"Learning to Say Goodbye" is an album built on love, marriage, and heartbreak. The story starts with a song called "Slot Machine" that I wrote with my good friend Craig Wilson, a certified badass if I've ever known one. The rest of the album follows a classic tragedy of twists and turns from meeting the love of your life, falling in love, learning the right way to love, and then the slow burn of falling out of love. It is an album of healing from my perspective, and I hope that these songs will help someone else as much as they have helped me.
Divorce was never something that I thought would happen to me, nor did I ever think that the person that promised me their heart forever would wake up one day and decide that they were no longer in it for the long haul. At the moment, the hurt was almost unbearable. I stopped caring about many things that were such blessings in my life, music being one of them. That was until one night when I was sitting outside on my porch in Hendersonville, and I picked up my guitar. My heart poured out of it. I played the song I wrote for our wedding, "You Taught Me How," and thought about how those feelings were still real to me. Even if she didn't feel the same way, I, in my heart knew, that my love for her did not change when she left. If anything, I loved her more, which seems weird to say, but her happiness meant more to me than the pain I was feeling at that moment. She was the one that showed me that my heart was able to love someone in the way that love was intended to happen. I will always cherish the times we spent together, and ultimately, I want her to find a love that shows her the same thing she did for me. If you listen to the album straight through, you will hear our love story in its entirety. From the moment we bet on love, to our wedding song, and then to me hoping she is doing okay, "Wherever She Is."
Here are the stories behind the songs:
(1) SLOT MACHINE (Betting on Love)
Craig and I sat down one afternoon at a writing room off music row, and both threw out several ideas until he said, "man, love is such a gamble." Both of our eyes lit up, and that's when we started writing "Slot Machine." The song is about how betting your heart on love can leave you broke, or it can make you the wealthiest person in the world when you hit your "Jackpot." The song tells the listener to keep looking for love and betting on your heart because you're always only one hand away from your King or Queen. So if you are having an unlucky streak in love, remember, it's always the last bet right before your going to walk away when you finally hit it big.
(2) LOCALS ONLY (Meeting Someone New)
This was a special song from the moment David Palmer and I started writing it. At the time, David was also going through some relationship troubles, and he and I found solace in writing a song about knowing that someone wasn't in your heart to stay because they weren't a "local." It's about meeting someone you know is not from your hometown, and they have their sights set on bigger and better things. It's about that love at first sight moment, slowly falling in love with the way they say your name, and suddenly finding yourself wanting to stay in the middle of that conversation as long as you can before they leave for good. It's a metaphor for wanting them to stick around, and if they do, you'll give them your whole heart in return. But, it knows that your heart is only meant for "Locals Only."
(3) HABIT OUT OF HEARTBREAK (Dating)
"Habit Out of Heartbreak" was my and TJ Simpson's first write together, and it turned into one of the most fun, upbeat songs on the album. This is the sexy, scandalous type of song that we all tend to love. It's about knowing that the girl you are dating has been a heartbreaker her whole life. You see how everyone else reacts, and it only makes you want her more. The song follows an entire date night from beginning to end, from when you first see her in that beautiful dress to the moment you are back at your place, and she has on one of your button-downs that barely covers her rose tattoo you couldn't help but notice.
(4) FOREVER, GOOD MORNING (Falling in Love)
David Palmer, Garret Dockter, and I met down at David's studio in Murfreesboro to write one afternoon and, after about what seemed like an hour of throwing out ideas, stumbled upon this gem. I was recently married, and Garrett was about to tie the knot himself, so we were in the spirits to write a fun love song. As David played a classic country chord progression, I got a burst of inspiration and just started saying, "One day," followed by a slew of other random words that had to do with falling in love and the steps it took to get there. It slowly turned into a song about the process of meeting someone, dating, and hoping that "one day" they will be your forever good morning that you get to wake up to.
(5) YOU TAUGHT ME HOW (Getting Married)
I wrote this song before I proposed with the intent of singing it for my wife at our reception. When I went into the write that day with Sherry Kuybus, I was set on writing a sappy love song, but the more we threw around ideas, and how I felt, the more I came to realize that I finally understood what love meant. It wasn't the frills and the butterflies that movies show it to be. It's finding someone willing to rebuild your heart after being torn and shredded by every previous relationship you have had. It's someone that will see you at your worst and not hold it against you. Through her, I learned the real meaning of love and how it can heal a hardened heart that gave up on finding it.
(6) MY KIND OF STORM (Falling Out of Love)
Ajaye Jardin and I talked about relationships, and I was sharing some ideas I had in my notebook and came across one title that had always stuck out to me, but I never got the chance to write, "Thunder and Rain." My hook at the time was somewhere along the lines of, 'it doesn't always need to thunder when it rains." I used thunder and rain as metaphors for anger and tears, thunder being anger and rain the latter. I started playing some chords through that idea, and we began humming melodies that went along with them. After about an hour of trying to piece together all the pictures that we were coming up with, Ajaye suggested that we should write the song from the perspective of someone that is putting up with someone else's emotions. Once she said that, the first line fell into our laps, and the song was a breeze (pun intended) from there. "She said boy, don't kiss me if you're afraid of thunder" is one of my favorite first lines in any song I have written. It is so raw and honest. It explains perfectly how people try to push others away when they start getting too close in a relationship. This song needed to be on the album because of how the script flips in the chorus, and the narrator is letting them know that no matter what storm comes their way, they are there to stay. It's the perfect song to start the second half of the record. This explains exactly how I felt when my ex-wife told me that she thought we should separate. I wanted to weather the storm.
(7) SEEING GHOSTS (Trying to Move On)
This seems to be the fan-favorite from this album. It is always the song that people get stuck in their heads whenever I play it at a show. The raw, passionate lyrics about the pain of heartbreak show people that it is possible to mourn someone still alive. Manning Rothrock and I wrote this song with that exact thought in our heads. What does it feel like after someone you love leaves, and there are still traces of them everywhere you go? Seeing Ghosts is a hauntingly authentic depiction of having to move on after someone is no longer there. It makes you realize that ghosts don't have to be dead.
(8) WITHOUT YOU (Moving On)
This song is my personal favorite off the album because of how it started as a slow ballad when Tarrish Potter and I first wrote it but then transformed into the song that powered me through the last of my lingering sadness and into genuinely healing. Every line of this song captures precisely how I was feeling at this moment. When we sat down to write this song, I told her that I was in the mood to write a melancholy song about my divorce and that I needed to get my feelings out about how I felt every day going through the motions. The bridge highlights what I'm sure everyone experiences after a breakup, and that is what do you tell everyone that asks what happened? Especially when you weren't the one that wanted this to happen... Without you is about realizing that life keeps moving on, and it's best to move on with it.
(9) WHEREVER SHE IS (Remembering)
The first time I heard this song, I cried. One of my best friends, Josh Willcutt's, played at a local venue, and he dedicated this to me that night. As I listened to the words I connected on such a deep level, I just knew that I needed to be the one to cut this song. It is a song about wondering how she is doing in her new life and wishing you could be there because you're always going to miss "Wherever She Is." It's about knowing that she has moved on and the finality that comes with moving on from heartbreak but still knowing that she is out there somewhere. I am so thankful that Josh let me take this song and make it my own.
I hope you love the songs as much as I do, and I am so thankful for every one of you that took the time to listen through and hear my story. If you are going through a divorce, hard breakup, or something else in your life, please know that you are not alone, and it gets better. Time truly does heal, and so does music, so I hope that my songs can help you pass that time a little easier.
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Also, make sure to check out my other single "Kitchen Table" that won 2022 music video of the year at the ISSA Awards!
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