Music

Scotty McCreery Doubles Down on Songwriting, Storytelling on ‘Rise and Fall’: ‘We Wanted to Make Country Music’

Singer-songwriter Scotty McCreery co-wrote nearly every song on his fifth studio album, Rise and Fall (out May 10 on Triple Tigers), but his steady hand throughout the writing process didn’t come courtesy of the typical, regimented writing sessions on Nashville’s Music Row.

The North Carolina native brought some of his closest songwriting collaborators, including Brent Anderson, Monty Criswell, Derek George and writer-producer Frank Rogers, on a writing retreat some 500 miles away from Music City, to McCreery’s home outside of Raleigh.

“It’s heaven on earth,” McCreery told Billboard of the writing retreat. “It moves at a slower pace. It puts your mind in a creatively different space than a scheduled write at 11:00. It was just more of hanging out and seeing what happens. These are some of my favorite songs we’ve ever written.”

That unhurried stretch of time led to hours of teasing out song ideas, fashioning melodies and refining lyrics — resulting in many of the album’s songs such as “Fall of Summer” and radio single “Cab in a Solo,” which hit No. 2 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. A later Nashville-based mini-retreat with many of the same writers, plus Jeremy Bussey and Bobby Hamrick, produced more of the album’s songs, such as “Lonely” and “Little More Gone.”

“For me, having a personal connection to a song makes me believe it and feel it more,” McCreery says. “It makes it feel like my album, as opposed to just a collection of songs.”

McCreery’s commitment to quality songs has been key to his garnering five Country Airplay No. 1s, including the three-week chart-leader “Damn Strait” in 2022. Along the way, McCreery has made his devotion to country history known, following in the footsteps (and burnished vocal stylings) of genre forebears like Randy Travis and Keith Whitley on such songs as nostalgic 2018 hit “Five More Minutes” or the small-town ode “Water Tower Town.”

That mission emanates throughout Rise and Fall. McCreery, 30, grew up immersed in ‘80s and ‘90s country sounds, which also happen to be experiencing a resurgence in the genre’s modern day. Light-hearted fare such as “Stuck Behind a Tractor” and “And Countin’” mesh with heartbreak brushoffs such as “Lonely,” the bluegrass-inflected album-closer “Porch” and the faith-filled “Red Letter Blueprint.”

“It’s no secret why [the album] sounds that way, but we weren’t chasing a certain sound,” says McCreery, who is managed by Triple 8 Management’s Scott Stem. His vision for the album was simpler: “We wanted to make country music. I said, ‘Let’s make an album that just feels good to me.’”

Though another album track, the rowdy “Can’t Pass the Bar,” doesn’t share the seemingly requisite parenthesized title of songs like John Michael Montgomery’s “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)” or Garth Brooks’ “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til The Sun Comes Up),” it features a similar galloping pace that helped make those songs into classic hits — and a challenge for any vocalist.

“I was thinking as we were writing it, ‘Holy cow, this is going to be tough,’” McCreery says, “but I knew I wanted to write a song like that, because I grew up listening to those kinds of songs. The song was quick, so our minds were moving at a mile a minute, but it was a fun write. Once I tried to sing the demo, I was like, “Oh boy, this is going to be something to sing.’”

“No Country for Old Men” longs for the classic sounds of years gone by, and showcases McCreery sinking lower than ever into his deep bass register, while name-checking Conway Twitty’s “Tight Fittin’ Jeans,” Ernest Tubb’s “Walking the Floor,” and Merle Haggard’s “Swinging Doors.” He wrote it during the retreat with Anderson, George, Rogers and Criswell.

“We’d had a long day of writing, some cold beers, and sat around the kitchen tables with our guitars and got to work,” McCreery says. “Everybody loved this idea and wanted to be in on it. It was fun to mention those names and weave in song titles and influences. I wish there was a camera filming us while we were writing the song. We were laughing, hootin’ and hollerin’ just with how it came together — it was a fun way to write a song.”

Some of McCreery’s biggest hits have drawn directly from his own story, such as “Five More Minutes,” inspired by his grandfather’s death, and “This Is It,” which highlights his love story with his wife Gabi. That arc continues on his new album, with the cover (the shot was taken at the same place in the North Carolina mountains where McCreery proposed to Gabi) as well as “Love Like This,” written after the couple welcomed their son Avery in October 2022.

“The minute Avery was born, I just felt a different kind of love,” McCreery says. “Seeing your kid for the first time, I’d never felt that feeling before. If you go back and look at the caption of the Instagram post I did after Avery was born, that was the caption — ‘Never known a love like this.’ This is my daddy song to Avery, and every time I listen to it, it still gets me choked up a little bit.”

“Hey Rose,” the lone song on the album not from McCreery’s pen, he had held onto for nearly 10 years. He was taken with the song’s redemptive love story and tucked it away, hoping for the right time to record it.

“We were making a record when it got pitched to me [in 2015], but it didn’t feel like it fit that album,” McCreery says. “When I was recording [Rise and Fall], we had an hour left in the studio and we pulled this song out. The whole band, everybody in the studio, was like, ‘This has to make the record.’ I pleaded with the label a little bit to let me have an extra song and they graciously agreed.”

Like the album’s title, McCreery has seen his share of career mountaintops and low points. His debut album, 2011’s Clear as Day, spent six weeks atop Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and his debut country single “I Love You This Big” become a top 15 Country Airplay hit following his coronation as winner of the 10th season of American Idol. Afterwards, his career temporarily stalled, and he parted ways with Universal Music Group Nashville before signing with Triple Tigers in 2017. The WME client has painstakingly rebuilt his hitmaker status through his music and multiple headlining tours.

In late April, two of McCreery’s heroes, Travis and Josh Turner, welcomed him as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry — with that induction ceremony representing three generations of renowned singers who have remained committed to preserving and furthering country music’s traditional sounds. Joining the lineage of more than 200 artists who have been part of the esteemed Opry family is a nod that keeps McCreery focused on what he does best — writing (and performing) country music.

“I love writing songs. I love sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and a few hours later, you’ve got a piece of art — it’s a sense of accomplishment when you write something you’re proud of,” McCreery says.

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