Singer says he co-wrote his 11th No. 1 just as a way to vent his stresses, figuring, "This is never gonna make the album!"
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Unthinkable as it seems today, Thomas Rhett‘s latest — and perhaps most huggable — hit, “Life Changes,” wasn’t written to be recorded, he revealed Tuesday at a Nashville party celebrating the No. 1 single, his 11th.

“We just started writing verses as a little storyline of college to getting married to now,” Thomas Rhett, 28, recalls about his 2017 session with co-writers Jesse Frasure, Ashley Gorley and dad Rhett Akins. “When we wrote it, we were like, ‘This is never gonna make the album, ever. I’m just glad we got it out of our system.’”

The songwriting get-together, at the Akins family farm, began as a “big vent session,” says the artist. At the time, he was being pulled in every direction, keeping up an active touring schedule while his wife, Lauren, pregnant with their second child, Ada James, was trying to finalize the adoption of their first child, Willa Gray, in Uganda.

“It was just a chaotic time,” Thomas Rhett says. “I can’t remember if it was my dad or Ashley, one of them said, ‘Dude, it’s crazy how your life has shifted so much in the last few years.”

With that, Gorley’s hands took over the piano, and the song began to take flight.

Thomas Rhett’s dad picks up the story: “We just started kind of writing it, not as a joke, but I’m talking about to-the-bone-true story about my life, no coulda-beens, no ‘we just kinda made this little section up, because it sounded cool.’ … We wrote it as true as I’ve ever written any song in my life.”

Thomas RhettCredit: Ed Rode
Ashley Gorley, Thomas Rhett, Jesse Frasure and Rhett Akins
| Credit: Ed Rode

One point of particular pride for the four wordsmiths is a namecheck that’s no doubt a first in the genre.

“We got Uganda into a country song!” Frasure exulted during a news conference before the No. 1 party.

“That was the goal,” Thomas Rhett deadpanned.

“We get bonus points for that,” Gorley added (not that he needs any — the song is his 38th No. 1).

Akins, who also co-wrote his son’s No. 1, “Star of the Show,” takes credit for the inspired lyric: “I was trying to think of a rhyme for ‘momma,’ and I don’t know how, just out of the blue I went, ‘Uganda!’ … We were like, ‘Is that cool? We want true, we gotta go true!”

So how did the song end up not only on the album but also as the title track? Thomas Rhett explains that it found its place simply from the word-of-mouth feedback he received from the friends and colleagues he shared it with.

“People kept texting me going, ‘Dude, this song is really cool,’” he says, “and it kind of overwhelmingly hit me, ‘Dude, this is the name of your album, it’s the name of your tour.’ … We put three [singles] out from this record and then dropped ‘Life Changes,’ and it did what it did.”

All four singles, including “Craving You,” “Unforgettable” and “Marry Me,” have hit No. 1. The party, at a Nashville sports bar, was also in celebration of “Marry Me,” the song — co-written by Thomas Rhett, Frasure, Gorley and Shane McAnally — that depicts an alternative universe if “Life Changes” had never occurred.

Thomas Rhett is acutely aware of the conflicting scenarios: “I remember when we were recording ‘Marry Me,’ and I looked at all my producers and I was like, ‘I’m the love song guy! … How do you put ‘Die a Happy Man’ out and then put a song like ‘Marry Me’ on the radio and still be believable?”

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But, he says, he was finally able to channel memories of a phase when he and Lauren “dated other people for a very long time, and if I’d never really had the courage, or whatever, to walk up to her and say, ‘Hey, we need to get married. You need to kiss me, and this needs to happen.’ If that would have never happened, I definitely would have been sitting at her wedding.”

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Thomas Rhett, Lauren Akins and their daughters Willa Gray and Ada James
| Credit: Andrew Southam

For his latest single, “Sixteen,” Thomas Rhett has returned to his real-life narrative, and he assures, he has plenty more genuine material to draw from for his next album.

“Every time I finish a record in my brain I go, I have nothing else to say,” he says. “How in the world are we gonna write for another record? And it’s funny how the moment … you start writing [again] you realize that there’s a million things you haven’t said about your life or about past experiences. …. When Life Changes came out, we were in the thick of the process [of becoming parents], and now we’re in the thick of the actual happening of being parents, and so there’s a lot of cool, different inspiration that we pulled from that.”

Frasure, who is also Thomas Rhett’s producer, reports that seven tracks have already been recorded, and more studio time is scheduled for December. He hints that one freshly written song may make the cut: Entitled “The Dream You Never Had,” it’s an anthem to the songwriters’ wives who support “this crazy life.”

So far, the album’s vibe is “really all over the map,” Frasure adds. “He’s got a little bit more country on this record, some that are very progressive.”

Whatever songs emerge, Thomas Rhett says the goal of every writing session is clear: “Keep pushing boundaries and staying true to ourselves, and keep trying to make records that can remain timeless.”