Late last year, popular actor Luke Grimes signed a record deal with UMG Nashville and Range Music, and announced he would soon release country music.
Grimes was no stranger to the country community. Widely known for his role as Kayce Dutton on hit show Yellowstone, he had become associated with the TV show known for breaking new country and Americana artists and songs.
While he had mentioned his love of music in interviews over the years, country music fans and executives wondered what to make of the 39-year-old singing actor. Grimes was all too aware of that stereotype, and it became something he had to overcome in his own mind.
Raised in Ohio, Grimes grew up the son of a Pentecostal pastor. He played music in church, learning drums at church camp then next picking up guitar and piano. When he moved to Los Angeles, he even became a drummer and songwriter for a country band, but acting soon found its way to the forefront of his career.
At some point, Grimes reconnected with music while at home in Montana. Inspired by artists such as Colter Wall, Ruston Kelly, Paul Cauthen and the late Townes Van Zandt, he began exploring the musical offerings he could bring. Eventually, through some friends in Nashville, Grimes connected with Range Music’s Matt Graham about his music.
With encouragement from Graham, Grimes started pursuing a country music career. After taking his first label meeting with UMG, he signed with the company.
“They have a lot of people that I look up to and love. Chris Stapleton and George Strait are the GOATs,” Grimes tells MusicRow of his deal. “I was coming in pretty green about anyone in the business. I didn’t know anyone there. All I knew was the music that they’ve put out.”
Admittedly, an artist with Grimes’ profile could take their music wherever they wanted. As evident with artists such as Zach Bryan and others, country music stardom doesn’t always have to come out of Nashville. But for Grimes, it was important that he join the Music City community.
“Honestly, I probably didn’t have to come here, but I think the quality of the product would’ve suffered,” he says. “I don’t have any ego about how much of something I do on my own—clearly the other thing that I do is very much a team sport. [But with my music] I had an opportunity to work with some of the best writers in the world here. Why wouldn’t I do that?”
His first few releases included “No Horse To Ride” and “Hold On,” which Grimes says received mixed reactions from country music fans.
“There are people that are being very open-minded to it,” he says. “They’re allowing their minds to be open to the music. And then there’s definitely people who are on the other side of the fence, saying, ‘Why is this guy doing this? He already has a job. There’s enough people making really good music.’
“I understand that. At the end of the day, all I can do is approach it with as much love and honesty as possible and hope that people can relate to it,” Grimes says. “I got the opportunity and I knew that if I didn’t try, I would really regret it one day. Music—especially country, folk and Americana music—has been so important to me. If I hadn’t done it because I was afraid of the judgment, the workload or the stage fright… one day I would have regretted it.”
Once Grimes’ path was set, he soon found himself in writing rooms with some of the best of Music Row, such as Jonathan Singleton, Tony Lane, Hillary Lindsey, Randy Montana, Brent Cobb, Jamey Johnson, Lori McKenna, Josh Osborne, Liz Rose, Jon Randall and Jessi Alexander. Though he had written songs alone and co-written a bit in his band, Grimes was nervous to write with country music hitmakers.
“I was very intimidated. [I learned] pretty quickly that I shouldn’t be, because they’re the coolest, nicest people around.
“I’ve only been doing this for the past year, but it seems like the good souls here tend to do really well. They’re those team players. They know how to make a room feel really comfortable to be creative,” Grimes says. “I’m blown away by the community on Music Row.”
After dropping a few singles, Grimes started recording his eight-song EP Pain Pills Or Pews, which is out today (Oct. 20).
To help him craft his own, unique sound, Grimes worked with Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Dave Cobb. Working through his intimidation of recording with the studio giant, Grimes found Cobb’s diversion to non-organic sounds the perfect push for his artistry.
“He’s in his own orbit. He doesn’t like computers. He doesn’t like tuning. He doesn’t like any of that stuff,” Grimes says. “[Had I worked with another producer], I would’ve wanted the help. I would have been like, ‘Give me all the tuning and computers,’ because I would’ve been afraid and wanted to cover up. I was in good hands with Dave.”
Grimes’ Pain Pills Or Pews EP features tracks that are highly personal to him, including the fan favorite “No Horse to Ride,” the recently released “Burn” and one of his personal favorites, “Ain’t Dead Yet,” amongst others. He says the latter and “Playing On The Tracks” were the most fun to write.
“Both of those writes were really memorable days. Both of those days I met really good new friends. Brent Cobb and Aaron Raitiere [who co-wrote ‘Ain’t Dead Yet’] have become really good friends of mine,” Grimes says.
“[For Playing On The Tracks,] about an hour and a half in, Brent and I start talking about how we both loved Nirvana unplugged growing up—and how that almost sounded country compared to the rest of Nirvana’s stuff. We were like, ‘What if instead of being from the Pacific Northwest, Kurt Cobain was from Kentucky.'”
On another song, “Oh Ohio,” Grimes, Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall tackled his upbringing.
“Everyone’s got a song about their hometown. Usually, they’re positive,” he says. “I’m a little older and I have been away from home for over 20 years. A lot has changed. I’ve been around the world and I’ve probably grown past where I come from more than I wanted to—because I kind of had to. That song was hard to write because it wasn’t always pretty, even though there’s love there.”
Something that Grimes has gleaned throughout the last year is the strength of the country music community.
“In this industry, it feels like if you win and I win, then everybody wins,” he says. “It’s about the town and the genre. The music is the star. It feels more like a family.”
Ultimately, Grimes is honored to be given the chance to make country music.
“I’m just so thrilled and happy to be here. I am real appreciative that I get this opportunity. I’m first and foremost a huge fan.”
- Nate Smith Tops MusicRow Chart With ‘World On Fire’ - December 1, 2023
- Mark Your Calendar—December 2023 - December 1, 2023
- Industry Ink: Clint Black, Moe Bandy, Cassadee Pope - November 30, 2023