looking at those videos and knowing what first responders are dealing with right now, what kind of feelings do you get having gone through that line of work?
The first time I got to see an end of the video put together was emotional because we had so many videos come in. I had no idea which videos the editors were going to pick because I had not sat down with anyone. But there were actual videos in there from my old department. And they were the guys that I worked with. Seeing them laughing and joking, made me miss that even more. So that made it more meaningful to me since I knew some of them personally. It meant a lot to me to see the video come to fruition and see this footage because I knew from experience that there were people out there, who had the same kind of connection with their co-workers as I did. To see it in the videos coming in and being put together like that was awesome!
What has social distancing been like for you, and what sort of things are you doing to stay busy to get through this pandemic?
There are upsides and downsides to being separated. You have to discover yourself and push yourself to not sit around. I do a lot more running then I used to do. I’m in the middle of a self-challenge to do a 5k each day this month! Then with social media and all of that to come through, it has to be part of your daily life. For us to be able to do live shows and to be able to live stream shows is a big deal. Coming back from that, I think people will choose their time with friends and family more efficiently. And, I think people won’t take technology for granted as much anymore.
I heard you are releasing some new music soon. What can we expect in terms of upcoming releases?
We were lucky enough to get into the studio before all this hit. So we recorded a lot of music. We had plans for what was to come out first. But, with everything going on, all that switched back around to “Brother.” We do have new music planned, and I’ve played some of it on my live streams. We’re super excited, and we’re hoping to go pretty gung-ho and release new songs pretty quickly and aggressively this year. I’m excited about these next singles! We don’t know which ones we’ll put out yet, so I can’t go super into detail. But, we do have a lot of music planned for the rest of this year.
What’s next for you?
As for touring, we’re still unsure about all of that. But be looking out for new music here soon in the next couple of months.
Fans can keep up with Tyler Braden on Instagram.