Flash back to the summer of 2011. The song on everyone’s lips was “Tonight, Tonight,” a popular new track from rising band Hot Chelle Rae. The 2x platinum song landed the group at No.5 on the Billboard Pop Songs Chart (No.1 on the Adult Pop Songs) and earned the band an opening slot on Taylor Swift’s Australian leg of her Speak Now World Tour, a performance on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest and the 2012 American Music Awards’ Best New Artist award.
Fast forward five years. The band’s lead singer, Ryan Follese, is now signed to Big Machine Label Group as a country artist. But the transition from pop-rock to country wasn’t a far step for the 29-year-old as some may think. You see, country has always been in his blood… His parents are Keith and Adrienne Follese. Keith was the 2001 ASCAP and Billboard Country Songwriter of the Year and has seven No.1 songs, including Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That” and Faith Hill’s “The Way You Love Me.” Adrienne co-wrote “Long Gone,” recorded by Lady Antebellum, and “I Love You,” recorded by Martina McBride. Country music has always been in Follese’s DNA and now, he’s ready to own it.
“It is coming back to my roots. I wish there was a better way to say it but it really, that’s what it is,” Follese told Sounds Like Nashville in a recent interview. “I grew up surrounded in country and I feel like that’s what made me want to start a rock band to begin with. Just like, you revolt against your parents. Country music was the only thing I knew until I was a teenager and then I was like ‘oh, I want to be in a rock band!’”
The rebelling kid did just that, forming a rock band with some friends, then later transitioned into the pop-rock group Hot Chelle Rae.
“…As I kind of got a little bit older and matured, real life starts to happen and I can’t tell that story in a two-minute and 45 second pop song,” he explained. “Everything that I was writing was just coming out country. Just everything was country and I mean, I told my parents that’s what I wanted to do and they thought I was crazy at first and then they were very supportive. Everybody I told that I wanted to do that wasn’t into it at first and then, as we started to write the songs, it started to make a lot more sense and it feels very natural.”
Eventually, Follese toyed with the idea of leaving Los Angeles to return to Nashville, but it wasn’t until he got a phone call from home that his fate was sealed.
“I was in Los Angeles and I had been writing country and my buddy Cameron was out there and he was really wanting to move to Nashville as well,” Ryan recalled. “I got a phone call that my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I wanted to come back to Nashville long before I got that call, but the moment I got the call, I was like I’m out. That was it. So I came home and before she started chemo, we started writing. I like to say, as cheesy as it is, we wrote off cancer because that’s what we did. Every day, she would go down in the morning and get chemo, come back, be in the studio by 11, and we were writing. It was incredible. It made anything that I was going through feel so trivial.”
The endless writing sessions with his mom, dad, brother (and Hot Chelle Rae bandmate) Jamie and co-writer/producer friend Cameron Montgomery turned into an album, one Follese can’t wait for fans to listen to. As a preview to what they’ve been working on, the singer released “Float Your Boat,” marking his BMLG (and country) debut.
“We thought it was an awesome, kind of introduction to the project in a fun, summer song and just something people would enjoy out on the lake,” he explained.
“This was one of those songs that… we had been working on a song earlier in the day and it wasn’t going well, and then my producer and co-writer friend of mine played this really bizarre guitar riff and my brother came out with this kind of concept. It was a concept that I had had in my phone before, and when that happens, you know it’s a good thing already. So in like 20-30 minutes, the lyrics all kind of fell out and then we spent the next five months just working on the production of it. It was a really quick write. I say that we wrote that song in 20 minutes in six months,” he said with a laugh.
While the song’s official release was personally special to Follese, it also marked a momentous occasion for his family in general.
“‘Float Your Boat’ came out, the day it came out was the last day of her treatment.” He continued, “So in a year, moved home, wrote a whole record, got picked up by Big Machine, and then on the first day the song comes out, she’s done. It’s amazing.”
Follese couldn’t be more pumped to have his first track at country radio and hopes country music listeners, as well as Hot Chelle Rae fans, embrace what he’s been working on.
“At first there was a little bit of like shock about the band not doing music anymore and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, a lot of the fans are fans of us as individuals and I think if they like what our band did, they’re going to love what I’m going to do now.”
“Float Your Boat” is currently at country radio. Check out the lyric video for the song below…