Tucker Beathard's tunes are finely textured and—dare we say it—often quite deep. That's crazy, considering he's only 21. His song "Rock On" is currently climbing country charts; it's about an ex-girlfriend who's making it big out West, while the narrator languishes back home, lamenting that he should have put a "rock on."
Beathard has been somewhat groomed for his current position. His father Casey Beathard is a veteran Nashville songwriter who's helped pen hits like Eric Church's 2011 ballad "Homeboy," which, as it turns out, is about Tucker, who was once a troubled teen who loved hip-hop. The Beathard family is, in fact, crammed with superstars—Tucker's great-uncle was an NFL quarterback, his grandfather an NFL general manager, and his brother C.J. is the current starting quarterback for the University of Iowa.
Tucker himself was offered a college baseball scholarship, but passed it up in favor of persuing music. He started off as drummer and now boasts understated guitar chops and just-twangy-enough pipes, along with the world's most heartbreaking song about love and football, called "20-10 Tennessee." It's wonderful, and it appears on his first EP, The Demos - Vol. 1, released last year. He's also signed to Big Machine, making him labelmates with Taylor Swift. Tucker's full-length debut is currently in the works.
In the meantime, though, the young singer-songwriter is touring with Dierks Bentley (the "Somewhere on a Beach" guy), and just generally blowing folks' minds with his catalog of heartbreak-heavy tunes. When we met at a suburban St. Louis pub, Tucker appeared in a cockeyed trucker hat and short, tattoo-revealing sleeves. Later that night, his show at PBR St. Louis—the second of two gigs in town—would be cancelled due to rain. Before that, though, we sat down for thin-crust pizza at The Brew House to talk family and football, and cover everyone from Swift and Beyoncé to Blink-182 and Steve Earle.
With so much football in your family, how did baseball become your sport?
I played football just as much as baseball, but because of my smaller size baseball was something I could take to the next level. My brother is a good amount bigger than I am. I don't know where he came from. I still think he was adopted or something. [Laughs]
"20-10 Tennessee" is an amazing song. How did you come up with the idea for it?
I just wanted to do something different. The guy I wrote it with, Phil O'Donnell, knows nothing about football. We decided to take on the idea of comparing a football game to a relationship, and making it as weird as possible. My Dad is on that song as well. We work great together.
It doesn't seem that weird to me.
I just don't think it's an idea that's been taken on before. The guy makes up excuses to talk to the girl, but the song is a metaphor for how their relationship is going. If you follow SEC football, Tennessee is never that good. For Tennessee to beat Alabama, it's nothing short of a miracle.
What do you think makes for a good country song?
I think the bottom line is, it should be about relatable stuff—stuff that's real shit. How moving can it be when you're just talking about a girl in cut-off jeans and a tailgate? That's good for when people are drunk at a concert and just want to party, but it's not going to make a lasting impact.
You've said you didn't listen to much country growing up, and have cited Blink-182 as a big influence.
That album Enema of the State was one of the first albums I ever bought. It kind of opened up my world. As a teenager who felt kind of like an outcast, I related to it, and it led me to want to impact people just like they impacted me. If it weren't for Blink-182, I never would have picked up a guitar, never started coming up with riffs. I never would have wanted to be a singer.
Do you want to get out of the Nashville system at some point?
I never want to limit myself. I just want to make music that I like, and wherever it fits, it fits. Music is music; you don't have to put a title on it.
Do you believe there was a Nashville backlash against Taylor Swift when she branched out?
I don't think so. Because she left such a big mark in country music already—she kind of exceeded it. I think Taylor is a true artist, and any true artist will tell you your biggest concern is just to make music you like, to be creative.
You were talking about feeling like an outcast. Is Eric Church's song "Homeboy" really all about your life, or is that kind of overblown?
It's overblown, to some extent. Yeah, I was kind of lost and got into things, but...
I know you've got tattoos like the character in the song. Did you ever have gold teeth?
Nah, nothing like that. [Blushing] It's blown out of proportion, exaggerated. I never wanted anyone to know about that, either.
Were you mad at your dad for writing it?
No, I was mad at whoever I spilled the beans to, that the [song was about me]. I think I told my publisher or something, and it was made into some big story, like, a selling point.
I know you were 19 when you wrote "Rock On," and you weren't—and aren't—planning to get married anytime soon. Was it inspired by an actual girl? Does everyone ask you this?
Yeah, everybody does! But it really wasn't. It was just a hook that I thought of. I thought, "I might as well turn it into something."
Did the Beyoncé line If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it play in? Does everyone ask that too?
[Laughs] No, but I've heard that. No, for me, "Rock On" has almost like teenage angst in the chorus. It's like someone's telling you that you can't do something. It's basically a "screw you," pissed-off kind of thing, which makes it feel good to me.
Do you know Steve Earle's music?
Yeah, I love Steve Earle.
I knew it! I heard a Steve Earle vibe in some of your songs.
Yeah, that's some of the best country you can get. He says it like it is. He has simple ways of telling what needs to be said. I like his song "Someday," which has that line: My brother went to college 'cause he played football / I'm still hanging 'round cause I'm a little bit small.
You related to that, maybe. And yeah, he kind of started out in the Nashville machine, but came out and became his own man.
Exactly. I think that's pretty cool.
Tucker Beathard's The Demos - Vol. 1 is out now. Catch him on the road through September with Dierks Bentley. For tickets and show info, visit his website.