As Thomas Rhett has worked his way up to being one of country music’s biggest stars, he’s been known for bringing out a big visual show on tour.

“I feel like I’ve always been one of those people that like every single year, there has to be a bigger video wall, there has to be bigger pyro, there has to be more cryo, there has to be 17 gallons of confetti,” Rhett said, making light of the kind of spectacle he’s brought to his live shows in an early August phone interview.

That’s not the kind of show fans can expect from Rhett on his current tour. He grew tired of feeling like concert-goers were watching the video screens instead of the live performers and came to feel less might just be more when it comes to the visual production at his concerts. Those instincts were affirmed when Rhett, whose five albums have produced 16 No. 1 country singles, played some festivals as a prelude to starting his tour this summer.

“We played for 135,000 people with no video content and just some lights. And it was literally one of the funnest shows I’d ever done in my life,” Thomas Rhett said. “I just loved watching people watch the show rather than watching a video screen. Does that make sense? So it’s just been amazing to really dive into the lighting world and really dive in to how lights can make such a huge impact on the show, especially when they’re dialed in correctly with the music.”

The move toward scaling back on the visuals fits where Rhett is with his music and his overall life coming out of the pandemic. In a word, he’s found comfort and balance in taking a simpler approach to his life, and that’s very much reflected in his current album, “Country Again: Side A,” and how he’s presenting himself in concerts this year.

On recent albums, such as “Center Point Road” (2019) and “Life Changes” (2017), he has utilized plenty of instrumentation – including some non-country sounds – and a good deal of modern production to build out his country-pop songs. “Country Again: Side A,” by contrast, is considerably leaner sounding, more country, more organic and features acoustic guitar more prominently. In a word, Rhett went for a simpler sound, just as he’s let go of what was pretty much an all-consuming pursuit of career success.

“I feel like over the last eight or nine years of my life, my life has been in many ways very complex and always on the journey for more and always on the journey for bigger and all of these things,” Thomas Rhett said. “It was somewhere around late 2019, where I just, I don’t know man, I really started to care less about certain things that I put so much weight on in my life. Whether that was like Nike sneakers, or getting the biggest and the best this or doing the biggest and the best that. I just wanted to simplify, and I think my family played a huge role in that, of just being like, I’ve lived my whole life in the future, I feel like. Like I’ve always just been planning on ‘OK, that was a cool event. Now what are we doing next?’ It was somewhere around late 2019 that I just really started to understand the concept of what it means to be present, and living by this quote ‘be where your feet are.’  

“I feel like I’m just living so much more of a peaceful lifestyle today, a just kind of whatever happens happens lifestyle, and I’ve never been there before,” added Rhett, a father of three daughters, with a fourth daughter due in November. “So for me, that’s what this whole album represents, just really slowing down and really getting back to why I wanted to write music in the first place, and that was just to sit down with a guitar and evoke an emotion in somebody.”

Rhett got the ball rolling on “Country Again: Side A” while on tour in 2019. His father, Rhett Akins, a country artist himself who released six albums between 1995 and 2008 before focusing on what has become a highly successful career as a songwriter, came on board as his son’s opening act. 

Naturally, the two gravitated toward songwriting as the tour worked its way around the country.

“Every weekend my dad was out there – and we also flew a bunch of writers out on different weekends – and every day that I’d wake up, I’d see dad at breakfast and he would have an idea or I would have an idea,’” Thomas Rhett recalled. “So by the end of a weekend, me and dad and some of the co-writers would have written nine or 10 songs in a three-day stretch because it was kind of all we had to do. It was a great way to not just lay on the bus and watch Netflix all day. We were getting some work done, and just getting to do that with my dad was so special.”

By the time the tour wrapped up, these on-the-road songwriting sessions had produced some 120 songs. And once Rhett got home – and then was stuck at home by the pandemic – the writing continued, using video conference to collaborate with some of his favorite songwriters. 

“I’d come down to the basement two or three times a week and get on Zoom calls with some of my favorite co-writers and we would just write,” he said. “Sometimes we would write two songs in a three-hour stretch, and then at the end of 2020, I was just like man, we have like 300-some songs to choose from. How in the crap are we going to whittle this down to an album?”

The solution was to release two albums, with “Country Again: Side A” being the first release, and “Side B” to arrive sometime in the not-too-distant future.

The songs Rhett and his co-writers chose for “Side A” suit a simpler approach to the instrumentation and production. Ballads like “Want It Again,” “Heaven Right Now” and “To The Guys That Date My Girls” are decidedly country and anchored in acoustic guitar and strong vocal melodies, and colored with judiciously applied steel guitar and fiddle. “What’s Your Country Song” and “Where We Grew Up” have a bit fuller sound, and further the country feel of the album. The poppier side of Rhett’s music, a big facet of recent albums, is strongly heard only on the sweetly nostalgic “Growing Up,”

“I’m really looking forward to trying to finish out ‘Side B’ and make it really cohesive with ‘Side A,’” said Rhett, who has released a rocking new song, “Redneck Be Like,” which might well be on “Side B.” “And hopefully once both of them are out together, people can have a great 20-plus-song body of work to really dive in and listen to and hopefully it evokes something in them and hopefully it makes them really happy and want to dance and also some songs are going to make you really sad and make you want to cry, and I think that’s what country music does best. It gives you just a little dose of all of the emotions on a record.”

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