Hit Songwriter Ernest Begins an Artistic Bloom With ‘Flower Shops’

Is country ready for this guy?

Written by Chris Parton
Hit Songwriter Ernest Begins an Artistic Bloom With ‘Flower Shops’

You probably weren’t aware this, but for the past few years a guy named Ernest has been one of the biggest things in country music — at least in Nashville’s tight-knit songwriting scene.

Since about 2016, this Ernest fella has co-written some of the genre’s most recognizable hits and helped usher in a new era of casual-cool lyricism, pushing country forward without ignoring its storytelling roots. But that was all behind the scenes, and now he’s stepping front and center.

With his second album, Flower Shops, the Nashville native and eccentric character behind Morgan Wallen’s “Heartless,” “More Than My Hometown,” “Wasted On You” and “Somebody’s Problem;” Kane Brown’s “One Mississippi” and “Memory;” Sam Hunt’s “Breaking Up Was Easy In the ’90s” and more has planted the seeds for a colorful career to match his personality. And the first thing he’d like everyone to know is this:

Flower Shops is no a side-hustle.

“I want everyone to know, this album is NOT f***ing Dangerous throwaway songs,” he bellows with a boisterous, good-natured laugh. He’s referencing Wallen’s ACM Album of the Year winning Dangerous: The Double Album, which featured Ernest’s work heavily and became the U.S.’s top-selling album of any genre in 2021. “This album is my album, Flower Shops, and I wrote these songs for my album. It’s a standalone project. And I’m very proud of it.”

And proud of it he should be, because from its opening track (“Sucker for Small Towns”), Flower Shops stands out. Mixing classic sentiment and chill-country grooves with Ernest’s distinctive, quick-witted lyrics, each song would sound just as natural on an old juke box as it would thumping from a truck stereo. All throughout, he takes an original approach to themes both timeless and “turned up” — from heartbreak and hotel bars to pill popping and the pursuit of inner peace. And like a Hemingway of the honky tonk, it’s always delivered with a charismatic flair for language.

That flair is obvious in the project’s first single, “Flower Shops” (featuring Morgan Wallen), and with fans pushing it to streaming numbers in the tens of millions, it may represent the breakout “Ern” has long been working toward.

“This does feel like ground zero, a starting point somehow,” he admits. “Not discrediting all the years of sh** to get to here, but this moment feels like Ernest is here for the long haul.”

To be fair, those early years weren’t all bad, and in 2019 Ernest even released a debut album titled Locals Only. Proudly repping his Music City roots, it featured fan favorites like the swaying “Sugar” and overall had a playful, beachy attitude. But Flower Shops is often stone-cold serious, sung by a guy in a black leather vest who wouldn’t be afraid to pin his heart on his sleeve … if he had any sleeves. Clean guitars, slippery steel runs and live-band dynamics dominate the set, and it seems like Ernest is once again aiming ahead of the curve.

“The Locals Only project was very true to me – and it still is – but a lot of life happened to me in between, and this is from a more mature me,” he says. “The sad songs are real, the happy songs are real. And as for the traditional-country sound, there’s a reason they call it traditional country. It’s not like I’m the first one to ever do it, but it is fresh again. I’m just leaning in. I don’t see why not to just dive all the way in.”

Ernest performs at Nashville’s Exit/In in March 2022. Photo credit: Delaney Royer

So far, his fans have been all in, too. With back to back sell-outs at the famous Exit/In to celebrate Flower Shops’ release, Ernest looked almost like the self-appointed king of Nashville in late March, soaking in his fans’ adoration and giving it right back with a fired-up performance. A thousand stars have hit that stage in the past, but one thing that stood out was the total lack of any pretense. Ernest has that in common with a guy like Luke Combs — they both represent the opposite of Music Row’s star-making machine — and the fans loved every second.

“When I’m having a good time, I’m actually having a good time,” he explains. “Feeding off the energy of the crowd definitely helps me, and if they’re gonna turn up, I’m gonna turn up for ‘em.

“Sometimes putting on the vest, it feels like a costume, and while its very me, it’s this character who’s lived a thousand lives and figured out a way to tell his story,” he goes on. “It’s fun to dress up and go play these songs, and I don’t know, it feels like people might feel like they’re a part of something classic as it’s happening.”

As of now, there’s still time to get in on the ground floor of whatever that “classic” experience is — but like any actual flower shop’s inventory, it won’t be in bloom forever. Ernest is currently out opening massive arena shows for Wallen on The Dangerous Tour, and he’s also been on the road with his buddy Chris Lane (who took Ern’s co-written “Big, Big Plans” to Number One in 2020). But he’s got big, big plans of his own now, too.

“I hope [Flower Shops] goes down as one of those albums,” he says. “Whether it’s acclaimed or not, it would be cool if this ended up as one of the standards, where people go ‘Damn, that was a good album,’ just because it sets itself apart from everything else that’s going on right now.”