Get To Know: Dillon Carmichael [Exclusive Interview]

The singer chats about the songs and inspiration behind his stellar new album, 'Son Of A'!

Written by Jeremy Chua
Get To Know: Dillon Carmichael [Exclusive Interview]
Dillon Carmichael; Photo Credit: Alex Berger

“Three chords and the truth” is an often-used description by many when defining country music. Harlan Howard, an acclaimed Nashville songwriter, coined the term decades ago to describe country songs that tell real-life stories about real-life people. Today, this definition, which has endured the test of time, serves as the cornerstone template of what country music is for many artists. One such talent is Dillon Carmichael. A proud Kentucky native, Carmichael illuminates all that’s to love about this storytelling genre on his new album, Son Of A.

Out now, the 14-song collection chronicles Carmichael’s small-town upbringing with an immediate return to the nostalgic ‘90s and 2000s country sound. There’s a little bit of Brooks & Dunn, Tracy Byrd, Joe Diffie, and David Lee Murphy on the singer’s sophomore offering. In fact, Murphy even co-wrote the tongue-in-cheek “Big Truck” with Carmichael.

The undeniable crown jewel on Son Of A is its pensive title track. If a great country song tells a good story, then “Son Of A” is that. Written by Carmichael with hitmakers Casey Beathard and Phil O’Donnell, the song pays homage to the kinfolk who lovingly raised the singer up. While lyrically specific, “Son Of A” also offers plenty of room for listeners to put themselves and their loved ones into the narrative of the three-minute tune. 

“You’re a son of a momma / You’re a son of a dad / Who will never stop loving you and being there / And giving you everything they have / Someday, you’re gonna get it boy, you’ll admit it, boy / Just like I did with my old man / You’re a son of a momma, a son of a dad who give a damn,” the baritone singer reflects over a mid-tempo ‘90s country-leaning production. 

While Carmichael is receiving notable buzz following this record’s release, he isn’t a fresh-faced rookie. He’s coming up to being in the ten-year town for almost a decade, surviving rejections, disinterest, and even the predominant bro-country era of yesteryears. Through it all, Carmichael has stuck to his gut and brand of country music, and this confidence from being in one’s element is canvased on his sophomore album, Son Of A.

Sounds Like Nashville spoke with the singer recently about his road to being a country artist, having superstar uncles (John Michael Montgomery and Eddie Montgomery from Montgomery Gentry), the vision he had with Son Of A, and more.

Introducing the next promising newcomer you have to “get to know”: Dillon Carmichael

Let’s start from the top. Would you talk about what life was like growing up in Kentucky? 

I grew up in Burgin, pop. 921. I think it was 922 before I left. It doesn’t change very much around those parts! [laughs] It was a great place to grow up, very simple and everybody knows everybody. Growing up, my best friends’ parents were like my parents and my parents were like their parents. We were more like brothers and sisters than we were friends at that point. I’m still friends with all of them today. The schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, I think there were 400-something in the whole school all in one building. My graduating class had 18 people in it. It was itty-bitty. A coal-burning plant was what brought the people to that. The city was formed just around that power plant as a blue-collar kind of work community. I grew up in a rural area but moved out to the city as a young adult, so luckily I got to soak up both atmospheres.

How did you get into music in that small Kentucky town of yours?

Music has always been around there. I grew up in a music family. My mom is Becky Montgomery, she’s a singer. She has two brothers that have been in the country music business for a long time, John Michael Montgomery and Eddie Montgomery from Montgomery Gentry. So I grew up seeing them on TV and hearing them on the radio. I started my own band there with local young guys like myself at that time. At 15 years old, we started a band and would rehearse at night and go to school the next day. We would play little shows on the boat docks and that’s really where I fell in love with [music] and decided at that time I wanted to do it for a living. I actually never wanted anything else in my lifetime. I never even had a thought that I wanted to be an attorney, or be a doctor, or a construction worker or anything like that. I definitely knew for a fact that I wanted to do music.

As an artist, who would you cite as your biggest musical influences?

I went through a lot of phases in music. I’ve had moments why I liked hip-hop, rock, or metal, but really when I hit probably 18 years old and started working on moving to Nashville, I really started writing country songs. I really always loved country music. I started listening to Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, which I’ve been listening to my whole life, but I started really listening and asking, “What does this mean to me?” I also like southern rock, so a lot of Blackfoot, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels Band, and stuff like that spoke to me. You can hear all of that in my music. But I’d have to say the southern rock and traditional country [were my main influences].

How long have you been chasing this dream as a country artist thing in Nashville?

I was at the backend of being a teenager at 19 years old when I first moved to Nashville.  Looking back, I was a kid. I’m coming up to almost a decade being here in Nashville, which they say is a ten-year town. [laughs

I’d reckon it hasn’t been the easiest journey to ‘get in’ with your traditional-leaning sound and the trends of bro-country and country-pop over the years?

When I moved to town in 2013, Florida Georgia Line was just absolutely taking off. “Cruise” had come out maybe a year before that. That was one of the big moments in country where it changed to that [sound]. I think that a lot of people who loved traditional country music and were trying to pursue the roots country had some not-nice things to say about that whole movement. I don’t have anything to say about that movement, but I’ll say it was really hard for me to breakthrough. There were definitely no record labels that wanted to meet with me. It was hard to find a team. I couldn’t find management and booking agents because it was hard and always [being told] “you’re too traditional.” I think two to five years ago, there was a pivotal moment where the more traditional roots country was kind of piquing interest in the listeners. Cody Johnson was coming out of Texas with more of that roots sound, and then Luke Combs came along with some traditional sounds going on, and there was Chris Stapleton and things started swinging back that way. Now we’re at a nice, healthy spot where we can have some pop-influenced country music, some rock-influenced country music, some traditional roots, folk, and all that tied into country music and still live on the radio and streaming world. Everyone can be proud of what they’re doing and say, “Oh, wow, I’ve made some fans out on tour playing the kind of music we love.” Nobody’s having to conform to a certain mold as an industry now. I think it’s really nice.

Speaking of your uncles, what’s the best advice they’ve given you in preparation for this career?

I think growing up in that atmosphere, I got a lot of advice that maybe they don’t even realize they had given me or maybe I don’t even realize they had given me. There’s something special about growing up around those conversations. One thing, in particular, is to make sure you have an attorney before you sign a contract, and there are things like “always do you and listen to yourself.” I didn’t realize how much of a problem it was in Nashville. People get really excited when they get a deal offer, they don’t even look at it, they sign it, they have money in their eyes and whatever else. I’m glad I had that advice to have an attorney look at those things.

Well, let’s talk about the reason why we’re here- your incredible sophomore album, Son of A! How early did you start work on this, and did you have a vision for how you wanted this record to be?

The theme is where/how I grew up. I wanted it to be honest and real and really tell a story about where I grew up, how I grew up, and that culture. There’s a song called “Family Tree” on there that really talks about the culture of where I grew up. “Son of A,” my single and album title is about the family system which is inspired by where I grew up. But I think that song in particular relates to an array of things. There’s a song on there, “Hose Water,” that’s got a lot of pictures and talks about small-town themes and what we did. The thing is, what I learned in my conversations with people is that everyone from all over relates to drinking out of hose water. In that song, we were singing about small-town things, but then I realized it’s not a rural area thing. Everybody knows what it’s like to run through a sprinkler. It has a certain taste and smell to it. A lot of the themes in this album is nostalgic. There’s a lot of fun stuff, a lot hints to ‘90s country style, but also there’s a lot of really powerful things in there and songs about life. I’m real proud of it.

Speaking of “Son Of A,” did I hear that your mom’s featured on background vocals on the song? 
Yeah, my mom sings background on “Son of A”! She is a wonderful singer. It’s often said she’s the best singer in the family. Being that the song is about parenthood, I thought it was just appropriate to bring her in on it. Like I said, she’s a wonderful singer and loves singing harmonies. It’s a passion of hers, so it worked out perfect. And she knows my voice better than anybody on the face of my planet. She just knows exactly what I’m going to do next. I thought it made perfect sense, and it’s a nice cherry on top to—and I’m bias—a great song.

You co-wrote “Big Truck” with Mr. “Dust On The Bottle” himself, David Lee Murphy. How did that even happen?

My career has blossomed at a slower-than-usual pace, which is a blessing and a curse, but a blessing in this way. I’ve had a buzz going around Nashville for a while now because this is my sophomore album and I’ve released a lot of singles. Essentially, I made my first record in 2018, so that was almost four years ago. What that did was create a buzz around my songs that songwriters that ended up on this album like David Lee Murphy, Jesse Alexander, and Casey Beathard knew who I was and what I was about. I got some great opportunities to write with these folks. One of the kings of ‘90s country is David Lee, Mr. “Dust On The Bottle” himself. I never met David Lee. I know that he knew of me and my music, and he and Jesse Alexander said [they’d love to write with me]. I came up with that idea in the shower- “she loves me because I have a big heart, but she really loves me because I have a big truck.” It’s really silly, but what made me want to write songs like that is because I grew up in the ‘90s with songs like “Pick Up Man” — tongue in cheek country music that’s just fun and puts a smile on your face, and that was the goal there. I think we hit the nail in the head. 

Country superstar Jon Pardi helped produce some of the tracks on this album as well. Now that’s something you don’t see often. Are you the first artist Jon has produced?

I’m the first artist Jon has produced, which is such a huge honor. We’ve been buddies for a long time. We met back when I first moved to town. We’ve always been touring and busy but when things slowed down in 2020, we were chatting and he said, “Man, we got time on our hands, let’s go write some songs, record some songs, and kinda mess around in the studio making music?” We did and it turned out amazing. There was no doubt that after that, we needed to make a record. So, Jon Pardi and Ryan Gore teamed up. I also have Dan Huff along with Phil O’Donnell produce stuff on my record. Jon Pardi turned out to be an unbelievable producer and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a great career in production as well. He has a great ear for songs. One thing that we had in common is that Jon Pardi is a great lead vocalist and recording artist. He had a lot of advice for me in the studio. I think I got my best vocals because of him teaching me tricks and giving me advice. He’s been around longer than I have. Something people don’t know about Jon Pardi, or they may, is that he’s a very intentional guy. He does his research, and he invests time and energy into being the best that he can be at what he wants to be good at. He even took acting classes and dance lessons so that if he ever needed to pull the dance moves, he knows. He’s just the best at what he does. Props to Jon Pardi, Ryan Gore, Dan Huff, and Phil O’Donnell. There’s no way this record could be what it is without them.

As we’re wrapping up 2021 and readying for 2022, what can fans expect from you in the new year?

I think we’re gonna have a deluxe come out after this, and that will come out in 2022. I’m playing the biggest tour of my life in 2022. I encourage everyone to come out and see us live. It’s a totally different experience watching us live than you can get listening to a record or watching us on livestreams. So, a big tour that might be with a major artist might be with a club headlining tour, but definitely all over the US, maybe some overseas if we can. We’re still trying to figure out our fan base overseas, but that’s something I’d definitely like to do. I’m also going to be writing songs for my next album and seeing what that looks like. Our goal is also to be sure to see some success at radio 2022, so y’all be sure to request “Son Of A.” I may be biased, but I think I’ve dedicated my entire life to writing a song like that. Hopefully, I continue to have a message that touches lives in 2022 as well.

Lastly, what’s one thing you want fans to take away from listening to your album, Son Of A?

I hope listeners open themselves up to letting the music tell you a story and evoke some sort of a feeling, be it happiness, nostalgia, or taking you back to your childhood, or just giving you hope. Whatever that might be. That’s why I wanted to be a songwriter. So please open up yourselves to these songs and let them tell you a story and just give this old boy a chance and listen to my music.

Purchase and/or stream Dillon Carmichael’s Son Of A here.