Q&A: Scotty McCreery
The road from the 10th season of American Idol led straight to a No. 1 debut album for Scotty McCreery, who was 16 when he auditioned for the long-running reality series. With his career solidly established and his band well-seasoned, McCreery is hitting the road for the rest of the year, flying high on the strength of his latest single “Five More Minutes.” McCreery spoke withLas Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen by phone from his home in Raleigh, N.C. ahead of his show at Topgolf on Aug. 24.
You’ve been playing shows throughout the year but you’re about to start a proper tour, right?
Yeah, pretty much. We never really have, unless we’re out with (another act), a straight-up official tour. We pretty much go January through December, mainly weekends. We’re heading out this week for Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. We’ll be out there for a while.
It looks like you’ve got about 21 dates through the rest of the year. What’s your state of mind as you prepare for that first concert in Utah?
That should be a good night. For some reason Utah and me have really gotten along over the last six years or so. They’ve been some of my best shows. We're excited to get back that way. They treat us really good there.
Since the beginning of the year it’s been a lot of special live appearances, including at the Capitol in May for the National Memorial Day Concert. It’s kind of been like a mix of prestige shows and special appearances for the most part, right?
Kind of. It’s just one of those years that’s different than most. Typically it’s not set up that way, but this is how this year worked out. That Washington thing was awesome, singing right there on the front steps of the Capitol building, pretty much on the west lawn. Lot of cool acts there and I got to meet the Tuskegee Airmen. That was a good night.
Do you consider that a top five career landmark?
That’s definitely up there for sure. If we’re going to talk D.C., I had a chance to sing for the president, the First Family, back in … I wanna say 2013, something like. Talk about nerve-wracking. When you’re singing your song, out in the front row is the president, the first lady and the kids … that was a really cool moment. That’s definitely Top Five.
Does it help, going into the touring and playing concerts for rest of the year, that “Five More Minutes” is resonating with your fans? I saw a clip of them singing it back to you and I don't think I ever heard an audience singing back so loud to an artist before.
Yeah, that was pretty cool to see, especially since the song is still pretty much in its infant stages as far as radio goes, at least. We wrote this thing back in 2015 and we’re just finally getting it out there. I don’t know, man. I’ve been doing this, I guess, six or seven years now. A lot of folks done it way longer than that but I’ve never felt anything like this before as far as a response to a song that I put out. People are telling me their stories about who they want five more minutes with, and what they want five more minutes for. It’s just been the coolest thing for me these last couple months. So I’m enjoying it, and obviously it does help shows, for sure.
It strikes me as a song that has staying power. You know like how some songs become No. 1 hits and they disappear, and some kind of like creep under the radar a little bit and then they become classics? This kind of sounds like it’s going to stay. Did it kind of feel like that to you after you wrote it? I know it has a lot personal meaning for you because you're was inspired after the passing of your grandfather, but did you feel like it was kind of a transcendent song that was something more special than you'd already done in the past?
Well first, thanks for the kind words on the song, but you know the day we wrote it I tweeted out, “I think I just wrote my favorite song ever written,” but I don’t think on that moment you can ever know if people will react to it the same way you do. I mean, I know it was special to me but I don't know if … it would mean anything to them. But you know, it’s been a good surprise that everybody’s kind of listening to it, and they’ve got their own person and their own moments they’re thinking of. It’s been really cool to see.
Do you intend to have that on your next album?
Oh, yeah. It will definitely be on the next record. We’re getting that thing put together. We’ve probably got half the record finished and we'll keep keep marching on. We have the songs for the next half. We just have to get the studio and cut them. It’s coming along nicely. We’re excited to put another record out. It's been a little while.
Do you feel pressure to match previous chart successes with this next album? (McCreery’s first two albums topped the country charts and his debut album hit No. 1 the week of its release.)
That’s always there. I'm not going to say you don’t want to one up yourself and try to do better every time. The charts nowadays is so different than they were even when I put my last record out just due to how folks are getting their music, so who knows well what will happen? I'm a competitive guy, even with myself, so I always try to one-up myself.
You’ve talked about changing perspective in a short time. You’ve done a lot in six or seven year, but you went from 17 to 24 during that time. That's a fast evolution. Are you approaching songs differently now? Is your material that we're going to see on the next album going to show us the changing, evolving side of you?
Absolutely. I don't think I’m approaching songs song differently. I just think I’m lived more life than anybody I know in just six or seven years. I mean, for everybody, the gap between 17 and 23 or 24, that’s a lot of life lived there. Finishing up high school, leaving friends and moving out and be on your own, going to college, paying your own bills the first time. There’s a lot of growing up there, so I think it’s just a different subject matter for this record. We’re touching on things we haven’t before. The live songs probably have a little more depth than they’ve had in the past as I’ve got more to talk about, so I’m just kind of growing up a little bit and that is differently going to be showing up on the record.
You do a reverent version of Conway Twitty’s “Hello Darling.” Do you think it’s possible that might show on some kind of recording in the future?
That’s definitely a possibility. It depends on when the time is right for it, but I’d say that's a really good possibility.
That's a really left-field cover and a pleasant surprise to come across, but I read in your book Go Big or Go Home that you've got kind of a history with that song. This artist inspired (Broadway musical) Bye Bye Birdie to some degree, which was an homage to Elvis, who is your initial inspiration. (McCreery also starred as Birdie in a high-school production.) There’s so much wrapped up in you doing “Hello Darlin.’” Did you feel that as you were deciding to record it, like it had a cross-spectrum of meaning for you?
Absolutely. Yeah, it’s one of the songs that was kind of there with me along the whole ride. My mom and sister are huge Conway Twitty fans. We had all their records, so I grew up hearing that song all the time in the house. Then you have Bye Bye Birdie, which was inspired by Conway, although the character had more of an Elvis feel to him. But both of those guys were huge inspirations to me and influences, so when I decided to cover the song it was like you said, a little out of left field for, at that time, a 21-year-old but it’s a song that means something to me and that I love.
What life was like musically in your family’s household? Your grandfather is pretty important to you. Did he have any role in shaping you musically? Was he musical or was it more his character that you kind of carry with you?
With my dad’s dad it was probably more the character. My mom’s dad was really into the music scene and he can play the harmonica like nobody’s business and was really into the traditional country as well. He was almost like Andy Griffith to us. He was a highway patrolman and he was just one of the guys that everybody in the community loved. Yeah, he was a real influence on me music-wise. I listened to a lot of Conway, lot of Ronnie Milsap. Elvis was my guy. My grandma turned me on to him. For a kid growing up in the 1990s, early 2000s it was different, but it was just what the music scene was like for me growing up.
You were 17 when you were first on American Idol. It's a different experience for you than it was for the winners of the first couple of seasons. Do you feel like you grew up with American Idol? Was it kind of always there, kind of ubiquitous, or did it not factor all that much until you decided to sing and enter competitions?
Yeah, you’re spot on. I grew up with it. I was a fan that that was calling in and voting for folks too. I watched a little but of season one, not the whole thing, but season two, the runner-up was from Raleigh, and the whole community was supporting him and watching. From season two on I watched that show every season. It was watching season nine that made me go, “Yeah, you know, I want to give that a shot one day.” It's definitely a show that grew up with me, and it was kind of family time for us. Every week we’d have two days when the family would get together, put the phones away.
So American Idol has always been a family affair for you.
Yeah, it’s was a big deal for us growing up so it was kind of cool and almost poetic that that’s where I got my start.
Do you give much of an opportunity to combine your passions for music and golf the way you will with your upcoming Vegas show? Are you going to be able to experience Topgolf while you're here?
Rarely are they that connected, but I do try to at least play golf a lot of the days when I’m on the road. You find out where one of the nice courses is at for different shows we’re playing, but rarely is my show at a golf spot, so looking forward to getting to Topgolf and having a unique kind of show.
What do you shoot?
This year I've shot anywhere from 74 to 90. Handicap-wise I’m like a seven to a 12, pretty much. Depends on the day.