Late last year, Thomas Rhett announced the surprising news that he would do an “about face” for his sixth studio album. Instead of following 2020’s Country Again: Side A with its logical Side B companion, he would be throwing fans a change up in the form of Where We Started.
Out April 14 and described as a “return to Thomas Rhett’s in-the-moment mix of tempo, transcendent romance and tip-of-the-spear sonic trailblazing,” it’s likely to stand in stark contrast to the pandemic-written songs of Country Again: Side A — even though that project resulted in two Number Ones, a Gold single certification and a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song, as TR slipped into introspective, acoustic-driven mode. And now, we know why he’s is changing course.
Speaking with reporters just before sharing the album’s final details, Thomas Rhett admitted that Where We Started is not the album he expected to release in 2022.
“It wasn’t, but I think I’ve learned to roll with the punches over the last five years,” he said with a smile, speaking to a group over Zoom.
TR went on to explain that songwriting remains one his greatest passions, and he tends to write from where he is in real life. That obviously resulted in the acclaimed Country Again: Side A album and all its thoughtful beauty, but it also means that when his situation changed, so did the tunes. Once he and his band got back onstage in May, Where We Started was almost inevitable.
“When I wrote Side A, I had no context, every show I was doing was like this [on Zoom] … so I went down to the studio in my basement and I wrote songs about what I was feeling,” he said. “Then Country Again: Side A was released and we went and played those shows at Billy Bob’s [a three-night comeback featuring his first live audiences in over a year] and it was like ‘Dang! People have not forgotten how to party!’ I remember leaving the stage that day and being like ‘Man, we need to get back in the studio and record some things that are gonna make people want to move…'”
Soon Thomas Rhett was doing just that, and looking outside his typical cast of country co-writers for help. He enlisted pop chart topper Jon Bellion (who has written hits for Adele, Justin Bieber and more), and their work turned into the “Where We Started” title track, giving the whole project an uptempo pulse.
Although TR has yet to share that song, he has confirmed it will feature his “mind blowing” first collaboration with pop superstar Katy Perry, and says like many of his best-loved songs, it was inspired by his relationship with wife Lauren.
“Looking back at the last decade of our lives, to 2012 when I was playing 600 shows a year and Lauren was with me on the tour bus with nine other dudes, it felt like we were never going to get of that,” he said of the track. “I remember my wife being like ‘Man, how many times have we been to Wisconsin this year?’ I wake up now and we have four children, so much has changed in my career from success to bigger rooms, to getting to do neat collaborations with people, and sometimes you wake up and you’re like ‘Man, today is tough.’ But you look back at your past and you think ‘Yeah, but think about where we were.’
“I think whether you do music or whatever you do, you can look back and go ‘Look at where we are now, compared with where we were. The future looks pretty bright,’” TR went on. “I love that concept, it’s such a unique way to say I love you. I think as a songwriter you’re always striving for a new way to say that.”
Elsewhere on the new album, the “Die A Happy Man” hit maker says he further explores his life with Lauren and their four children, admitting that if it wasn’t for them, he “probably wouldn’t be talking right now.”
The project will also include other collaborations with rising star Riley Green (“Half of Me”) and Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Russell Dickerson (“Death Row”), proclaiming that “Half of Me” “begs” to be a single one day.
“He’s just the perfect dude for the song,” Thomas Rhett said of Green, adding that the pair have become hunting buddies and have even performed the new tune live a few times.
In releasing the album’s details, TR has also dropped two more pre-release tracks, giving fans an idea of the project’s stylistic spread. First is the serene sweetness of “Angels,” which describes a lucky husband’s gratitude with quiet devotion, and TR reaching for the highest vocal notes of his career.
On the other hand, “Church Boots” drops the hammer on a come-as-you-are party anthem, up-tempo and dedicated to those who feel comfortable in their own skin.
“It’s got songs that make you think about your past, and songs that make you want to party, back to back to back,” TR explained of the album.
All told, Where We Started will feature 15 new songs, all but one co-written by Thomas Rhett and co-produced alongside Dann Huff, Jesse Frasure and Matt Dragstrem. The singer-songwriter has already unveiled the project’s epic-feeling first single, “Slow Down Summer,” and says he thinks of the whole curve-ball project like a blockbuster movie.
“It kind of turned into the way movies come out,” he said. “Batman comes out, then Superman comes out, and then Batman 2 comes out.”
For those worried about the future of Country Again: Side B, TR has promised there’s no need to worry — it’s still in the plans. But for now, Where We Started is where he wants to be.
“This record is so special in a lot of different ways, from the lyrics to the melodies to the collaborations that are on here,” he said. “It should be really fun.”
WHERE WE STARTED Track List:
1. “The Hill” | Lori McKenna, Jordan Reynolds, Emily Weisband
2. “Church Boots” | Thomas Rhett, Jesse Frasure, Ashley Gorley, Ernest Keith Smith
3. “Bass Pro Hat” | Thomas Rhett, Matt Dragstrem, Joshua Miller, Josh Thompson
4. “Anything Cold” | Thomas Rhett, Jesse Frasure, Ashley Gorley, Shane McAnally
5. “Angels” | Thomas Rhett, Julian Bunetta, Jaten Dimsdale, Josh Thompson
6. “Half Of Me” (featuring Riley Green) | Thomas Rhett, Rhett Akins, Will Bundy, Josh Thompson
7. “Bring The Bar” | Thomas Rhett, Rhett Akins, Jesse Frasure, Ashley Gorley, Parker Welling
8. “Paradise” | Thomas Rhett, Matt Dragstrem, Ernest Keith Smith, Josh Thompson
9. “Death Row” (featuring Tyler Hubbard, Russell Dickerson) | Thomas Rhett, Zach Crowell, Ashley Gorley
10. “Mama’s Front Door” | Thomas Rhett, Matt Dragstrem, Ashley Gorley, Chase McGill
11. “Slow Down Summer” | Thomas Rhett, Rhett Akins, Sean Douglas, Jesse Frasure, Ashley Gorley
12. “Simple As A Song” | Thomas Rhett, Luke Laird, Josh Thompson
13. “Us Someday” | Thomas Rhett, Rhett Akins, Jesse Frasure, Amy Wadge
14. “Somebody Like Me” | Thomas Rhett, Rhett Akins, Matt Dragstrem, Josh Thompson
15. “Where We Started (with Katy Perry) | Thomas Rhett, Jon Bellion, Jesse Frasure, Ashley Gorley