Kolby Cooper may be a fresh face in Nashville and commercial country music, but he’s certainly built a name for himself in the Lonestar State long before making the move to Music City. As an independent act, the East Texas native had amassed a massive fan base, innumerable sold-out headlining shows, and done more groundwork than most new artists can say.
After graduating from high school and realizing that college wasn’t the route for him, Cooper took to honing his songwriting craft and garnering fans from the ground up, one show at a time. In fact, the road warrior had been playing live shows every single Saturday since he started touring, with the abrupt exception of 2020’s COVID lockdown.
After the release of his momentous debut album, Good Ones Never Last, in 2019, the then-unsigned artist knew he had to take his promising career to greater heights. He owed it to his fans, his family and most importantly, himself. Thus, he signed with Nashville-based record label BBR Music Group/Wheelhouse Records earlier this year, and released his debut EP, Boy From Anderson County, which dropped last Friday (August 6).
The six-track set spotlights Cooper’s introspective depth (“Boy From Anderson County”), knack for songwriting and ability to musical chronicle a breakup as though he’s lived it (“Excuses”). In fact, heartache has been and continues to be a common thread in Cooper’s music.
While the happily married father of two has lived in blissful romance since he wedded and years before that, he says he draws on the lives of friends to pen and record his brand of gripping heartbreak anthems—which he does with unmistakable confidence and country swagger.
Sonically, Cooper’s music perfectly melds the sounds of Waylon Jennings and Nirvana — two of his biggest influences — to deliver a mainstream country-rock record that will be a homerun with fans of Hank Williams Jr., Brantley Gilbert, Koe Wetzel and more. Coupling that with a whopping 113.5 million on demand streams to date and a fast-growing fan base, Cooper is well on his way to headlining shows at Yankee Stadium and Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which he says are his bucket-list venues to perform at.
Sounds Like Nashville got to speak with Cooper recently about his from-the-ground-up music career, signing with a record label in Music City, his Boy From Anderson County EP, and advice he’d give to aspiring singer/songwriters.
Introducing the next artist you have to “Get To Know”: Kolby Cooper.
SLN: Let’s start off with your backstory, Kolby. So, what was life like growing up in East Texas?
KC: I was born in Palestine but raised in a little town called Bradford in Texas, with about 30 to 40 people. It’s just a big farming community with lots of ranches and old cowboys. I loved it there. I moved an hour away just for travel purposes because it’s easier to fly than it is to fly from Bradford. I love the lifestyle there, and just getting to grow up around family and friends in that town. I’ve lived in Bradford from the time I was two till I was 21. I met my wife there when I was in third grade.
You’ve known your wife since you were in third grade?!
Yeah, we’ve been best friends since fourth grade and in our senior year, we started dating and got pregnant about a year later when we were 18 and at 19, we got married. On July 20th [of this year], we celebrated our third wedding anniversary. In a couple of days, my daughter will turn three and a few days after that, our youngest daughter turns nine months old.
Did your parents play a part in shaping your passion for this career?
When I was a freshman in high school, my dad passed away. That really impacted me. He’s not musical or anything, but we always bonded over music together. He was a big supporter of me when I started playing. I only played for a year before he passed away, so I was definitely terrible. (laughs) But he really supported me and that made me really want to do this. My mom and him taught me the importance of working hard because they both worked multiple jobs pretty much for my entire life. I have to work my ass off in whatever I do, but lucky for me, I get to do it in music instead of building fences, driving trucks, and all [the things] that my dad was doing.
As an artist, which artists would you cite as your biggest musical influences?
Waylon Jennings and Nirvana—and I have their logos [tattooed on me]. The reason Waylon is my all-time favorite is because a lot of times, he was the guy my dad and I would listen to all the time. But also, my musical taste is constantly evolving. If you asked me who my influences were six months ago, there would be a few different names than now. But it’s always been Waylon, Blink 182, Nirvana, Chris LeDoux, Modest Mouse, and Alan Jackson. It’s always been the rock or country guys.
So how did you get into music? I know you were dabbling in sports before that as well, right?
When I was in high school, I wanted to play sports real bad. All through high school, I was playing shows on Saturday after we would work out on Saturday morning for football or whatever. I was pretty sure that I was going to play college football my junior year. Then, during my senior year, my wife and I started dating and I was like, “Man, f*ck this. I have to spend time away from her to go work out? I’m just going to stay.” I still took [sports] seriously, but I knew at that point, I didn’t want to play anymore. At that point, I thought, “Alright, I’m gonna be a family man. I’m not gonna do sports, I’m not gonna do music. I’m just going to start a family when we graduate.” Obviously we had it planned out – we were gonna go to school, get married and have kids. But it happened out of order. When we graduated high school, I was going to a little community college in Athens, Georgia. I had one more year of basics left since I took most of my courses in high school. When I finished my final year of basics, my wife said, “I can tell you’re not happy. Why are you still trying to go to school instead of playing music? What are you doing?” And I was like, “I told my mom I was going to go to school, so I’m going to school. It is what it is.” In the meantime, we had also just put out our first EP. It was more than just putting it out to go, “Hey, I’m gonna do music.” It was more of something like, “Hey, I’m gonna spend this money to put out this record so that in ten years, I can say I put out something a long time ago to my kids or friends as a joke.” But that started doing well, making me f*cking hate school even more. It wasn’t doing crazy, but it was doing well for [an artist who had never released anything before]. And then one day, when we went over to my mom’s for dinner, she sat me down and said, “Hey, I can tell you don’t want to do college right now. Why don’t you take a year off school and play music full time? If in that year, you feel like there’s something there, just do that. If you feel like it isn’t for you, go back to school.” July 20th is our official full-time start date—it’s when we started playing shows for every weekend since then, other than the whole COVID year. That July was when I got married, started playing music and touring full time, and had my first daughter. So July’s always a really big month.
You released your debut album last year, which did really well for an independent act without any label support. What made you decide on signing with BBR Music Group/Wheelhouse Records, or just a record label in general?
Being independent is awesome and it’s totally about what you want to do. You can make a ton of money, a ton of fans, and sell a ton of tickets and do things by yourself. Many people have done it and continue to. But I think I just got to a point where I’ve been doing the independent thing and just sat there for a minute and thought, “What do I want to do?” At the same time, we were making this record and had most of the songs done, and I was like, “F*ck, these are the best songs we’ve ever recorded. Why would I not want to take a chance on making them as big as they possibly can be?” Broken Bow has been awesome too. Ever since the first conversation we’ve had, they’ve been super excited about it and are the greatest people.
Let’s talk about your brand new EP, Boy From Anderson County. You co-wrote every song on it! Was there a vision or theme you had in mind for this project?
Yes! To touch on our other full-length record Good Ones Never Last, it was about losing my dad at a young age and navigating through life up to that point without him. There were breakup songs too, but the overall theme of the album was about losing my dad. It was a sad record. So with this next one, I really wanted to do my best to show people where I am in life right now, as far as being a 22-year-old and happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve got a badass little family, a badass group of guys on the road, and get to play music full time. I’m just so happy, and that’s what I want to get across. That’s why this record is called Boy From Anderson County. Part one [is out now], and the full-length will come out later.
You’ve been married for a couple of years now! So I have to ask, where does all the inspiration for these heartbreak songs like “Excuses” come from?
While all the heartbreak songs that I write may not be about me, they’re about my friends. Our guitar player, Paul, was a very loose inspiration on “Two Words,” and for “Excuses,” the single that came out back in June, is a lot more inspired by a relationship he went through. It was funny, because I was going to Nashville to write that week, and he showed up bus call upset and was like, “Man, she broke up with me.” It was this girl that he had been dating for a few months. We all liked her, she was cool as sh*t and a nice girl. They just didn’t work out. When I asked what happened, he said, “She just told me I was too good for her and that she was going to break my heart eventually. She was giving me all these excuses.” Fast forward to a couple days later, I was writing with Brett Tyler and Jordan Walker, and Brett said he had a title called “excuses,” and I was like, “Holy shit dude, let’s one hundred percent write that. Even if it’s just a song I can show to my guitar player to make him feel better.” After we finished it, ever since we wrote it, it’s been the one I wanted as the first official label release, and now it’s done great! I’m super happy with it.
What’s the story behind your autobiographical song, “Boy From Anderson County”?
“Boy From Anderson County” is a song I wrote about my wife. It’s all a true story, and I wanted to tell people where I am right now, just feeling happier and with a family. Part two [of the EP] will have even more stories about that and my kids.
The last one I want to spotlight is “Way To Go.” Another lonesome but rocking mid-tempo song that finishes off like an anthem. Would you talk about co-writing that and just the production idea behind it?
I think when we wrote this that day, no one knew how good it was because we were all listening to it on a work tape, which was just a small, acoustic vocal. It was dope, it was cool, and when I showed it to my manager, he was like, “Holy shit.” The more I listened to it, the more I couldn’t wait to record this. Ever since we wrote it, I had this vision in my head where I knew exactly how it would sound. I got to make a song that I always wanted to make—a super heavy, grunge guitar, rock song. Literally, the first time we got mixes back and I heard it through the speakers, I said, “Holy shit, dude. God, this is so good!” It helped me to take [inspiration] from friends who were pieces of sh*t to girls at some point and didn’t treat them well. Kind of like, “Way to go, you messed up again and she’s not coming back this time.”
As a songwriter yourself, what’s one song you wish you had written?
Man, that’s a good question. There’s a song called “Rose In Paradise” by Waylon Jennings. It’s one of those songs that I can say for sure made me want to do music the first time I heard it. It’s been one of my all-time favorites since I was literally two or three years old. It’s got such a dope guitar intro at the opening and has great [lyrics]. That’s probably one of my all-time favorites.
And, as someone who really started from the ground up in a small town, what’s one piece of advice you’d given to aspiring singer/songwriters?
You’ve got to be real with everybody. You gotta be yourself. The easiest thing for fans to see through is when someone is fake as sh*t. It’s also not fun to be something that you’re not. I would say be yourself as much as you can and write what you know. Don’t try too hard to write a certain way or song. If you like the way I write, don’t try to write like me just because. Write whatever comes to you. I’ve seen some people try too hard to write a certain way and the song always comes out sh*tty. But whenever they write from the heart or what they know, it always comes out a thousand times better.
Lastly, as a father of two, what’s the biggest life lesson you’d like to impart to your children?
Be nice and enjoy life, because it doesn’t go on forever and it goes by really fast. It’s something that I’ve learned over the last couple of years. Just enjoy life more and don’t stress out over the little things because, at the end of the day, you’re going to be fine.
Stream Kolby Cooper’s debut EP, Boy From Anderson County, below.