When Devin Dawson first moved to Nashville he was pretty sick of himself.
He’d been touring with his rock band nonstop and was constantly promoting himself. It all left him feeling unfulfilled and wanting to retreat to the background. So he moved to Music City to study songwriting in college.
“I wanted to just write songs for other people because I had literally been on the road 300 days a year for five years,” Dawson, 28, tells PEOPLE. “I needed a break from that kind of artist, like, ‘Listen to me. Watch me. Share me. Buy me. Me, me, me, me…’ And songwriting was a way to stay creative but also stay stationary, so I could stay in one place and still write and still get out what I needed to get out.”
Of course, staying behind-the-scenes was short-lived for the singer after he and his Belmont University dorm mate Louisa Wendorff filmed a mash-up of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” and “Style” that earned nearly 35 million views on YouTube after Swift herself shared it.
Now back in the spotlight with a hit all his own in “All on Me” and opening for the likes of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, the singer — named to PEOPLE’s Ones to Watch list for 2017 —has a hard time even squeezing in writing time.
“I’m used to literally writing every single day. That’s my outlet. That’s how I cope with life,” he says. “There’s just not even time to think about writing a song now. When I do get a day off, I’m either writing, cleaning my house, or golfing. I think in the last three months I’ve written 10 songs, where I used to write 10 a week!”
And though the busy singer cut his teeth as a performer in a rock band, he says his roots and his heart are all country.
For more on Dawson and PEOPLE’s Ones to Watch, pick up the latest issue of the magazine, on newsstands now.
“We were literally playing heavy metal, screaming, super-fast, technical death metal,” says the California native. “We would do what I call slum touring—$150 a night, 13-hour drives, sleeping in a van with a bunch of dudes kind of thing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world — it helped me find my perspective — but I grew up listening to country and that’s how I learned how to write songs. I had always done that on the side, just to please my own heart and mind, and eventually that took over more of my heart than the band.”
And while Dawson is turning heads in Nashville and gaining fans across the country, there is one box he has yet to check.
“I have not met Taylor Swift,” he says. “She ended up playing our video on her 1989 Tour on those big screens for her pre-show, and she gave us a couple friends and family tickets for the Nashville show. We got to go hang with her family, but I didn’t get to meet her. I got a chance to write her a letter and say thank you, but one day I will hopefully meet her and I’ll give her a big old hug and say thanks.”