Country Next: Brandon Ratcliff
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with Brandon Ratcliff.
Brandon Ratcliff; Photo by Matt Berinato
Brandon Ratcliff is no stranger to the music scene. The talented singer/songwriter, who hails from Cotton Valley, Louisiana, is the son of Suzanne Cox, a member of the legendary Cox Family bluegrass band. Even though Ratcliff grew up in a musical home, his passion for music didn’t develop right away. After spending some time in college, he realized Nashville was the place where he truly needed to be.
Ratcliff made his way to Music City in 2014, where he met his songwriting crew and close buddies, Pete Good and AJ Babcock. Together, the trio, along with the help of the late Busbee (Maren Morris, Keith Urban), started writing songs, including Ratcliff’s first radio single, “Rules of Breaking Up,” which has racked up more than 32 million worldwide streams to date.
Now, Ratcliff returns with his newest single “Slow Down Hometown,” which features backing vocals by family friend and award-winning singer, Alison Krauss, and pays homage to the quaint community in which he was raised. Ratcliff co-wrote “Slow Down Hometown,” with Good, Babcock, and Grammy-award winning producer Shane McAnally as a way to address the similarities between leaving one’s hometown and recalling an old-flame.
“It’s almost like you and your town is like you in a relationship,” Ratcliff tells Country Now. “It’s just like anybody else. Towns, just like people, move on, and they grow.”
Ratcliff, who is currently working on his forthcoming debut album with McAnally at the helm, caught up with Country Now to talk all about his new single, his tribe of writers and the nostalgia he feels whenever he visits his hometown.
Read on for our exclusive Q&A with Brandon Ratcliff.
Melinda Lorge: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in country music?
Brandon Ratcliff: It was a few years into college. I was doing the same thing that every 20-year-old college person does – trying to figure out what to do and what not to do. It was my dad who had a conversation with me. He’s not really on the dreamer or musician side of the family, but he was the one who pushed me. He told me, “This is what you are made to do. Life is about pursuing your passion and doing what you love.” That’s when it dawned on me that this is what I was meant to do. So I moved to Nashville about five years ago to write songs, and begin that journey.
Lorge: How about your mom? How did she shape you as an artist growing up?
Ratcliff: I don’t know if it was something she was very intentional with, but she exposed my brother and me to so much great music growing up. The 30-minute minivan rides to my high school was when my mom was just playing all kinds of classics for us, and everything she grew up listening to. I loved it what they played in their band, which always affected me. But, for me, it was my mom showing us her favorites, like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and anybody else from the ’80s.
Lorge: I also read that John Mayer is one of your big influences.
Ratcliff: I always tell people my uncle Sidney [Cox], and my mom were the ones who planted the seed of songwriters in my blood, but John Mayer and Eric Church were the guys who made me want to write music. When I first heard “In Your Atmosphere,” I was like, “Man, I want to write songs. That’s what I’ve been called to do.” Songwriting is what inevitably moved me to Nashville too. I always tell people that songwriting is the thing that kind of fuels my artistry. Without it, I don’t know what I would do.
Lorge: Tell me about your current single, “Slow Down Hometown.”
Ratcliff: I wrote it with Pete Good, AJ Babcock and Shane McAnally. Pete had the idea for this song. He had mentioned it to me and called it, “Hometown Slow Down.” At first, we thought it sounded like a party song. Then, the more I started thinking about it, we were like, “What if we [changed the title] to ‘Slow Down Hometown?’ and personified that place, and talked about it like a relationship and what that is with the beauty, the sadness, the pain and all the joy? The place that is yours, and then not yours anymore.”
Lorge: How has the fan response for that song been so far?
Ratcliff: When I wrote this song, I thought it was almost too specific to my life. I wasn’t sure people would understand what I was talking about with that feeling of going back to your hometown and noticing how things have distinctively changed. It’s been so cool, when I’m on the road I meet people who are like, “I know that feeling about your hometown, and what it’s like to go back and feel that.” It’s the coolest thing in the world to see that connection with people all across the country that feel that same way. It goes to show you that small town USA is everywhere.
Lorge: When you go back to Cotton Valley, is it difficult to nurture the same friendships as someone who has stepped out of that world now?
Ratcliff: Oh, yea. We had friends who came to visit this weekend, and we were trying to coerce them into moving to Nashville. We were talking about that same conversation – about going back home and how it’s so different now, everything down to the people. I’ll go home, and all of my high school friends are gone. Everybody I knew has grown up. A lot of the older people have grown up, people have passed away, or moved on. A lot of things are bittersweet. It’s such a great place to grow up. But, It’s not the same as it was. I think a lot of people feel that same way. A new chapter needs to be started when you grow up, move into adulthood, and start your own life. You can either leave behind the one you were writing or stay in it. I think, for me, the only option was to leave it behind.
Lorge: So you moved to Nashville in 2014. What were your first few months here like?
Ratcliff: It’s interesting. When you get to Nashville, you are starting from ground zero. You usually start by going to writer’s rounds, and other random things if you happen to know somebody. When I got here, the only person I knew was Alison Krauss, which is a good person to know. But, she’s not super into the Nashville writing community. She did introduce me to some publishers to get me started. Luckily, through that, I started meeting people one by one, and eventually, I built up a network of people. It’s a period of finding yourself and searching for those people, but also you’re searching for that inner voice inside of you. That thing that’s like, “What is it that I want to say? What is it that I’m drawn to?” It was meeting Pete [Good] and AJ [Babcock] that answered some of those questions that had never been answered for me.
Lorge: So it sounds like you are really close with your co-writers then.
Ratcliff: My situation with my co-writers is not really a normal, typical Nashville system. Most of Nashville songwriting is a little bit of a speed-dating process. You write three times a week, usually with different combinations of people. But for me, I was just really fortunate enough to find those guys early on. Years ago, I heard someone say, “Songwriting is all about finding your tribe, and your crew, so you can find your voice.” Three years into being in Nashville, Pete [Good], and AJ [Babcock], what we started doing in the room kind of became my artistry. We always joke about it, that it feels like a band within an artist. Then Shane McAnally, who we have on “Slow Down Hometown,” is perfect for a song like this.
Lorge: Is Shane McAnally also producing your next album?
Ratcliff: Yeah, he co-produced the record that we just finished with Pete [Good]. But yeah, Shane is the man. He’s such an amazing friend, co-writer and creator. Honestly, I’ve never worked with someone who carries such weight as far as inspiration and motivation goes. When he’s in the writer’s room, he sends this wave of inspiration throughout the room. It gives us this natural juice that I, Pete and AJ [Babcock], already have in our writer group, but he gives us that extra validation and confidence that we always needed but never had before him. A lot of times, when you’re doing things differently in Nashville, there’s not a lot of people who are willing to say something is cool before everybody else. Shane is the kind of guy who is willing to die on the hill for something he believes in. That, to me, is the best attribute I could say about Shane.
Lorge: What’s next for you?
Ratcliff: Right now, we’re in a real phase of planning for the rest of the year, and the next year. The songs we’ve released thus far are part of a larger project that we’ve already recorded and written. Hopefully, we will get a few more of these songs out. If not, then hopefully have the record out by the end of the year or early next year. I’m really excited for people to sing along to all of the new stuff.
Lorge: Is there a song on your upcoming project that you can’t wait to get out?
Ratcliff: Yeah! There are two of them, and the first one is called “See Me Like This.” There’s a live version of it that’s already out. That song encapsulates what I love about music the best. It’s a well-written song with great phrasing, melodies, and musicality. It [shows] who I am as an artist. The other song is called “Sometimes Always Never.” Since the day we wrote that one, it has been everyone in my whole camp’s absolute favorite song. So we have been impatiently waiting for it to come out. Fingers crossed it will be out soon.
Melinda Lorge is a Nashville-based freelance writer who specializes in covering country music. Along with Country Now, her work has appeared in publications, including Rare Country, Rolling Stone Country, Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, Wide Open Country and more. After joining Rare Country in early 2016, Lorge was presented with the opportunity to lead coverage on late-night television programs, including “The Voice” and “American Idol,” which helped her to sharpen her writing skills even more. Lorge earned her degree at Middle Tennessee State University, following the completion of five internships within the country music industry. She has an undeniable love for music and entertainment. When she isn’t living and breathing country music, she can be found enjoying time outdoors with family and friends.