Newcomer Joel Crouse's debut album, “Even The River Runs,” drops today (August 19), so the singer-songwriter recently sat down with Nashville Edge to chat about being kicked off of street corners in Nashville, his commitment issues in the romance department and a certain red dress that is very special to him. (It’s really not what you think.)
His Show Dog-Universal Music debut album, Joel explains, was made over about a three year period. “I started writing it when I was 17 and we finished it up when I was 20," he says. "I’m 22 now, and I’m so happy that it’s finally getting put out there.”
The pastor’s son grew up in Holland, Massachusetts, a small New England farming town of about 25,000 people. He was raised on country music thanks to his Alabama-native grandfather, who bought Joel his first guitar at 13 years old and rooted in him a deep appreciation for iconic country greats.
Soo apparently back home I've got my own sandwich ... Which rocks. Thank you Micknucks! pic.twitter.com/HAXANi8Hwh— Joel Crouse (@JoelCrouse) August 8, 2014
“He was always playing Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard – a lot of the Outlaws – and my sister introduced me to Keith Urban. He [Keith] was a really big influence of mine,” Joel explains.
A sensitive, old-soul songteller in his own right, Joel was drawn to country music by the lyrics long before he made the move to Nashville.
“Any song has the ability to move anyone emotionally … that makes it a really great song,” he shares. “I dig it when people can really follow through with that emotion in the tune.”
When he was 15 years old and still living in Massachusetts, Joel started his first band. Initially, “my songs sucked for a really, really long time,” he laughs. But, two years later, he started visiting (and writing) in Nashville.
“I would stay in these awful hotels just outside of the airport – hourly rate motels – it was rough,” Joel says of those early trips south. “My dad and I would stay here a couple months at a time, until I turned 18. Then I got my own place here – a very, very small place – and shared it with a friend of mine. I slept on the floor for a year and a half. It was fun.”
Not yet legal to play in Nashville's lower Broadway bars, Joel would instead perform in the shadows of the neon hued honky-tonks for pocket change. “I got kicked out of a couple of people’s streets … their territory,” he jokes. “But I used to play on the corners just for dinner money. I wasn’t homeless, but I really didn’t have much. That helped me pay for gas and some food.”
Joel signed his record deal in 2011. His debut single "If You Want Some," a co-write with BMI Songwriter of the Year Luke Laird and hit-making producer Jamie Houston, premiered in Feb. 2013, but stalled in the 30s on the national airplay charts. A second single, "That's Why God Made Love Songs," also failed to catch fire at radio, peaking in the 50s.
Now, he's set to take another run at radio with his third single, “Don’t Tell Me." The infectious tune has been already featured on television this past May on the CW drama series “Hart of Dixie."
“I was doing a show when it premiered [on TV] and it was funny because at the show I was like, ‘Right now my song is premiering and I hope it’s going well.’ It was my first TV placement, so it was pretty awesome,” he beams.
“I decided to open the album with it just because the song opens up with a snare hit and it goes right into the tune,” he shares. “What better way to go into a record?”
Announced over burritos at a local Nashville Chipotle, Joel spilled the beans on his “Even The River Runs” album via social media in late June. Having co-written all 10-songs on the album, Joel is “exposing a lot” for the first time, he says. However, it doesn't appear any tunes inspired by his reportedly short-lived romance with fellow country music newcomer Lucy Hale made the cut, especially since the album was likely long finished before they met.
“The whole album is pretty biographical in that sense … about different experiences that I’ve been through,” he says. "'Slow Motion' is a song about me getting intimate for the first time. 'Even The River Runs,' the album title, is about me leaving Massachusetts and going to Nashville. 'Don’t Tell Me,' my [new] single, is about the first time I ever got drunk and didn’t call my girlfriend.” He adds, “I’m just kind of exposing everything about me throughout this whole album.”
On his banjo-laden tracks, you’d be easily convinced that Joel was just a good ole’ country boy. In other songs, however, he showcases a bluesy grit laced with the vintage rock of yesteryear.
“I close [the album] out with a song called ‘I Never Said I Was In Love’ and, in passing ... I’ve said it’s about my commitment issues,” he says simply. “I laugh about it, but its what the song’s about ... and it’s true."
“I guess it was just [my plan] to leave it with something that hits the heart a little harder than usual, and just close it out with something heavy, because the whole record’s fun,” Joel says of the piano-ballad finale, ”I Never Said I Was In Love.” “There’s a lot of ups and downs, a lot of fun times throughout the whole album, but I think it’s cool to end it with something heavy. And hopefully [fans] get excited for the second one.”
Despite his own wardrobe must-have – a certain grey beanie – his personal favorite track on “Even The River Runs” is “Ruby Puts Her Red Dress On.”
“That’s been one of my favorite songs that I’ve written, ‘cause it’s actually a story that has nothing to do with me personally,” Joel details. “At the time [of writing] I had two friends that were in Afghanistan. Another buddy of mine had lost his wife a few years back, and so there was all these different types of emotions going on."
“We were just throwing out the title: ‘Ruby,’ ‘Ruby’s Red Dress,’ ‘Ruby Puts Her Red Dress On,’ and it turned into, 'What do people do when they miss loved ones?' They try to do things that remind them of those people."
“And so, it’s a song about this girl who kinda keeps it together in front of her friends and family, but when she’s alone she becomes very vulnerable – puts on the red dress that he always told her that she looked beautiful in – and dances to their song by herself. It’s sad, but I really love this track. I love the melody of the song, the guitars, and lyrically … I think it’s really cool.”
Another girl we all know in a red dress has also made quite an impact on this rising country artist: Taylor Swift.
"She plays an important role in who ends up opening for her on tour, and I’d just released my first single, 'If You Want Some,'" Joel explains of landing a spot on her "Red Tour" a couple of years back. "I got this call two winters ago and my manager goes, 'We’re booked [for] 16 stadium dates with Taylor Swift's 'Red Tour.' I thought he was joking."
"I'm in Fort Wayne, Indiana, at this sushi place in February – nowhere – freaking out, and the whole experience was just incredible. I really gained a lot of fans from that tour," he smiles. "Loyal fans that are very excited about my album coming out. It was definitely a blessing to be on tour with her."
Joel has also been in the opening spot on prime tours with Toby Keith, the Band Perry and his "big-brother": Darius Rucker. "There’s a few people that I keep in touch with to bounce ideas off of – pretty much the two of them are Darius Rucker, and I got close with Ed Sheeran (on the 'Red Tour') – and you know, Taylor gave me some advice, as well," Joel shares.
"It's cool when established artists take the time to really help someone out who used to be in their position ... and they remember that."
"But then again, I run into people like Randy Houser and Lee Brice and Joe Nichols. All of those guys have been through different ups-and-downs in their career, and they're always really concerned and asking, 'How’s it going?' 'How can I help?' It's been cool that this community has been so nice in reaching out."
Darius, who Joel does an estimated "15 to 20 shows" with each year, gave him sound advice the first time that Joel played the legendary Grand Ole Opry on May 11, 2013. "He told me just make sure that you do everything that you can to soak up that first time, because you won't get it back. And I remember it, but it's one of those things that I can’t fully describe because it happened so fast. Yet, it was definitely an experience I won't ever forget."
Joel has appeared at the Opry "about 10 times now," and the Opry is even hosting his album release tonight with two performances and an album signing prior to the show.
"It's gonna be sweet," he says. "The Opry’s been really, really great to me over the last year and a half, from when I first started playing there. They’re hosting my album release, so I'm getting to sign there and then doing two shows with an incredible line-up: Carrie Underwood, Trace Adkins, Terri Clark, Craig Morgan, Sam Hunt ... so it's really just going to be a wicked fun night. And I get to debut my record."
In October, Joel will be joining Love and Theft during their 25-city fall "Night That You'll Never Forget Tour" in select cities. He most recently made a cameo in the duo's music video for "Night That You'll Never Forget," the lead single off of their third studio album.
"What's a night I've never forgotten? Besides my Opry debut, I think the coolest experience I've had musically at a show was on May 28, 2013," Joel recalls. "It was our first night on the Taylor Swift 'Red Tour' in Glendale, Arizona, and we’re about to walk onstage and the place is packed – it’s an arena – and her fans aren’t old enough to tailgate, so everyone’s actually there [in their seat]. And so, lights go down and the place just erupts and they don’t even know who we are – I mean, they just know someone is about to come out and play music. I just got chills."
"It was just the coolest experience to just walk on that stage for the first time and play them my songs – which ... were all new to them. But they all went and downloaded the songs afterwards. I did play 'Someone Like You’ by Adele and heard that whole crowd sing it back to me. That was just a magical moment."
If you check out "Even The River Runs," you're not going to find the drunken party-anthems that are being blared at tailgates, but you will find raw, impassioned talent. And isn't that all we can really hope to hear from a young artist?