What Does a Nashville Songwriter Think About “Try That In a Small Town”?
It’s not what you might think
By kncitom on August 2, 2023
Songwriters often talk about “writing what’s in the room”. It describes what happens when 3 or 4 of them sit down to collaborate on a song. They may have a particular idea, or even just a feeling, and suddenly the words and melody will start to flow.
Nashville songwriter Sherrie Austin has had a storied career, writing songs for artists like George Strait, Trace Adkins and Blake Shelton. She’s been in those rooms. She’s helped write those songs, including Tim McGraw’s #1 hit, Shotgun Rider. And when asked of her opinion on the controversy surrounding Jason Aldean’s latest hit, Try That in a Small Town- as I interviewed her for my latest Write You a Song podcast- she suggests that maybe that’s simply what was “in the room” that day.
“I know those guys,” she said, referring to writers Kelly Lovelace, Neil Thrasher (both guests on previous podcasts), Tully Kennedy and Kurt Allison. “They’re great guys. I don’t know what muse was in the room that day, or what they were discussing, but whatever it was, it felt real to them, it felt true to them.”
Austin was neither defending them nor taking them to task. She acknowledged that talking about it was difficult, “…because you can’t say anything anymore without upsetting someone“. But she did have some thoughts, and she offered them tactfully, and respectfully.
Songwriters write literally thousands of songs over the course of their careers. All four writers on Try That in a Small Town have been part of other hits, ranging from feel good songs about inclusiveness, like Brad Paisley’s American Saturday Night (Lovelace), sentimental, like Kenny Chesney’s There Goes my Life (Thrasher), torch burners like Carrie Underwood and Jason Aldean’s If I Didn’t Love You (Kennedy) to good old fashioned country heartache, like Aldean’s Trouble With a Heartbreak (Allison). And, songwriters talk about the constant need to try writing a hit- it’s more critical than ever as the industry moves further away from albums and emphasizes singles. Because of that, writers will often chase themes that seem to have the broadest appeal. That’s why there are a lot of songs about love, summertime, beaches and drinking. Nearly everyone loves those things. I know I do.
But Try That in a Small Town isn’t that. It’s a dark, brooding song. And for Austin, there must have been a reason.
To date, none of the writers have commented publicly on the song, but Austin speculates there had to have been some kind of discussion ahead of time. “I don’t think you just walk in and write that song. There must have been some emotion that day, because the song feels very emotional.” And, she says, it’s not just the lyrics. “you can feel it in the melody and in the groove that there is real frustration in it. And that’s what they were feeling.” And while Austin says she’s more apt to write a song about buying a beer for someone she disagrees with, she points out that the controversy surrounding Try That in a Small Town doesn’t have to be a bad thing, “...if it starts a conversation. Just, try to keep a lid on it.”
And, that, I think, is something most all of us can agree on.
The next Write You a Song, with Sherrie Austin, drops Friday August 4th