Universal Music Group Nashville
Easton came straight -- no pun intended -- out of the gate boasting a success not many new artists usually have during their debut year. He scored two No. 1 singles, 'A Little More Country Than That' and 'Roll With It,' earned his first CMA Awards nominations and took home a handful of awards at the inaugural American Country Awards, where he was nominated for seven trophies. The Florida native also took to the road on his first major tour, opening up for Brad Paisley on the H20 World Tour this past summer.
A man of few words several months ago, this new artist has been learning the ropes and broken out of his shell quite a bit as he talks about his unique name, performing in front of others for the first time and learning what to do and what not to do from the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year. When The Boot caught up with Easton at a Nashville studio and at his No. 1 party for 'Roll With It,' he also chatted about meeting one of his heroes and reflecting back on the amazing year he has enjoyed in 2010.
Easton is a pretty unusual name. Where did that come from?
[laughs] I guess it has to do with the fact I was born the day after Easter, that's what I always figured. I know my dad named me, but I never got to the bottom of that.
Do you remember the first time you performed in public?
When you're a small kid, there's some memories that stand out to you. I remember we were going to Chiefland, Fla., which was the town that they had the grocery stores and they had a WalMart and everything. I remember going down there one day and using the gear shift as my microphone and Mel McDaniel came on the radio with 'Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On' and singing to that.
You came from a small town in Florida, so what was it like when you moved to Nashville?
That was a big change. This was the big city to me. But the cool thing about it when I got here and started making friends and acquaintances and stuff, I kind of started realizing it was a small town here, especially on the road where everybody knows everybody. I've grown to really love it. It's a great place.
Your debut single, 'A Little More Country Than That,' really connected with a lot of people, and it was your first No. 1 hit.
When I first heard it, it's almost like those guys wrote it for me. Obviously, they didn't sit in a room and think about me when they were writing it. But it describes me, where I come from, how I grew up, and I feel like my fan base and audience, that's how they grew up, too. That's why I thought it was so perfect for the first single because what it exactly does is introduce me.
'Roll With It' was your second No. 1. What drew you to the song?
The song really resonated with me and reminded me of being in Florida and maybe going to the beach on the weekend or maybe hanging out on the river with your buddies. It was just one of those songs that was a fun, upbeat, throw-your-cares out the window song.
Your third single is 'I Can't Love You Back' is a bit of a departure from your two previous singles.
I heard it, and I went, "Wow! That's a great song!" It's one of those songs that starts out and then it builds the whole time and it gets really big, and I thought that was really cool about the song. I didn't know it, but I looked at the credits and who wrote it and Carson [Chamberlin], my producer, is actually one of the writers. I was like, "Man, why didn't you bring me this song?" But the cool thing about Carson is he's such a low-key guy. He doesn't push his own songs. And the other cool thing about this song is the ending. Whatever happens in the song, it can be left up to the interpretation of the listener, and whatever they think will happen; there's really no definitive ending to it.
How did you choose the songs for your debut album?
They have to mean something to me. I heard a lot of great songs out there, and there are some songs that are great, but they don't fit who I am and they don't relate to me. A lot of times that's the first thing I look at are songs that relate to me. Secondly, is it something vocally that I feel like fits my style also. I feel like it's a growing process. There's songs that I did back then and songs that I wanted to do back then maybe I wasn't ready for until maybe the second or third record. As you develop as an artist, there are songs that you can't do then, that you can do now. It's one of those things that you have to measure out, too.
Many artists give insight into their private lives through Twitter, we rarely see any tweets from you. Why is that?
It's kind of funny. I don't ever know what to say on Twitter. A lot of times, unless I got something to say, I just won't say it all. I'm just not as clever as some folks on that stuff, but you know, that's just kind of me.
Being on tour with Brad Paisley for his H20 Tour was probably quite the learning experience for you.
That's the first tour I've ever been on, and [laughs] it's a good one to start out on. You get up there with guys like that -- Brad and Darius [Rucker] and people like that -- they've been doing it a long time. As a new artist, you're just starting out there developing your act or whatever you want to call it, and I think that's something that continues. You're always developing that, and by watching guys like that, you learn what works and what doesn't work. There's always something to learn by watching those guys.
[I learned] just about the whole thing, about getting out there an entertaining the crowd. An hour or 90 minutes is a long time to entertain, so you just learn to get out there and engage the audience. It's hard to get out there and do that, especially with my situation when you've only got two hits out there, and you play an hour and 15 minutes, you've got to do something to keep the crowd into it, or either just get them really drunk!
You tend to remember the things that went right on stage, but you remember the things that went wrong a bit more. What has gone wrong for you on stage?
Your ear monitors go out and you can't hear anything, so you're basically listening to the front house [laughs], or a guitar string breaks and the whole guitar goes out of tune. You learn to deal with it, because most of the time the audience doesn't know any different, but you think they do because you're the guy up there. A whole P.A. goes out, and I was on stage the other night and the pegs that hold my strings in, and three of them pop out. Thank God, though, my strings didn't come out, but I looked on the ground and there they were.
Being on the road and garnering the success you have had over the past year, how has your wife adapted?
She's done very well. It's tough being away and traveling so much, but she's done very well and been supportive. It's really cool that all of our families are in one area down home, so when I'm gone, a lot of times she'll go down [to Florida] and hang out with the family. It's good that she has that support around her.
How about you?
Getting used to everything, but I guess you adapt to it. I feel like I've gotten a lot more comfortable and just growing and learning from all of this.
And your parents -- they must be thrilled with your success, especially when you told them a few years ago you wanted to move to Nashville to be a singer.
They're just really happy that we've had this kind of success. My dad watches the charts more than I do. I mean, he'll call me up and tell me where it's at on the charts. He doesn't know how to get on the computer, but my stepmom does, and he does it through her. He has no idea how to run the computer. It's funny, we were No. 4 at one time, and we kind of dropped back to five, and he called me and said, "Son, I just want to let you know you were No. 4, but it looks like you're No. 5 now. I wonder if somebody made a mistake on that chart or something. You might need to point it out to somebody." And I said, "Dad, don't worry. They know what they're doing. Trust me."
You earned your first CMA nominations this year. What was your first CMA Awards experience like?
I got to meet Alan Jackson for the first time, which was really cool.
So, did Alan know who you were?
He knew the music. Of course, I'm familiar with him, obviously. I actually cover some of his songs in our set, so that was really cool to get to talk to him about that. I was starstruck, of course, with Alan Jackson, one of my heroes. We just talked about the music in general and kind of the love of traditional country music.
Who were your non-musical heroes?
My grandparents, and they still are my heroes. They helped raise me a lot, and they didn't have to do that. They always made sure you had what you needed, even if they didn't have it. Of course, they grew up during hard times and were able to make it through. My grandpa worked 30 years at a sawmill, and the most he said he ever made was eight-dollars and 50-cents an hour. And he retired in 1990, so that hadn't been that long ago. He was also a leader in the community. Actually, he was the longest-running county commissioner in Florida.
You've had a helluva year with two No. 1 songs, a major tour with Brad Paisley, and not to mention all of the award nominations and your American Country Awards wins. Which moments stand out to you as you look back at 2010?
Obviously, looking back, I think about the two No. 1s we've had, and all the success. For a new artist, it's been a pretty quick year. We've been out there hitting the road a lot, and over the past six months, we'll have more than 120 dates on the books. There's a lot of stuff that comes to mind, but being out in front of those people [stands out the most]. When we started, nobody knew who in the world I was. From the radio tour to now, you see those crowds getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and people start singing along with those songs a little more and a little more each time. So, that's a really cool feeling watching that evolution of that song working its way up the charts. And of course, playing the Opry for the first time. That was a really cool experience. My grandparents got to come and share that with me. That will always be a cool experience.