Music runs in the family for Dillon Carmichael so it was only a matter of time until the budding singer-songwriter followed in the family business. Carmichael’s debut album Hell On An Angel is out Friday, Oct. 26, and showcases the singer’s rich baritone and knack for storytelling. Having penned eight of the album’s 10 tracks, Carmichael shares some of the stories behind his songs and his surprising journey to Nashville.
The Kentucky native grew up in a household of music, often picking songs on the porch with his family. While his mother is a singer, his father and uncles performed in a Southern Gospel Quartet. Meanwhile, his mother’s brothers, John Michael Montgomery and Eddie Montgomery, have seen success in the country genre and Carmichael has toured with his uncle Eddie’s band, Montgomery Gentry.
Carmichael says he didn’t take songwriting too seriously until he was 17 and was offered a publishing deal on the spot. His publisher discovered him playing at a bar one Thursday night in Kentucky after the bouncer said she had to hear Carmichael live. Impressed at what she saw, she offered Carmichael a publishing deal that night and he asked her what a publisher was. He soon learned the art of crafting songs and found himself in the writing room with hit songwriters.
“I’m definitely blessed that happened because that brought me to Nashville,” the 24-year-old tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone in a thick Kentucky drawl. “That’s where I got my chops — I learned to write from other writers and it’s been a great experience.”
The singer says all the songs on his debut album, Hell On An Angel, are honest and producer Dave Cobb helped bring the songs to life. Carmichael notes that Cobb “loves authenticity and honesty” and if he had to pick the most honest song on the project it’d be “Old Flame,” which he wrote by himself. An emotional country ballad about heartache, Carmichael finds himself getting in touch with a former flame, soon realizing the mistake he has made. “I’m dancing with the devil / And there’s no one else to blame / I’m playing with fire / Pouring gasoline on an open flame,” he sings on the chorus.
“That was something that I experienced and I just sat down and wrote that from the heart, by myself. It’s a darker song, actually. That was just raw. There were years where I didn’t play that for anybody. I wrote that song for me,” he explains. “I had a period where I said, ‘You know what? This is me. It’s my truth, and I have to play it for my people.'”
Carmichael admits that “Old Flame” was difficult to perform previously because he knows it’s not what people would deem a commercial song.
“There was a long time where that was my idea of what I was supposed to be writing or what I was supposed to be singing, so I didn’t want to play it for anybody,” he confesses. “It tells a story and reminds me why I write songs, because what I was going through at that time. Writing that song helped me get through it and move on from it — reigniting something that otherwise should have been left alone, I’ve made that mistake a few times. Who knows, maybe it helped me learn not to do that, writing that song and play it over and over again. Maybe it reminds me don’t open up a can of worms.”
Another song, “Hard On a Hangover,” Carmichael wrote with his mother, Becky Montgomery, and her boyfriend, Robert Jason Young. The song was inspired by a morning the three were driving home from a show they had played the night before in Kentucky.
“We were driving to get breakfast and my mom’s boyfriend, who wrote the song with us, we were all in the car and he was in the passenger seat and I was in the backseat,” he recalls. “My mom hit a bump and he looked up at her and he said, ‘Baby, you sure are hard on a hangover.’ Me and my mom made eye contact in the rearview mirror and we said, ‘That’s a song.’ So, we went back to the house and wrote it. It’s a funny song, it’s a lighthearted song, and it was inspired from a real story.”
A classic country song where a man wakes up to hear the sound of a tow truck outside, he soon realizes his truck is being repossessed by an ex since the vehicle was in her name. Carmichael says the story comes from friends of theirs and admits that they turned the event into a joke.
“All my songs are some form of a story, whether it’s about me or about someone else,” he admits. “A lot of stories in that song are inspired by other people.”
Whether he’s belting the Southern rock-fused title track “Hell On An Angel” or the ode to an uncomplicated life on “It’s Simple,” Carmichael’s authenticity shines through. For him, it’s simply about the music.
“I’m in love with music, first off. It’s always about the music for me, always has been and always will be about the songwriting and the story and the music,” he asserts. “The first time I ever heard someone sing a song that I had never met in my entire life but I felt like they had written that song for me, I decided that I want to do that. I want to write songs for people out there that I’ve never met. Songs that they can relate to [and realize], ‘Wow, I’m not the only one in the world that’s going through’ whatever they’re going through.”
He adds, “It’s really amazing how music brings people together. When I made this record, my goal was to continue to tell a story and that my music be authentic and real and me. I believe if you do that, then you’re going to relate to people.”
Dillon Carmichael’s album Hell On An Angel is out Oct. 26.