If Russell Dickerson had released his sophomore album, Southern Symphony, pre-pandemic, he claims it wouldn’t be the same record. While the challenges and restrictions presented by COVID-19 kept the singer off the road this year, this season of quarantine enabled Dickerson to double down on the creative process.
“I’m super grateful my record wasn’t done before the pandemic, because I got to really dive deeper into the music that is my life,” the hitmaker reveals. “I got to spend time with each and every song on this album.”
Eradicating any fear of the proverbial sophomore slump, Dickerson took more ownership this time around and with it came the freedom to openly express his opinion throughout the recording process alongside his co-producers, Dann Huff and Casey Brown.
“I was definitely more confident in the studio voicing my opinion and my tweaks to these incredible musicians that I look up to like crazy,” Dickerson offers. “I really feel like I put my Belmont music major to work on this album, because I hopped right in with Dann and Casey to dial in the musical aspects of this record; and I wouldn’t have had time to do that if it wasn’t for the pandemic.”
The fact that Huff is even a part of Southern Symphony is a full circle moment for the singer. After signing his first publishing deal years ago, Dickerson took a meeting with the award-winning producer to talk about working with him on his debut album. Huff told the budding songwriter he wasn’t ready.
“It hurt. I hated it,” admits Dickerson of the honest conversation. “It was like, Ugh, I want to make this record so bad with you. But his rejection was motivation for me. I just kept writing and writing.”
Dickerson’s perseverance paid off in the form of a critically-acclaimed debut that propelled his first three radio singles to the top of the charts—an historic feat for a new artist. After receiving an award for his first No. 1, “Yours,” Dickerson ran into Huff again at the annual BMI Awards. That’s when Huff expressed genuine interest in working with the rising star. Dickerson called the respected producer weeks later to let him know that if he was serious about collaborating on his next record, there would be “no higher honor.”
Before Southern Symphony released, the project’s lead single, “Love You Like I Used To,” crowned the Country charts for two weeks, becoming Dickerson’s fourth consecutive No. 1. The hit, a mature look at how committed love only grows with time, helped pave the road for the new LP.
“There were just a few songs that really set the tone for album two,” he shares, pointing to not only his most recent chart-topper, but also his next single, the autobiographical “Home Sweet,” which he penned with Brown and Lady A’s Charles Kelley. Other writers on the album include Dickerson’s longtime collaborator Parker Welling, Corey Crowder, Jon Nite, CJ Baran, Steven Lee Olsen, Jordan Reynolds and Dave Barnes—a tight tribe of songwriters and friends that Dickerson says really made the record what it is.
“They were the ones who met me out on the road,” he says, “and they were the ones who took the time to hear me out and really spent time digging into writing songs with me.”
When Dickerson began whittling down options to form his final track listing, he wasn’t looking for the biggest names; he was simply in search of the best songs. “When I’m making an album, I throw all of the songs into a folder, and I just listen,” he says. “It gets to the point where I don’t even think about who I wrote it with. It just becomes a song.”
Similar to the songs that defined his debut, Yours, the 10 original cuts on Southern Symphony are a mix of enthusiastic party starters, nostalgic moments and thoughtful love songs inspired by his wife of seven years, Kailey.
Claiming he’s had the title in his back pocket for years, Southern Symphony—also the business name of his official touring company—takes a deeper look into the Tennessee native’s formative years with a title track that name checks aspects of a good old-fashioned southern upbringing.
“That’s the sound of my childhood. That’s the sound of what made me who I am,” the “Blue Tacoma” singer says. “It just felt right to title the album that. Every song on this album came from that early beginning and all of these things that made me who I am.”
Perhaps he’s reflecting on his own childhood more in recent days since becoming a father. Dickerson and his wife welcomed their first child, Remington Edward, in September. With the baby weighing in at more than 10 pounds, the new father quips his son is already excelling in height, weight and development.
“It’s a whole new gear—dad gear. I will say touring definitely prepared us for parenthood,” he shares. “You play a show, exhausted. You’ve got to get up the next morning at 4 a.m. for a flight. You’re getting three or four hours at night.”
Despite the lack of sleep, the first-time father can’t help but gush about the sweet home life he shares with Kailey and Remington, sure to inspire additional songs in the future. For now, he’s just grateful for the seemingly perfect timing as he rolls out Southern Symphony and embraces dad gear…full throttle.
Now that he’s officially launched fresh music out into the world, he’s hopeful his new songs will do what music innately does. “I feel like my job is to let my music be therapy to people,” Dickerson says, still in disbelief that he gets to do this for a living. “There’s certain songs where I stand back, and I’m like, Holy cow, where did this song even come from? I can’t believe I wrote this song. And that’s honestly what I think about every song on this album. I listen to this album, and I’m like, I can’t believe this is mine.”