Abe Stoklasa is one of five songwriters profiled in the 2016 MusicRow Publisher Issue. He achieved his first No. 1 single with Chris Lane’s “Fix” this year, along with cuts from numerous artists including Tim McGraw, Billy Currington, David Nail and Charles Kelley. Dierks Bentley and Eric Paslay were also featured on Kelley’s “The Driver,” which earned the performers a Grammy nomination this past year.
Bonus Q&A from Stoklasa’s print feature is below. To hear Stoklasa’s experience with streaming royalties and if he ever plans to release his own album, pick up a copy of MusicRow’s Publisher Issue print magazine.
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MusicRow: How did it feel to see Charles’ recording of “The Driver” receive that Grammy nomination?
Stoklasa: I feel like I can say I have a Grammy-nominated song, although I’m not a Grammy-nominated songwriter. We were in Charleston, I think, when I heard the news. I woke up like, “I’ve never had so many notifications in my feed in my life, what’s going on?!”
What other proud career moments stand out?
For a long time “Beginning of Things” was my favorite song that I was very proud of. I wrote it with Donovan Woods, and Charlie Worsham just cut it. It’s so songwriter-y, in that there are two or three levels and meanings to the lyrics that you will not get on one or two listens, which is a fun puzzle to put together. The whole story is made up with some influences in real life, but it was just an exercise in a certain way to be Shakespearean in a way. But I would feel confident handing that to Paul Simon, and I wouldn’t do that with any of my other songs.
What significance did your first cut have on you?
A year passed after I signed with Big Yellow Dog before my first cut (“Portland, Maine”), which came two weeks before my second and third (Blake Shelton and Lady Antebellum). I looked awesome for a day! I was most proud that they were outside cuts. Those artists didn’t know me. Especially the Tim McGraw song was so out of left field. You’re taught you have to get to know the artist and all that BS. It was nice to prove a song can be good enough.
Discuss your musical inspirations.
I pretty much totally missed the 90s. I had a very sheltered listening experience growing up. I never got to pick the radio stations and never had my own CD player. My dad feels like the only music in the world that exists is country music from 1950-1975. I know every decade of music pretty thoroughly, except my own.
I will always love Merle Haggard and Elvis. James Taylor, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder—anything Motown—just pleased my ear so much when I finally started venturing out. I studied everything in their catalogs and wanted to be like them. Since then, I’ve grown into Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon.
Lately, I ended up getting to write with Mike Reid. He was amazing. It took us four times getting together to write one song and we talked about life most of the time. He’s a philosopher. We definitely connected and have similar outlooks on life and ways of coping with existence. Mark D. Sanders was another of those spectacular songwriters I’ve gotten to write with.
Who is in your writing circle?
I have a very small writing circle that I feel like I was in the trenches with, although some had a lot of success way before I came along. I think every song Donovan Woods and I have written together has been cut so far, which is crazy. Sarah Buxton is another one I’ve had success with. Daniel Tashian, Jesse Frasure, Charles Kelley and Mark Trussell.
Who have been champions of you outside of your family?
If it wasn’t for Carla Wallace, I don’t know where I’d be. She had faith early on and was unabashed about it. Kerry O’Neil always has our backs. Even if it has nothing to do with Big Yellow Dog, he knows as much about everything as anyone else and offers advice. Laura [Wright] Alexander got me my first two cuts ever (“Portland, Maine” and Blake’s “A Girl”). She was pitching songs that weren’t “smashes” but just great songs.
And artists like Billy Currington. He was the first person to care about my songwriting. David Nail is a good friend, we don’t even have to talk about music. We both experienced a lot of firsts together on a tour bus. Charles Kelley has always been like a brother to me. He’s an amazing writer. We’ve written songs other people have cut… and he likes to cut my songs!
Do you feel any certain pressure to write to radio? Some of your cuts seem more complex than what is usually featured on air.
Except “Fix” (laughs). Any pressure I feel [to write a radio hit] would be self-imposed. I don’t feel pressure from my publisher. I can always tour if I needed money. But I do want radio hits, so I definitely try to write them and have spent a lot of time investing in trying to write Dallas Davidson songs or Craig Wiseman songs and there’s a reason I’ve failed, because I’m not them. I’ve found my skill-set and, more importantly, how it can be new to the marketplace.
Pick up a copy of the MusicRow Publisher Issue to read the full feature on Abe Stoklasa.
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