A doting father, husband, chef, dream-chaser, and someone who firmly believes in the power of music. That perhaps is one way to describe breakout country star, Andrew Jannakos.
Despite a distinguished run on NBC’s season 16 of The Voice in 2019, it wasn’t until 2020 that Jannakos’ music career took off like no other. While last year was a downer for some, it was then that the rising singer-songwriter finally broke out in the country music scene—all thanks to a viral TikTok video. The clip, posted by Jannakos’ wife, captured him cooking and singing along to an unreleased original tune. Unbeknownst to the couple, that single upload would open doors like no other.
The next morning, that video amassed 250k likes. Today, it has a whopping 611k likes, and counting. His instagram followers have also jumped from just 8,000 to nearly 60k. And the viral track, “Gone Too Soon,” led to him signing his first major label deal with Sony Music Nashville. The country-pop tune will also serve as Jannakos’ debut single, which goes for adds on country radio on February 1.
Jannakos sat down with Sounds Like Nashville for a Zoom interview recently to discuss “Gone Too Soon,” life in Georgia, country music, his wife’s instrumental role in his career, and more. Fun fact: His country music-lovin’ grandfather grew up with living legend and Grand Ole Opry member, Whisperin’ Bill Anderson!
SLN: What was life like growing up in Flowery Branch, Georgia?
AJ: Growing up in Flowery Branch was great. It was a real small town when I was growing up and everybody knew everybody in the neighborhood. We grew up nineties kids, so all of us were friends. We were over at each other’s houses every day, playing football and baseball, getting into trouble, doing things you’re not supposed to do when you’re kids. It was great. But, most of the guys in my neighborhood were all into sports and paintball. And I’m like, fishing, hunting, music, even when I was young too. That’s all I wanted to do, literally. I was raised on country music. Country is what I love, country music is what I sing. I absolutely love country music. And it’s funny too, because I was raised on the classics, nineties and 2000’s country. And now here I am in 2021 and we’re making a whole new kind of country music.
When did your love for country music begin?
My dad always listened to rock and country music when we were going fishing, hunting or whatever we were doing. My mother sang, and my grandfather actually was good friends with Whisperin’ Bill Anderson. It’s pretty crazy to hear some of the stories. I’m pretty sure they played a high school talent show together. I don’t know if they won it or not, but I’m pretty sure they played it together. And they played tee-ball in elementary school together. It’s really crazy. I actually had the opportunity to go to the Opry for the first time. I went as a guest to Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and he didn’t even know who I was. He just picked me, me and my wife, completely random. As soon as I walked up to him to meet him, I was like, “I just want you to know my grandfather, Billy West said, hello.” And he was like, “Really, what? It’s been 25 years since I’ve heard that name!” And I was like, “I am, the protégé.” (laughs) It was literally like a full circle moment and so cool.
Outside of country music, what else do you listen to?
I love me some Russ, Kendrick and all those guys over there [in Hip-Hop/Rap]. When it comes to the pop side, I like Justin Bieber [and] Adam Levine. The way that I look at it is, every single person that does something that I don’t do has something that I don’t know that I can learn. And if I can learn that, take something from it and put it into what I do, then doing something a little bit different could be cool. We wrote “Gone Too Soon” that way. It was really amazing.
Country, bluegrass, rock, pop and other genres have influenced you. So, with all of that, how would you describe Andrew Jannakos’ style of country music?
I would say it’s like a pop, hip-hop type of country. It’s definitely country-pop, and different. I want to be different, because different makes you stand out. It may be in a positive way, it may be in a negative way, but you know, we’re going to take every single way positively and just make as much good music as we possibly can. That’s all I can do—take the things that have happened in my life, my friends’ lives and my family’s lives, and turn them into the stories that people can connect to. That’s what I’m here for. That’s literally what I was put on this earth to do.
Was there a moment in your life that made you certain being a country artist was the career you wanted to pursue?
I have always loved music. Music has literally always been a part of my life. No matter if I was fishing, hunting, I was five or 25. When I was little, I had a CD player in my bookbag and would zip it up all the way to the headphone things, put my headphones on and just run around my neighborhood with it. But, you know, I never thought like this is something I can do and really want to do probably until I got off The Voice, which wasn’t that long ago. It was season 16 and it’s been maybe right about two years. My wife was a really big player in that. Before my wife, I was really lost. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, what I was going to do [and] where I was going. She pushed me to be the best me that I could be.
Seems like your wife has played an indispensably significant role in your journey.
[My wife] is very special. Not only because she’s my wife, but she supports me and pushes me in the most positive ways in my music. I’ve never really met someone so supportive of someone’s dream. She has her own dreams, but yet here she is helping me chase mine because she believes in me, has faith in me and loves me and our son. And she knows that we can do incredible things together. She definitely is the biggest reason. Even if I came off the show and I was like, “You know, I think I’m just going to go do my own thing,” she would have been like, “Aw, hell no. No way. I’m not letting you waste this.” And you need someone like that in your life. If you don’t have people like that in your life, then you should get some! I’ll say that to anybody.
How has being a husband and father changed your outlook on life?
When I met my wife, she had a one-and-a-half year old. It was weird for me [then] because I was like, “I don’t even know if I want kids.” Yet here I am, catching feelings for this girl that has a son. And then I fell in love with the kid before I did her. I mean, here we are almost four years later, he’s about to be five years old and I’m full on a dad. If it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have done music. [My wife] really pushed me to be the best singer, best writer, and best person that I could be. Just to prove not only to myself, but now I have to prove to my son like, you can do whatever you want to do. You just have to put enough hard work and dedication and time into it. There’s going to be blood, sweat, and tears, but when you bust your ass, hard work and dedication pays off in some way, whether it’s major right off the bat [success] or it’s over a period of time. Hard work and dedication will get you anything that you want. It’s only your mind that’s in your way and standing in the way of anything.
Let’s talk about your breakout song, “Gone Too Soon.” Talk about writing and recording this track.
When we wrote “Gone Too Soon,” a buddy of mine, Alex Pennington Smith, actually put on this big writer’s retreat in Chattanooga [Tennessee]. This was right before the coronavirus hit, literally a month before. We got so lucky, honestly. So we put on this writer’s retreat and there were either, probably 10 to 12 of us that showed up. Some of us were artists, some of us were just singers. Some of us were guitar players, some were track guys. We wanted to be sure that one room had a track guy, two or three writers and a singer so that we could really get some good stuff for some artists. Myself, Jason Afable and Josh Bricker got in this room. [It was the] first write that we had on the retreat, first time me and Jason had ever been in the room, second time me and Josh ever did [write together]. Here we are catching ourselves writing this song. And once we got about halfway through it, we all stopped and were like, “All right, we’re really onto something here. So we’ve got to really tell this story how people would comprehend and understand it, but also how it naturally would happen.” And somehow we were able to capture it. When we recorded it at the end of the day, the first time we molded it all together and listened to it from start to finish, I was just like, “There’s something special about this song!” Something deep inside of me was like, “Holy crap. This is one of the best songs I’ve written, if not the best song that I’d written.”
How did the whole viral Tik Tok video of you singing along to “Gone Too Soon” in the kitchen happen?
So I was cooking dinner one night, listening to a master, making chicken and rice bowls, singing along to [“Gone Too Soon”], dancing in the kitchen. And then my wife started [saying], “I’m going to do this and put it on TikTok.” I was like, “No, you are not.” I fought her for like 15 minutes. I was like, “No, that is not [happening]. I don’t know how I feel about this.” And finally I was like, “Okay, you know what, I’m going to do it.” We posted it and were just hoping that people would connect to it the way that they were [to] the covers that I was posting, because that was the very first original that I posted on TikTok. I woke up the next morning at like 6:15 in the morning and rolled over [to my wife] and she was still sitting on her phone. I was like, “What are you doing?” and she said, “You went viral!” And I was like, “No way!” It was almost like a “why me” situation. There’s so many musicians on TikTok and so many people with great music and for some reason, [people] chose to connect with my song. I’m will forever be grateful for that. The power of social media and the power of people on social media [is incredible]. It’s so humbling because it’s real people, it’s a real fan base that people work years and years and years and years for. And I was prepared to work years and years and years and years for it. But I was blessed enough to have them kind of just happen so quickly and things take off.
On your 2020 self-titled EP, there’s a stunning track called “Southern Skies.” What does that emotional ballad mean to you?
“Southern Skies” is actually the first song that I ever wrote. It was written in a really rough time in life. I don’t drink too often. And when I say too often, I mean, I really don’t drink at all anymore. I used to drink and have a good time and whatnot, but it’s just not for me [anymore]. “Southern Skies” has a really big connection to that part of me. You know, you go through a lot of stuff in life and you do two things. You either take away from it or you learn from it. And I’ve gotten now to the point where I know what I want to do for the rest of my life, which is to perform and sing music, and put it out to the world. For someone to emotionally be able to connect to [my music] is literally why I do what I do. “Southern Skies” [is] by far probably my favorite song that I’ve ever written. It’s got a really, really close spot in my heart for sure. And it forever will.
Talk about the whole process of penning and recording “Southern Skies.”
When I wrote that song, it was just me and my guitar. I always envisioned it as a piano ballad, just keys. I was lucky enough to meet Mark Burch, a guy that I’ve become good friends with in Nashville. He’s an amazing keyboard player. I went to his house just to hang out and showed him “Southern Skies.” I told him, “Man, I’ve always envisioned it as a piano ballad.” And with a snap of a finger, he just did this piano part. I was just like, “Oh my God.” And he was like, “You wanna put some vocals on it?” When I heard my voice with a piano, I literally bawled my eyes out. I could not stop crying, I don’t know why. So many emotions took over me because it’s exactly what I envisioned my song to be. I was sitting there just like, “Dude, I’m so sorry.” I couldn’t stop. But you know, that’s the power of music and that’s really, really exciting.
Just a fun question. We know Brad Paisley has a huge influence on you, and you enjoy cooking. So, if Brad came over for dinner one day, what would you cook him?
Whatever he wants! (laughs) He can tell me anything he wants and I would take no hesitation and I’d cook it. Yeah man, I love Brad Paisley. Dude’s awesome. But if I had to make Brad something that I make, I’ll probably have to make him something Italian. Like OG Italian. But I don’t know, because I like to grill [and] I don’t know if he likes steak. I’m sure he does. But yeah, whatever Brad wants, I would cook for him.
To wrap things up, what is one thing you want fans to know about you as an artist and as a person?
I want people to see me for who I am and see my music for what it is. And I want to be the best me that I can be, not only for me and for my family, but also for the fans.
Be on the lookout for new music from one of our very own 2021 Artists To Watch this year. The future is very bright for the Jannakos and we’re excited to see what the year holds for him! Fans can keep up with Jannakos HERE.