Randy Houser Interview: ‘How Country Feels’ Singer Still Laughing After Life’s Highs and Lows
When Randy Houser debuted with ‘Anything Goes’ in late 2008, many were wondering if country music had just found a future Male Vocalist of the Year nominee. He voice was — and is — that strong. ‘Boots On’ was a Top 5 follow-up, and then … then he sort of got lost — shuffled around like a middle-reliever in Major League Baseball, despite his talent as a singer and songwriter
Houser’s original record label, Universal South, merged with Show Dog Records to become Show Dog-Universal in 2009. Over the next two years Houser released four singles to radio, with each charting at a linebacker’s jersey number instead something inside the Top 10 or Top 5. Critics and fans loved the songwriting and the style he showcased on his second album ‘They Call Me Cadillac,’ but it wasn’t a success commercially. After releasing the poignant ‘In God’s Time’ in early 2011, he left Show Dog-Universal.
Spring always follows winter however, and by the time Houser signed with Stoney Creek Records in November 2011, his personal and professional life was once again blooming. The singer — whose new album ‘How Country Feels’ hit stores in January — found salvation in the arms of a beautiful blonde singer named Jessa Lee Yantz. They were engaged in July 2011, married months later and shared pictures of their son West Yantz Houser in March 2012. Thankfully, the new album has enough material to make sure he’s not lost again anytime soon.
The soft-spoken Houser talked to Taste of Country about this roller coaster of a career, and revealed in his thick Mississippi accent what he leaned on through the desperate lows life dealt him over the last half-decade. He also talked about vindication — but maybe not in the way one would expect.
ToC: If three years ago someone from the future appeared and said that in 2013 you’ll have a wife, 1-year-old son and a milestone hit, which would you have thought to be least likely?
Randy Houser: That’s hard to say. Probably my son. That’s the thing that in 2012 was the biggest thing. Just to wake up every morning and walk in his little room whenever he wakes up and just see him grinning — it shocks me every time. It’s just like ‘Where did you come from?’ It’s like mini-me standing there looking at me.
I don’t know what I did right back there somewhere, but apparently I did something good, because I’ve really been blessed.
You’ve worked hard over the last few years but haven’t had the hits to show for it. Did you ever get down on your career or start thinking poisonous thoughts?
I guess I did get down, maybe, sometimes. But I’ve always had the music to lean on. At times I had to realize I was making music for me … I’ve made music since I was a kid so I’ve always gotten joy out of that. The music would rescue me every time. That’s what it was about. Any of the rewards or accolades or any of that are very nice and everything but the music is what saves me. And it did. I would write my way out of any kind of depressing period.
Who gave you the best no-nonsense opinions about songs when you were recording ‘How Country Feels’?
Truly the best at that is Bennie Brown, who is our label president. He is really good with songs and just an amazing song guy. He actually listens to songs like a 20-year-old. I mean, it’s strange, you know? He’s just got really good ears and he also ain’t scared to tell you what he thinks, you know. And you know I found out he was pretty much right most of the time. He’s pretty sharp.
You wrote seven songs on this album compared to almost all of them from previous albums. Why the change?
The biggest change was getting married and having a kid. I just had so much going on in my personal life this year I didn’t really have the time like I normally do to just write. I usually put all that pressure on myself to write mostly everything, and this time it was kind of refreshing that I knew I didn’t have time to do all of that and it was kind of refreshing to not put that pressure on myself.
Before he released his latest album, Jake Owen told us that he did the same thing with his first two albums, but with his third he included some other writers. He pointed out that when you do invite some other people to write for an album, you really have a wave of support hoping you succeed.
Yeah, that’s true. I do feel the exact same thing. I feel such a wave of momentum and support just because there are other songwriters and other publishers represented on the record. They’re all pulling for you. And I never knew that much before. I had never really been pitched songs before, not very much. It’s been quite a different experience.
Is there any song on ‘How Country Feels’ where we really hear the influence of your son?
I haven’t written like that yet. I really tend to write in retrospect. So (during) the process of writing this record I was so involved in him getting here and raising him — I can’t really step aside. That stuff will probably come out years down the line. It’s hard for me to write what’s going on now because I’ve been so busy I don’t have time to think about what’s going on now.
Is there any sense of vindication now that you’re having some success after a period of instability?
Yeah, there is. It’s more of a “Wow!” moment. It’s really more … I didn’t know what was gonna happen. All I knew was that I had to believe in the team I had around me and that’s what I’ve had to lean on. I’ve felt before like I was doing it all by myself, you know. But then I was definitely just reinvigorated when I signed the deal at Stoney Creek. All the people that I work with over there have just been on my team and they’ve kept me optimistic about everything and I’ve tried to do the same for them.
I don’t know if it’s vindication, I think it’s more appreciation more than anything.
There’s no chip on your shoulder?
Yeah, no chip. Because I’ve seen how fast all of this can go up and I’ve seen how fast it can go down.