Welcome to the Writers Round, a monthly column where Sounds Like Nashville sits down with Nashville-based songwriters and learns about each writer’s journey to Music City. This month, Dan Couch sheds some light into his life as a songwriter as well as shares the stories behind some of his many hits including Kip Moore’s “Hey Pretty Girl” and Canaan Smith’s “Hole in a Bottle.”
Dan Couch moved to Nashville in 1995 with the dream of being the next Garth Brooks. When things didn’t happen exactly how he envisioned, he found a new passion: songwriting.
The Indiana native spent years attending writers rounds and open mic nights in the late ’90s, meeting hopeful artists like himself including Kenny Alphin of Big & Rich, Ira Dean of Trick Pony and James Otto. Meanwhile, he continued to hone his craft as a songwriter. After being in Music City for three years, he soon realized that what he loved most was not being on the stage but writing songs.
“I was in love with the idea of being a star, but I’m thankful that I was because it got me here and I found songwriting,” Couch tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone. “I started doing more songwriting and really became passionate and fell in love with songwriting. Then I was determined to get a writing deal and become a songwriter and let that dream go about being the next Garth Brooks.”
In 1999, nearly four years to the day of moving to town, Couch signed his first publishing deal with BMG and continued attending writers rounds and setting up co-writes. Chart success would not come to Couch for a while. In fact, it was 13 years later in 2012 when he would see his first No. 1 with Kip Moore’s “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck.” The two-week No. 1 is what he calls “a dream being realized.”
It was a long journey to his first No. 1 hit and Couch pauses when asked what kept him going all those years. He says it was blind faith and support from his parents, friends and especially his wife, who is a labor and delivery nurse.
“We all had the mindset that if you wanted it bad enough, if you worked your butt off, that you can get there. I never doubted that I was going to be able to do it,” he shares. “Obviously, it took a lot longer than I thought it was going to, but that ended up being our journey. We’re on this journey and I wouldn’t change any of it.”
Couch adds that being hard-headed and holding the belief that success can happen is what often kept him going. Following his first No. 1 with “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck,” he’s had several hit songs including Moore’s second No. 1 “Hey Pretty Girl” as well as “Young Love” which went to No. 22 on the country charts and Canaan Smith’s “Hole In a Bottle” which went to No. 23 this past summer.
He credits his wife, who he calls the breadwinner, for allowing him to have a normal life and the livelihood to pursue songwriting full-time. “I couldn’t have done it without her,” he says. Couch’s wife is also his muse and was the inspiration behind his second chart topper, “Hey Pretty Girl,” off Moore’s debut album Up All Night.
“I remember wanting to write a song in honor of my wife, in appreciation. To tell a real story,” Couch recalls of the day he wrote the song with Moore. “I remember mostly throwing out a line that said, ‘Hey pretty girl, you did so good. Our baby’s got your eyes, and she got your nose like I hoped she would. Hey pretty girl, you did so good.’ Kip said, ‘No, man, and a fighter’s heart like I knew she would.’ That just absolutely floored me when that line came out of Kip’s mouth. I do very much remember that moment.”
“I tell people that ‘Hey Pretty Girl’ is the story about my life and the story about how I hope Kip’s life ends up someday,” he adds. “It was, for me, an amazing song and amazing co-write. Kip is such a great artist and writer. He was a writer first and foremost. He helped me say what I wanted to say in that song and helped make it the song that it is.”
Couch co-wrote five songs off Moore’s debut as well as two songs on his new Underground EP. He likens Moore to a little brother and says the two writers inspire each other and there’s nobody he enjoys writing with more. He reflects on their friendship and songwriting partnership, calling it “quite undesigned.”
“You just never know how this stuff is going to happen, but it’s probably not going to happen like you imagined it would. I imagined once I started writing that I was going to get on Garth Brooks’ record and Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney,” Couch admits. “That’s what was in my mind, but as it turns out the guys who I’ve had success with are guys like Kip –that came out of a good co-write and we just continued to write and then things took off from there.”
Couch has had a hand in several other Moore fan favorites including “Reckless,” “That Was Us” and “Midnight Slow Dance,” which was written shortly after the two writers saw Bruce Springsteen perform in Nashville. The track recalls the urgency of many songs from The Boss and Couch says both he and Moore are huge Springsteen fans.
“I remember loving that song and being very surprised that it didn’t make the first record,” he says of “Midnight Slow Dance,” which he co-wrote with Moore and Mike Elizondo. “You end up writing so many songs and they unfortunately can’t all make a record. The record cycle’s just too slow. Every two to three years putting out a record and when you’re writing that many songs, they can’t possibly all make the record. I was excited that the song found life on the Kip Moore Underground EP. It’s definitely Springsteen influenced.”
Couch also assisted with the writing of Canaan Smith’s debut album including his second single, “Hole in a Bottle.” As he explains, Smith wanted to write a song that was similar to the coolness of Eric Church’s “Drink In My Hand.”
“I happened to have that ‘Hole in a Bottle’ title, that idea, and sang what I had of it,” Couch recalls. “He got excited about it and Brett Beavers, who’s an amazing songwriter, amazing producer, was coming over to write with us that day and so when Brett got there, we told him the idea and he was excited about it. We were all in and we started pounding away at it and wrote the song and in a couple of hours we had that song done.”
While the three co-writers were hopeful that “Hole in a Bottle” would be Smith’s second No. 1 single, the song stalled at 23. Couch says it was tough and a huge heartbreak for each of the writers, but also completely out of their hands.
In the process of discussing his successes and failures, Couch offers advice to up-and-coming songwriters who are struggling to get their music heard. He urges to never think that someone else is taking your spot, either as a writer or artist, and not to look for success based on somebody else’s failure.
“When I look at the charts now or hear a song on the radio, I have nothing but respect for the guys that wrote it. I don’t care if it’s my favorite song or not. It’s just amazing that the song has made it that far and I cheer for them. I want them to be successful,” he says. “It’s a small town. We need to cheer for each other. We are, in a way, all in this together. There’s a lane for everybody.”
Couch knows this from firsthand experience as he has seen the struggles and triumphs of a song working its way up the charts. While his dream of being the next Garth Brooks has transformed into being a hit songwriter, he also stresses the importance in following your instinct as one never knows where life can lead.
“If you have a dream, chase it. If you do, you might catch it. If you don’t, you never will,” he concedes.