- Joseph Llanes
“It was really something special to spend our summer doing that,” says Houser via phone from a Wisconsin tour stop. “We got to play for over a million fans this summer, which is nuts. As far as getting the tour, that was a grand scale as you can do it on. We played like eight stadiums, and they would have 60 to 70,000 people in them. Luke and I have been friends for a long time. It was a great experience to go out. It was like a big traveling family. Cool people all around. [Country singer] Dustin Lynch was out with us, and it was just a good time. It really was.”
[jump] This fall, the burden of entertaining a crowd rests on his shoulders as he’s out on his own headlining arena tour with Frankie Ballard and Craig Campbell opening. Recently nominated for Country Music Association Song of the Year for his Top 5 Gold hit “Like A Cowboy,” which he also co-wrote, Houser’s currently supporting his new single, “We Went,” a hard rocking tune that’s the title track from a new album expected in early 2016. He says the tour has continued to build on the momentum from the summer.
“It’s been surprising how well it’s been doing,” he says of the current set of dates that include a stop at the Akron Civic Theatre on Dec. 18. “The shows have been packed. We’ve just been having a good time.”
The Mississippi-born Houser speaks about his career as a songwriter and singer with a good deal of confidence. And there’s a reason for that. He talks about his decision to become a musician as if it were something along the lines of manifest destiny.
“From the time I was a small child, I watched my dad playing music and sitting around the house with his guitar and singing songs,” he says. “He was such an incredible singer and guitar player. I immediately gravitated toward that. I didn’t really have a choice. Nobody pushed me into it, but I just knew what I was going to do. Ever since I first saw him play and making music, it just called out to me. I was strongly influenced by that. I always saw so many people my age wondering what they going to do when they grew up. It was strange for me because I always knew. I knew I was going to make music. I knew that was the only thing I was going to do. I was blessed.”
He was only ten or 11 years old when he started up his own band.
“I think the first show would have been at the Cat’s Cave or it might have been at the auditorium there in Mississippi,” he says. “We had a bunch of boys sitting around in somebody’s bedroom playing guitars. As I got older, I realized I was the only one in my town who was serious. I was way more serious than anybody else. I played in bands for years and years throughout Mississippi where I grew up and realized I was the only one hanging on to the dream of being able to make music for a living. I thought our bands would get discovered and we’d make it out of there. Eventually, I realized I was the only one who was really committed like that, so I had to move to Nashville.”
Many aspiring musicians move to Nashville. Few strike songwriting gold. But Houser, who teamed up with Jamey Johnson and Dallas Davidson to pen "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” which Trace Adkins for his 2005 album Songs About Me, had no trouble hitting a vein.
“I can’t pinpoint how it went down,” he says of his initial songwriting success. “It was where I was supposed to be. I moved to Nashville and started meeting people. It’s a very social business. I call it a drinking town with a music problem. You go out and hear music, and there’s a 100 people in the room who are musicians and songwriters. You start building that circle of friends who are like-minded. I immediately knew I was home. I thought it was wild that there were more people like me who were nuts. It reminded me of the Tin Pan Alley Vibe. There’s so much creativity coming out of young songwriters and musicians in Nashville. It’s complete edification to hear new music all the time. In small towns, you might have one country station. In those days, the Internet wasn’t streaming where I came from. I couldn’t dial up Internet radio. We were still on dialup. We had the country station and that was it. The only thing I got to hear were those 25 songs they played over and over. So I had to write songs. And it was a cool experience to move to Nashville and hear new music.”
Houser signed to Universal South Records in 2008. In May of that year, he issued his first single, "Anything Goes." The title track from the album, it became a hit, and he even performed the song on The Late Show with David Letterman. The song made it into the Top 40 of the Billboard country chart as did "Boots On" the album's second single. To hear Houser tell it, the success wasn’t as instant as it might seem.
“It wasn’t a flash bang of success, I can tell you that,” he says. “I wish it would have been. That would have made things easier. ‘Anything Goes’ went to No. 16 on the country charts. The second single went to No. 2.”
The album also includes the anthem “My Kinda Country.” A hearty song driven by heavy guitars and a beefy organ riff, it’s a call-to-arms of sorts as Houser gives a shout out to country outlaw Waylon Jennings while also acknowledging his love for Motown.
“We’re still playing it and rocking it out,” says Houser when asked if the tune still finds its way into the live show. “I’m glad to hear that you like one and that you even know it. Nothing in particular inspired it. The biggest thing was that at the time I wrote that with my buddy Dallas Davidson was because growing up with blues and gospel and country and all these things mixed in together. It’s really talking about music and I am what I am and do what I do and I hope you like it and if you don’t, move along.”
“We Went,” the new single from his forthcoming album, has some of the “My Kinda Country” swagger to it as Houser practically raps his way through the tongue-twisting tune about a couple on the run from the law.
“It’s such a fun song,” he says. “It reminds me of a Bonnie and Clyde fantasy, which is how we shot the video. It reminds me of doing something bad and good at the same time and being dangerous. It was a different kind of a feel. It just seemed like fun and it is fun. We’re having a blast playing it live. I knew it would be fun and that’s why we recorded it and put it out as the first single.
The album still has to be sequenced so Houser has trouble articulating just what it will sound like. But he’s excited for the finished product to come out.
“We just wrote and found the best songs we could possibly find,” he says of the album. “I didn’t set out to make an artsy fartsy record or anything like that. I’m proud of it material-wise. It’s definitely one of the more exciting times I’ve had making an album. I haven’t been able to sit back and look at it as a whole. We’re just now finishing it. I don’t have that big perspective yet, if that makes sense. When I hear pieces of it, I just fricking love them. I don’t have them in a playlist in sequence yet. I have them scattered in emails where I approve mixes and make changes. It’s at that stage where I’m not even sure yet.”
And even if it’s not a smash hit, Houser says that’s fine by him.
“I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter because it does,” he says. “But regardless of whether I have success as defined by the charts, I’m still going to be making music. It’s like a rollercoaster. Success comes and goes. I’ve seen the peaks and valleys of it over the years. You just keep on. You know things will get worse and they’ll get better. If you stick to your guns and do what you love, good things will happen. I don’t know how to do anything else and I don’t want to do anything else. I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I try to use it for good and for other people. I try to honor God when I can because I know he gave me talent and the desire to do what I want to do. And I’m not a gospel singer but I do want to do good things with what I do. I want to keep doing it knowing it’s not all wine and roses.”
Randy Houser, Frankie Ballard, Craig Campbell, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, Akron Civic Theatre, 182 South Main St., Akron, 330-253-2488. Tickets: $29.50-$49.50, akroncivic.com.