“In a lot of ways I’m still the kid I was / Just a little less Jack in my cup / Oh, I guess I’m growing up,” sings Thomas Rhett in the chorus of “Growing Up,” one of the tracks on his just-released Country Again: Side A.
While he’s known for singing nostalgic songs that look back at his personal past and how far he’s come, Rhett sums up the passage of time as simply and powerfully as ever in his new album, which is the first of a double project (Side B will arrive later in the year.)
“Every few years it’s like…I wake up and I’m like, ‘Gosh, dude, you’re getting old. You are wearing a front swaddle with your kid on the beach. You have officially moved into a different level of dad-ness,’” the singer recently recounted to Country Now and other outlets, speaking about the inspiration behind “Growing Up.”
“I notice every few years, there are certain things in my lifestyle that change,” he continues. “I think a lot of my fan base has been with me since I was 19, and I think a lot of people relate to that song, because we can all go back into our 19-year-old selves and remember how dumb we were, but all of the sudden you’re 25, married with three kids, and you’ve gotta grow up.”
The track list of Country Again: Side A reflects that maturity. Sure, there are party tracks sprinkled in, like “Put in On Ice” — a duet with HARDY– but the majority of the album’s lyrics grapple with a shifting of priorities, a move towards more meaningful, substantive relationships and a renewed sense of the importance of family ties.
There’s “To the Guys That Date My Girls,” a reflective look ahead at what life might be like once Rhett’s three daughters are teenagers and high school boyfriends start knocking on his door. Then, there’s the title track, which finds Rhett getting back to important pastimes he hasn’t always made time for, such as hunting with his dad and hanging out with his childhood friends.
Rhett says that in part, the album was formed by the shutdowns that took place in 2020. It was during that downtime that he finally slowed down enough to revisit his roots and realize that he’d lost touch with some of the places and activities that make him who he is.
“With the year we had in 2020, I think a lot of us were forced to not do what we do for a living, and forced to slow down, and forced to really recognize — ‘What are your blessings in life?’ ‘What are you grateful for?’” he explains. “For me, that was my family. For me, that was the outdoors, getting outside again: Going fishing again, going hunting again, going out West and hiking with my family. Those are the things that I used to love to do so much and then life just kinda got in the way.”
That doesn’t mean that it was easy for Rhett to set aside his life routine. He admits that when the first show cancellations started rolling in, back in early spring 2020, his first response was to panic.
“I was freaking out because I did not know what to do. I was like, ‘We’re supposed to be in rehearsal. We’re supposed to be on the road. We’re supposed to be doing this,’” Rhett remembers. “And my wife was like, ‘Honey, you just have to realize that you can’t do this right now. So maybe why don’t you just take a step back and live some life, and then go try to write again?’ So I literally didn’t write a song for almost two months, which is the longest I’ve ever gone, I think, in my whole life. And when I came back, the very first song I wrote was ‘Country Again.’”
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When the pressure to create was removed, Rhett started realizing that he felt more creative than he ever had before.
“For the first time in a long time, I was just like, ‘What do I wanna say? What do I wanna write? If this had nothing to do with anything in the world, what would I say if nobody was gonna hear?’” he continues. “And these are some of the songs that flowed out of that.”
It wasn’t the first time that Rhett’s wife, Lauren Akins, played an instrumental role in his musical career. She has long been vocal about her favorite (and sometimes, least favorite) tracks on his albums, as well as inspiring a number of his songs. When it came time to assemble Country Again: Side A, Rhett says that Lauren had an immediate favorite track.
“She loved ‘Ya Heard,’” the singer says, of the 11th and final track on the project. “I don’t really ever send songs anymore from the road. I’ve kind of learned to wait until the studio happens. But I knew we had something special after we wrote this, so I sent Lauren the demo. For the first time ever, Lauren said, ‘Honey, I think you need to take this one to the studio.’
“I love that song and I know Lauren loves that song because we can see our lives in it — It’s almost a decade worth of prayer in three and a half minutes,” Rhett relates. “Looking back, being young and getting married when I was 22 — that’s something I was actively like, ‘Gosh, if it’s not her, who is it going to be?’ Same with this career…and then I’ve always dreamed of having babies. I look back at the last 10 years of my life, and I was like, ‘Dang, all those prayers got answered — just in its own time and in ways that I never could have imagined.’”
Across the album’s track list, Country Again: Side A looks back at the past decade’s life events and pivotal moments, using the perspective and sharp songwriting skills he’s gained in the interim. But while Rhett has learned a lot over the years, he says he wouldn’t change a thing even if he could go back in time and give his younger self some wisdom.
“As many things as I would love to tell my 19-year-old self, I probably wouldn’t tell him [anything], because then he wouldn’t make the mistakes that he [needs to make] to come on the other side victorious,” the singer adds with a laugh. “…I never in a million years thought I would be where I am, but I’m so glad I’m here.”