Making a mark in the Hollywood film industry has taken years of hard work for Alexander Ludwig, and as he saddles up to launch his country music career, he expects nothing different.
Ludwig has established himself as a highly sought-after Hollywood actor, having played ‘Cato’ in the box office smash The Hunger Games and starred in other acclaimed films and shows, including History Channel’s Vikings, Lone Survivor and Bad Boys For Life, alongside Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Later this summer, he will co-lead with Stephen Amell in the upcoming eight-part, hour-long TV series, Heels. With so much accomplished in his acting career, some may ask, “What is a guy killing it in Hollywood doing in country music, then?”
Well, Ludwig is just following his heart on his passion-fueled journey to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a country singer and songwriter. In fact, perhaps unbeknownst to many, the Vancouver, Canada native has always had an immense passion for country music.
As he candidly shares, “All along this journey, music has always been with me. I’ve always brought my guitar everywhere I’ve went, I’ve always been writing songs, and it was always something I wanted to pursue just as much as I wanted to pursue film and television. One just simply took off before the other.”
Fortunately for Ludwig, his dream became a reality when he signed with Nashville-based record label BBR Music Group and released his highly anticipated debut self-titled EP last month. The summer-esque five-track introduction is authentically country, with Ludwig’s influences from Garth Brooks to George Strait, to Kenny Chesney and David Lee Murphy—who co-wrote two cuts—clearly coming through.
Sounds Like Nashville got to chat with Ludwig recently about his deep-seated passion for country music, what he hopes to bring to the format, his favorite Nashville spots, and the genesis of his entertainment career. Fun fact: it all started with a Harry Potter toy commercial, which Ludwig says, till today, is the “best pay day of my life.”
Introducing the next rising artist you need to “Get To Know”: Alexander Ludwig
You’ve been in the acting industry for many years now, with playing “Cato” in the The Hunger Games, catapulting your career. Have you known you wanted to be an entertainer since you were young?
Alexander Ludwig: Since I was a kid, if I wasn’t picking up a guitar and writing songs, I had a video camera and was directing my friends in videos. It’s just something I was born with. I don’t really know why I have it, but I’m grateful that I do. My mother was a really, really talented artist and she put everything aside to look after the family, but she [and my dad] had been such huge support systems for me growing up. I’m really lucky. Both my parents encouraged me to pursue my dreams. It’s really been something just instilled in me since I was a kid. I never really fit in, in terms of schooling. I wasn’t the best student and could never really find my footing. Just over time, I realized it was simply because I already had my heart and mindset on what I wanted to do. I’m so grateful because I feel like now more than ever, my soul feels full because I’m finally able to pursue the two things that inspired my entire life.
Now, how did you land up on a Harry Potter toy commercial? What a unique way to kickstart your acting career as a kid!
Yeah, it’s so funny! I stole my mom’s phone at 9 years old and called her old agent and asked for a meeting. She decided to give me a shot because you know, [she probably thought] “if a 9 year old’s giving me a call, then I should definitely give him a chance.” I went out for my first commercial ever and booked it. Knowing how hard it is to get jobs, that was a fluke and an absolute luck that I booked my first audition that I ever went out for, and it was this Harry Potter toy commercial called “The Slime Chamber.” Of course, it was the best pay day of my life because they gave me the toy to take home! (laughs) So I was excited about that. And after that, I just slowly worked my way up.
Was pursuing a music career always part of your plan?
All along this journey, music has always been with me. I’ve always brought my guitar everywhere I’ve gone, and I’ve always been writing songs. It was always something I wanted to pursue just as much as I wanted to pursue film and television. One just simply took off before the other and I didn’t really have an opportunity to dive in [to music] as much as I wanted to. I feel like nowadays, we’re in a really interesting period of time where if you have the drive and you have the ability to manage both, you can be extremely successful in both and give it your all. It’s just a question of time management and really being able to focus and make my trips to Nashville and be in those writers’ rooms and commit one hundred percent when I’m there. It’s been an incredible journey.
What sparked your passion and love for country music?
There is one moment I do really remember vividly. I was definitely in my early teens, probably about 12 or 13 years old, and I was sitting on a bus. Can’t remember where I was going, but I remember listening to Alan Jackson’s “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” on that bus ride. That song to me was such a story. It was so special, and it just hit me in every way, shape or form and totally moved me. For me, why I love country music and why I’ve always loved it is because it’s reminded me that the dream is already here and you don’t need a lot. They always reminded me to be grateful for what we had and for the opportunity to pursue what I love. I always had this deep connection to country music. In Canada, there’s a massive country music scene as well, and I grew up loving the outdoors and living in the mountains. That’s my special place and where I go to find peace. But, that [Alan Jackson] song was a big moment for me. I remember listening to it on repeat, and just could never get enough of it. I just thought it was such a well-written song. I [also] remember, one of the first records I listened to was Jason Aldean’s Hicktown, which is so crazy to me because I would call Jason a friend now. Kurt Allison and Tully Kennedy, who both produced my record, played with Jason for the last 20 years. It’s just so crazy how the world works, and I’m so unbelievably grateful to just have this opportunity. I’m determined to not let it go because it’s been years and years and years of me trying to do this.
Now, let’s talk about your incredible debut EP. How did you decide on cutting and releasing these five songs, out of the many you probably were pitched or had written?
For me, when I was writing in the writer’s room and doing all that, it was all “best song wins.” So if I was writing a song that I loved but heard another person’s song that I hadn’t been a writer on that I also loved, to me, it’s more important that that song gets played, because I want to have the best songs that are really gonna resonate with people. […] At the end of the day, I want to be the musician who can have as many hits as possible. And when I say “hits,” I don’t mean Number Ones. I mean songs that stand the test of time. Songs that you [still listen to] 10 years later. You think of Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley, Alan Jackson, or Garth Brooks. And you hear “Friends In Low Places” at a bar. That song has stood the test of time. That’s to me what a real achievement would be. It would be a song that could really do that.
Was there a vision or mindset you went into this project with? Every song sounds so intentionally placed, making the album really coherent. Summer seems to be a big theme too?
That’s such a great question! I don’t think so, it just came out naturally and wasn’t something that I calculated. Summertime is a big thing for me. I love everything about summer and I love everything about summer and country music and what it speaks to. I think there’s been a lot of that that’s come through just naturally. But overall, the main themes I think of the EP is really just [the idea of] “a moment in time” and “being grateful for every little moment.” And it’s as much for me as it is for everyone else, because I have to be reminded of that. When I listen to “Love Today,” I go, “Wow, man. I need this song right now, just as much as anybody else.” After COVID, all we’re thinking about is what’s gonna happen in the future, as opposed to, “Man, you know what? This isn’t normal and this isn’t what I’m used to, but shit, I still got my health and I’m grateful for it.” That’s kind of the theme that’s been coming through, just being grateful for these little moments in time. I feel like the best songs in the world are really just moments in time.
In a genre filled with legends, superstars and rising singers, what do you hope to bring to country music as one of the newest acts to join the format?
I want to answer this without putting myself up on a pedestal because that’s not what I’m here to do. I think country music is fine without me! (laughs) There’s this really interesting part in country music where there are songs from back in the day that I really miss hearing on the radio. Not just because it’s nostalgic, but because of what it speaks to. My dream is to be the artist that people go to a show to and go, “That Alexander Ludwig show is the most fun I’ve ever had at a concert.” A time where people can just go and appreciate life and enjoy an absolutely amazing show that’s just fun, celebrative, inclusive, just spreading love. That’s the show that I want. I’m eternally grateful Nashville has welcomed me with open arms and I believe it’s because I came with my hat in my hand. I wasn’t expecting anything and I knew it would be a long journey. It took me 20 years in the film industry to get to where I am today and I would never expect it to be any different for country music. This is just what I love. I wasn’t coming expecting a record deal, I wasn’t coming expecting anything. I just want to know what it took to write a great song. So, my dream in country music is to always do that and to never forget who I am as an artist and as a person, and live through the music in that way and share it with as many people who want to hear it.
To wrap this interview, we’d love to know some of your go-to spots in Nashville! First, what’s your favorite coffee shop?
My wife and I love the Frothy Monkey! That’s where I met Lee Adams (Broken Bow Records’ VP of Promotions). She changed my life! So that place always has a place in my heart. My wife and I would also always go to Frothy Monkey before I had a studio session.
Oooh. It depends on what [my wife] wants! (laughs) I love Taco Mamacita because it’s close to where I record a lot of the time and it’s just a fun little vibe. You get a couple of tacos and it’s kinda chill. We also love Adele’s, which is a little date night place I like to take my wife to.
And, favorite venue to watch a show at?
I love The Bluebird, it’s amazing. I watched Don Schlitz play there years ago when I first came to Nashville. I would like to go to The Listening Room because it’s so interesting to me to listen to songwriters talk about the songs they wrote for big artists. To me, that’s always so fascinating. So I love it there. Of course, it’s always good to go to Whiskey Jam at Winner’s and check that out as well. But, my go-to would be The Listening Room because I love hearing the stories behind the songs.
Sounds Like Nashville also got to chat with Ludwig in-depth about his debut EP last month. If you missed it, read HERE.