Nashville is known as Music City, but it’s rare that a Nashville native makes it into the Top 20! That’s the story behind Mitchell Tenpenny. His grandmother was the head of Sony Publishing, so he actually has some family ties to music. He spoke with Country Countdown USA about his life growing up in Music City.
Describe attending music events as a kid with your grandmother: “I saw some cool things, but as a kid, you don’t really notice what you’re seeing, then you get older, I loved that part, I loved being in Nashville, and you just do whatever you can to stay in that industry. I had family that inspired me to stay in it, which isn’t the norm either. They never told me to get a real job. They never pushed me away no matter how bad my music was, or whatever genre I was pursuing at the time. You get a little better each time.”
What did the songs sound like as a kid? “I started a band as a kid, so it was more rock, the punk rock scene, I went through teen age angst. My mom & dad came to all those shows. They sat through it all. I ended up picking up an acoustic guitar, and wrote a love song, and my mom cried. I think it was because she knew she wasn’t going to have to go to hardcore screaming shows any more.
You left home for college? “I could have gone to Belmont, which is an amazing school, but I went to MTSU, so I got away from mom, but I didn’t want to be too far away. I started writing, I had a studio, I could still drive in on the weekends. So I wanted to stay close, but I wanted to get away too. In college, I realized I wanted to pursue the music thing. I never did internships, but just did everything I could to stay in music. I got free internships growing up.”
So at some point, you wrote a song that got recorded by Granger Smith called If The Boot Fits: “Yeah I had been writing songs for a couple years at that point. One day I wrote a song with two of my buddies, and we went back and forth about it for a while, and sent it to Granger Smith. That changed our lives, it went on to become all of our first #1s. Having that first #1 opened the door to everything else. If we didn’t decide to do that, who knows if we would be here.”
What was your experience watching that song go up the chart? “That was my first time watching one of my songs go up the chart, which I think is a curse as a songwriter, we shouldn’t pay attention to things like that. But it was neat, it was a slow crawl, and neat to see videos of people holding boots up, hearing your song on the radio, and that’s what gives you all the hope for all the no’s you hear for your other songs.”
So now you hear “Drunk Me” on the radio: “That’s a crazy experience too. Hearing something I put out, it’s weird, it’s a completely different emotion. This is something I’ve dreamed about as a kid. I heard it in Charlotte the first time, but I kinda knew it was coming. But two weeks later I heard it on a station in Nashville, and I started crying. It was so much leading up to that emotion. It even solidified even more this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
As a Nashvillian, what is CMA Fest like for you? It’s a different experience as a kid. This time, now I get to do this stuff, and remember how much it meant to me, I want to try and return that favor because that memory always stuck with me. That was a huge influential part of my life. It changed who I was as a person, it made me who I am.”