Mitchell Tenpenny's heart breaks and everyone's dancing, but it's fine. That's by design. The Drunk Me singer isn't so much a songwriter as he is a songmaker, intentionally tempting you with candy so you'll discover his dark, dark secrets on your own.
Telling All My Secrets is a heartbreak album, he says. "One girl broke my heart. I broke one girl's heart. There's a bunch of different elements in there," the native Nashvillian says from a chair at his publicist's office on Nashville's West End.
also the album's closer, Walk Like Him - a heartbreaking
eulogy for his late father who died of a rare form of cancer in
2015. That song is not a feel-good jam, but much of Tenpenny's debut
album - even the song that was hardest to write and record - sounds
like a party. Therein lies his gift.
"These are the most vulnerable songs on the record, and that's what I wanted to do with this ... it's telling all my secrets," Tenpenny says. In a few hours he'll drive across town to play these songs for fans and industry at City Winery, so a mix of anxiety and excitement fills the air around him, controlling his fidgets and shifts. There's no hesitation as he explores these songs deeper, however. That was, after all, his intention at the beginning.
are things that I didn't necessarily do right. People that I didn't
treat the best growing up, when I was stupid. I wanted to be honest
about that because I think a lot of people hold that inside."
Tenpenny first gained recognition when he co-wrote If the Boot Fits for Granger Smith and was invited out on tour with the star. His grandmother, a longtime Music City executive, was as influential as any artist or performer. His focus and professionalism was born out of watching her balance business with pleasure - the 29-year-old will school you on the value of having a great team and not wasting opportunities.
Now in a healthy relationship with the current No. 1 song on the radio and an album worthy of any year-end list, Tenpenny is ready to party, but he's got a heck of a lot of work to do before year's end. He will treat himself. No, the LeBron James 11 Fruity Pebbles sneakers he has on his feet are not his vice. His splurges are much more professional, practical and ... shiny.
Who do you get compared to?
A lot of Zac Brown or country John Mayer, which ... both are way better than me and incredible, so I don't really know how to take that, but I definitely love both of them and have played their music a lot, so I can hear why some of their influences might be there.
I hear John Mayer a lot.
Did you listen to him a lot growing up?
Oh, all the time. I wore his CDs out. I learned to play guitar just playing his records. I bought all his signature model guitars to try to get that tone.
From a songwriting standpoint, a lot of songs on this album feel
personal but are accessible. That's something Mayer
does really well.
That's the goal. I wanted someone to find their song on this record. Whenever I listen to a record I'm like, "Which one is going to be my song," you know? So I wanted it to be broad and be honest and hopefully someone can put their story in mine.