Get To Know: Tyler Braden [Exclusive Interview]

"It’s not about proving other people wrong. It’s about proving yourself right."

Written by Jeremy Chua
Get To Know: Tyler Braden [Exclusive Interview]
Tyler Braden; Photo credit: Robby Klein

He doesn’t drink, nor has he ever touched alcohol before. But sometimes, like a typical country singer, he sings about booze. And when the small-town boy gets asked about those songs, he often chuckles as he googles those foreign references. Welcome to the life of rising country singer-songwriter and ex-firefighter, Tyler Braden.

The Alabama native signed a record deal with Warner Music Nashville in October 2019 and launched into the scene with a cover of NeedToBreathe’s “Brother.” The stirring anthem, released in May 2020, served as Braden’s major label debut and timely, heartfelt tribute to first responders. 

Rcently, SiriusXM The Highway spotlighted Braden’s “Secrets” on their On The Horizon new music discovery show. The powerful mid-tempo track now boasts over 3 million streams on Spotify alone. Written solely by the country singer long before he inked his record deal, “Secrets” details the quintessential small-town life where a secret is “just another secret that everybody knows.” 

Fresh off the heels of his latest release, “Ways To Miss You,” Sounds Like Nashville got to chat with the promising new artist about his musical inspirations, being an ex-firefighter, the inspiration behind “Secrets” and more. Braden also shared a hilarious story about how his mom once thought her son, a teetotaler, mixed red wine with moonshine after misinterpreting a song of his. It’s one you don’t want to miss. 

Introducing the next artist you have to “Get To Know”: Tyler Braden

SLN: What was life like growing up in Slapout, Alabama? 

Tyler Braden: My preacher and my principal were best friends and they both graduated from the high school I was at. So, if you get in trouble anywhere, you’d know it everywhere! It’s the cliché small town life. I grew up singing a lot when I was younger. My whole family sang. Every aunt and uncle I had sang. I had one uncle who was actually a full-fledged Elvis impersonator. There was a lot of music everywhere around me. 

How did you get into music?

My first bands were rock bands when I was 19, 20 years old, which was when I started playing acoustic shows around town. But when I was about 22, 23, I played for the fire department in Montgomery, Alabama, and started working in the fire service in Montgomery for about four years. The whole time, I was also playing music and doing small acoustic [gigs], but hadn’t really touched on the idea of it being a career. I actually entered a contest locally and just sang this American Idol style thing, which was actually eight weeks long. I ended up winning that and winning a trip to Nashville, which was the first time I had come to town. That trip made me fall in love with it. A buddy of mine that had made the transition with some relative success in music said, “You gotta be here if you want to do it.” It finally lit a spark in me, and I moved up to town in 2016 to work up here and get closer.

Who were your biggest influences growing up?

Growing up, I listened to a lot of rock and was in a lot of rock bands. But even then, country has always been what I listen to the most, even going into the rock band rehearsals and shows. When I left, the radio was [set to] country. My parents always played country. I grew up listening to George Jones and a lot of Travis Tritt. My mom listened to a lot of The Chicks and Kenny Chesney. He was probably who I listened to the most as a teenager. And I listened to a lot of Rascal Flatts as well. I did touch on a lot of everything. I love Boy II Men, and the Foo Fighters are probably my favorite band of all time. I got a lot of inspiration coming from every direction, and I think it’s added up to be a good thing. 

What’s been the biggest life lesson you’ve learned from being a firefighter that you carry with you this career or just, life in general?

The thing I think I learned the most was maintaining control and never letting anything internal get too out of hand. You have to maintain calm under pressure and things like that. Nothing gets me too excited or too low. I try to stay level-headed because you had to in situations like that. And I learned that from working with old heads and seeing how cool, calm and collected the guys that had done it before me for so long were. That also leads into what I miss the most, which is just what you learn from your brothers and the camaraderie there, and how it never ends. I’m wearing a hoodie now from Greenwood, Indiana because I played a private show there and they gave me this hoodie. Everywhere I go, it seems like they give me a piece of a local fire department. That’s something I want to start doing—representing wherever I can, whenever I can.

I know your major label debut song was a cover of NeedToBreathe’s “Brother,” which was dedicated to your firefighting buddies? 

I was in the fire service for about seven years in total, between [being in] Montgomery and Brentwood. About the last six months of my career there, the music industry career started overlapping in a good way. I had a lot of days off in the fire service where I could make my opportunities, shows and meetings to line up with those off days. But as the opportunity got bigger than me and my schedule, I had to adjust to them. There was never a time where I couldn’t find someone in the station to go in and cover for me. That meant leaving their family 24 to 48 hours at a time just to work for me so that I could do this. I knew I would never be able to thank them enough and repay them properly. But, we started playing the cover of “Brother” at live shows at the beginning of 2019-ish, and it began to fit and became a great moment in the show where I could talk about [my time as a firefighter] and give a little piece of myself to the shows. So we decided we wanted to cut a version of it, and got the blessings from NeedToBreathe and Gavin DeGraw, who’s on the [original version]. 

Did y’all plan to release it during the pandemic last year?

We cut it in February, right before the world shut down and the whole plan was for it to come out somewhere down the road. But the timing of all that with firefighters, police officers, doctors and nurses working twice as hard and twice as long while the rest of us went home and had meetings [over Zoom]… There just wasn’t a more perfect time to pay tribute and show our appreciation.

You signed with Warner Music Nashville in 2019, and then launched during the pandemic? Was that difficult for you?

Yeah, October of 2019. Well, it did come at a weird time, and I always hate to say that because we all went through it. The world shut down for everybody. But just the timing of it, when we got the record deal, October 15, 2019 was the day I signed the deal. We got our first big tour with Granger Smith, we went into the studio to cut some songs, and everything came to a halt. We had planned to try to go to radio by the end of 2020, and all we did I think was learn more from it. I got to take a step back and look at it as a whole, be more realistic with what I was trying to do and get more intentional with what I was trying to do. We got to write more and got some great songs out of it. All in all, I think it wasn’t difficult to turn it into a good situation and to learn from it. 

Now, I have talk about your song, “Secrets.” I remember hearing it on SiriusXM The Highway one day and it’s one of those songs that stopped me on my tracks, which I think is a mark of a great song. Have you gotten the chance to hear it on the radio yet?

Yeah, I’ve got the chance to hear it a couple of times. I may have cheated sometimes and used the app where you can go back to the show and listen to it (laughs), but that will never get old. Obviously that’s the first time. I mean, I’ve heard my songs here and there on local stations back home, but it will never get old. It’s an amazing moment. I couldn’t thank JR, Buzz Brainard and all those guys over there [at SiriusXM The Highway] for the publicity because it led people to hearing it. I wrote that song by myself before I even moved to Nashville, so I never thought that that would be one of the songs that would get heard. It’s been a blessing.

Is there a ‘secret’ that inspired the song? Pun intended. 

(laughs) Not necessarily a secret, but it was about the type of life I had growing up. Being in a small town and being from a small town, you start to realize you see the same people everywhere. If you go to the same store, you know the cashier, you know the owner, you know half the people you’re meeting in the aisles. And, you’re going to see them all the time. So in that, you learn a lot of stuff about these people, be it good or bad things. In that, there’s one of two ways you can go. You can talk behind their back or you can help each other out when you face issues, because living around the same people in the same town, you live similar lives and you’re going to face similar problems. So you can be there for one another. And that’s what the story touched on. You see the issues around you, and there’s something about the way they overlap and you can be there to help as a small community would.

“What Do They Know” is a strong life anthem about really trusting yourself and ignoring naysayers. I know you co-wrote this one, so did you personally go through something like that on your journey?

A lot of the details in it were true to myself. I wrote it with Aaron Scherz, and it was the first time we ever met. A little thing about me is that I don’t really go out that often here in town. I don’t really go out to bars, I don’t drink at all. I actually went out that night and happened to run into Aaron again, and I actually apologized for that song. I said, “Man, we’ll get a better one next time!” We did keep it true to myself, so it did stick with me. The more I listened to it, I loved the guitar parts, and I tweaked things here and there and added parts. That’s just the fun part of songwriting. Everytime you listen to a song and wait a week to listen again, it means something slightly different to you. That’s how that song worked. We ended up tweaking it over time. And now, it’s one of my favorites I’ve ever written. 

What do you hope people take away from listening to “What Do They Know?”

You are the only person that controls your story. It’s hard enough to take that first step into something difficult when there’s no negativity. But, there’s always going to be negativity. I always tell people, “A dream doesn’t have to be something crazy like playing music, being a photographer or anything that’s outside the box. It can be leaving one job you’ve been at for ten years to go to a job that pays slightly less because they’ll treat you better.” With things that mean something to you, there’s always going to people that say, “Oh, you shouldn’t do that.” But, “What Do They Know?” You control your own destiny. The biggest thing I want people to take away from it is that it’s not about proving other people wrong. It’s about proving yourself right. Because that first step is super hard to take all the time. I hope people take that away from the song. Never be afraid to try something. 

Now, talk about writing your latest release, “Ways To Miss You.” I know you’ve been pretty excited about getting this one out, right?

Yeah! I wrote that with Mark Holman and Michael Whitworth here in town. Mark actually produced it with my producer, Randy Montana. We’ve been so excited about this one. I can’t tell you how excited the band and crew and everyone else have been, because when we play it out on the road, this is our favorite song to play live. We do a slightly different live version that people will get to see when we’re on tour. We’ve just been looking forward to this one for a long time. It’s like a weight off your shoulders when a song you’ve been wanting to put out gets out there. I’m starting to see an overwhelming response with just people saying how much they love the song and how much they’re ready to see it live. Man, I’m over the moon over this song! 

What else can we expect from you for the rest of the year?

There’s plans for more songs, possibly an EP. Those plans always change as I’ve learned in this industry. Every single date is written in stone to be changed at least one time. (laughs) We do have shows coming up, like one in Lynchburg, Tennessee on July 9. We haven’t really nailed down the Fall just yet. We’re feeling things out with the music and when we want to release more, depending on how “Ways To Miss You” goes. There’s a lot up in the air about what we’ll do for the rest of this year, but I’m excited about all of it.

Do we know what the debut country radio single might be yet?

Hmm, we’re not sure yet. Obviously there are multiple contenders there. I love “Ways To Miss You,” but we’re still talking behind the scenes a little bit. I’m hoping those talks will wrap up before the end of the year and we’ll just have to see. Keeping our fingers crossed!

Lastly, what is one thing you want fans to know about Tyler Braden, both as a person, and as an artist?

I think the big thing is just to know how truly appreciative I am and how all artists are and everyone in this industry are because I’m sure it’s implied in some places and it’s said all the time. But man, we wouldn’t be here without the fans. It’s on an emotional level where I’m so appreciative of people going out there and streaming, buying, showing up and singing along to songs. There’ll never be the correct words to say to express how thankful we are for people who listen to the music. I know that’s cliché and sappy, but it really is true. We’d never get anywhere without fans. And personally, I always say the one interesting fact about myself is that I’ve never been drunk. I’ve never drank or smoked or anything like that. So, it’s kind of funny because people will ask about the drinking references and I have to google a lot of them! (laughs) 

Quick funny story to wrap it up, when my song “Little Red Wine” came out four years ago, my mother called me. Like an Alabama mother would do, she said, “Sweetie, people don’t drink red wine and moonshine together,” because one of the lines in the song was, “how about a little red wine, moon shine and you and me.” I had to tell her that I meant night time, like “red wine and the moon shine.” So I guess now I have to come up with a brand of red wine and moonshine! (laughs) That always blows people away because I learned they thought I meant drinking red wine and moonshine together. But that’s not what I meant, and I always thought that was funny! 

Here’s a fun bonus question: since you’ve been greatly influenced by both rock and country music, I gotta ask: if you had to choose one dream rock and country collaborator, who would it be?

Well, the rock one is actually easier for me. I love the Foo Fighters. I will throw in a bonus, I think my dream pop collaborator would be Jon Bellion. His production and lyrics are cool, so I’ve thought it’ll be cool to do something with him. One country collaborator, I think I would go with Luke Combs simply because he owns my publishing company and they helped me start it all and signed me to a publishing deal. That was my gateway to be in the music industry full-time. So, that would be an awesome, full-circle moment!