Curtis Grimes may be relatively unknown on this side of the pond, but he’s building a reputation as a traditional country star in the US for years.
Originally from Texas, Grimes first came to attention after appearing on the US version of The Voice in 2011, where he made the top 10. He’s since had six number 1 singles, played hundreds of shows in the States and won the 2014 New Male Vocalist of the Year at the Annual Texas Regional Radio Show. Earlier this year, he embarked on a short UK tour, including a performance at Buckle And Boots festival.
I spoke to Curtis shortly before his performance at London’s Buck N Bull club night as part of the tour. Read on for his thoughts on UK fans, the Texas country music scene and plans for the rest of 2018.
How has the UK tour been?
It’s been pretty awesome. I wish we had more time, y’know? I’m trying to hit all the tourist attractions in a very limited amount of time. But it’s been good, it’s been awesome. And we had a lot of nice weather too. We got lucky.
What’s the audience response been like?
It’s been great. Y’know, I’ve had the full band, all the bells and whistles festival at Buckle And Boots, and then I did a stripped-down kind of acoustic, intimate thing in Fife. So it’s kind of been the best of both extremes. But it’s been good. It’s nice to be on the other side of the world and have people singing your songs. That was pretty awesome.
Do you find UK audiences react differently compared to audiences in the US?
Yeah, and you kind of see more the radio songs, the songs that have been played on the radio, you see more reaction to. Obviously more people are familiar with those. But an interesting thing is I feel like more people listen to albums over here. They listen to the whole record, whereas back in the States it’s a more single-driven market so people will listen to which song you’re promoting but they may not listen to the rest of the album. Which for me, I like listening to because some of the good better ballads are on there that aren’t necessarily radio-friendly, but they’re still good songs. So that’s kind of one big difference is how people listen over here.
You mentioned playing full band shows as well as acoustic performances. Do you have one of those you prefer?
I kinda like both. I play mostly full band stuff. I have the same group of guys for every show and kind of play all over. And I don’t do a whole lot of acoustic stuff, so when I do it’s nice to kind of sit back. And I have a lot more flexibility with the acoustic stuff. I can throw out some new songs that I’ve written recently, or play some cover songs that I just absolutely love that the band guys may not know. So there’s a lot more flexibility with that. But there are pros of both of them that I really enjoy. I do like people being kind of closer, right there though. I don’t like when you play with the big barriers and there’s a big gap. I always try to move those out of the way if I can and let people get right up close to the stage.
Do you have particular favourite covers you like to play live?
Oh… If I had to pick my favourite cover it’d probably be Amarillo By Morning, the George Strait song. That’s what I kind of grew up on, was a lot of Alan Jackson, George Strait, that 90s country sound. So that would be kind of my go-to if I had to pick one. But there’s a lot from that kind of era that I enjoy doing.
You played Buckle And Boots while you were here. Do you find that festival crowds are different compared to other shows?
It is. Festival audiences are typically a little more rowdy, y’know? Typically you’re outside, so people can kind of cut loose and have a little more freedom than confined to a club or dancehall. I guess there’s not as much dancing here. Like typically we’re playing dancehalls and so we’re usually playing to a bunch of people that are literally just dancing, two-stepping and stuff. I guess that’s kind of one difference here. But I like doing the festivals. You get usually a lot larger audiences, so you get to be in front of a lot of new people that hadn’t heard of you before which is kind of a way to grow.
You’ve just released your latest single Put My Money On That – can you tell us a bit more about it?
Yeah, so I actually wrote that song with a guy named Bryan Davis. We kind of wanted to write a song that was kind of more old-school sounding, a more traditional feel, and kind of had substance. Like I was saying something and talking about what you believe in, what you put your stock in, invest your interest in. A lot of things are temporary that come and go but when the dust settles, what’s gonna be left and what’s gonna be important to you? And that’s kind of what this song’s all about. It doesn’t really have anything to do with money, so it’s kind of ironic that’s in the title.
And it’s funny too – the way that we wrote it originally and the way I play it acoustic’s different than the album version. The album version, we kind of put a little wailing backbeat to it so it kind of has more of a pick me up and go. But the acoustic version’s more of a solid, straight-up, little more kind of gritty I guess.
How much did the Texas country scene influence your music?
That’s what I was listening to when I started. I grew up playing baseball so I didn’t get into music or even sing or play guitar until I was in college. So at the time that’s the type of music I was listening to. So when I started trying to write and play that was what I was drawn towards as opposed to the Nashville direction. And even right now the top 40 mainstream is kind of progressing into more modern pop feel and sound kind of stuff, and the Texas scene is still so wide open. You can’t really pinpoint a sound. Like my sound would be straight up traditional, and then you have some of the newer guys who are gonna have more of the John Mayer type of feel, and then you have some that are very Southern rock sound.
It’s kind of an interesting situation there because there’s such a big fan base and a lot of support that support this scene and this system, so there are a lot of acts that can make a good living and kind of self-sustain a career by just doing that scene. So it’s an opportunity that a lot of other areas of the country or the world don’t get. Like me, I liked that music, started to mess around with it, trying to write songs, play guitar, played some open mic nights and acoustic stuff, got a band together and then we played shows. As opposed to going to Nashville and having to write til I got a pub deal and then trying to get a label deal, and those guys aren’t necessarily playing shows while they’re trying to make it. We get to go out and cut our teeth on the stage.
Do you think there’s going to be a breakthrough moment for that traditional sound to come back into the mainstream?
I think so. I mean, it appears as if the pendulum’s kind of coming back. Stapleton’s a great example. You have some of the newer guys, like William Michael Morgan and John Pardi thrown in the mix. So I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see but I think there’s definitely some of the more traditional country-sounding stuff that’s getting a chance at least now.
You mentioned you sometimes try out new songs in your acoustic sets. Are you working on any new music at the moment?
I am. I actually just recorded a gospel album a couple of weeks ago, so I’m pretty excited about that. That was a lot of fun. It’s just some older songs from out of the gospel traditional hymnals. I actually did a more current song, a David Crowder song. But it definitely has a bunch of fiddle and steel and very traditional country production, so it sounds very country. So that’s coming out here later this summer and then I’ll get back in the studio this fall to record another record and hopefully have that thing out early 2019. So there’s definitely a couple of albums that’ll be coming out here early next year.
Why did you decide to crowdfund your gospel album?
So actually the goal and the end purpose of that was to start up a ministry, and the music would be a foot in the door if you will. The main focus is Bible distribution. I felt like there’s something about having a physical Bible to have, to take to church, to read as opposed to using your phone or iPad. And I wanted to do full blow Bibles, not just the New Testament. Sometimes those can turn into pamphlets and I wanted it to be an entity. So my goal is to just everybody that doesn’t have a Bible, I’d love to give them one. So that’s kind of the main purpose. So the music is just kind of the gateway to do that, and then all the donations and any money generated from the album, all that goes to fund the ministry. I’ve had so many opportunities and connections opening up through another girl that’s with the label I signed with, so I’m interested to see what opportunities arise through that. But that’s kind of where my passion is. Like obviously I’m an artist, that’s my job, but I really have my passion and I’m focusing on that. So that’s what this gospel album and the GoFundMe and all that money is to go to launch what I call outreach ministry.
What’s the one song you wish you’d written?
Oh, man! Let’s see. I like a lot of the older stuff. So I really like Keith Whitley, Vern Gosdin, those type of songs. I don’t think I could pick one. But you just go through… oh, man. Like I think Chiselled in Stone, the Vern Gosdin song, that’s a great song. Don’t Close Your Eyes, Keith Whitley, I think that’s a great song. Obviously George Strait has several that I wish I had written, y’know. I just like that old traditional-sounding sad sterotypical country song. So I couldn’t pick one but that would be the style.
What does the rest of 2018 look like for?
So the gospel album is kind of the next big thing. We’re going on a cruise in September – it goes to Cayman Islands, Jamaica and Cozumel and we’re playing the pool party for that. We just have that one big pool party show and the rest is just a vacation for six days, so that’ll be a lot of fun. And then obviously recording that album and that kind of gives us a lot of fuel to get through the end of the year.
Do you have any plans to come back to the UK?
I do. I’d love to come do Country to Country if I ever got the opportunity. But what I’ve been telling everybody on this trip is I didn’t just wanna do a one-off. I didn’t wanna just come and play once. I wanna come, play it and then come back and play it again and just build it, just like I would anywhere else we play a new market, so to speak. Fortunately we’ve had some radio play and media stuff going already so it’s not coming into a cold market. We did kind of have a head start in that aspect. But yes, I would love to continue coming over here as much as possible and just continue to grow and get more relevant.