After ‘years of tough,’ singer Jordan Davis’ struggle is paying off

Singer Jordan Davis struggled in Nashville for years, but the country star is having a great 2018, from a hit song, “Singles You Up,” to his debut album, “Home State.” He will open for Kip Moore at The Ritz Oct. 18.Jordan Davis

It takes us a few days to finally connect with new country star Jordan Davis on the phone. The voice behind one of 2018’s biggest songs, “Singles You Up,” called on the assigned day, a little bit late and sounding a little frazzled, where we were asked if everything was okay.

He answered in the affirmative, but once he explained why he was late, we agreed to reschedule for the following day. He’s trying to sell his home, which comes with all the headaches that can be expected.

“We’ve already bought the other house, but it’s contingent on this one selling or something, I don’t know,” Davis clarifies.

Reached on the phone before his Oct. 18 stop at The Ritz in Raleigh as supporting artist on Kip Moore’s After the Sunburn Tour, it’s clear this trading of homes is just the latest transition for the singer in a year that has been full of them.

Davis, 30, entered 2018 with “Singles You Up” slowly gaining some traction at mainstream country radio stations, where it had been sent in mid-2017, and he awaited the March release of his debut album, “Home State.”

Now entering the fall months, Davis already has been lauded at the first No. 1 party of his young career for the success of “Singles,” and has become a mainstay on the road. He has opened for acts as diverse as singer Jake Owen to radio personality Bobby Bones.

Once we connect, Davis is refreshingly honest about the difficulties for those who seek their big break within the music industry of Nashville. Among the topics we touch on are the years spent waiting for that break, and his advice for any Triangle talents looking toward Music City with stars in their eyes.

Q: Your uncle (Stan Paul Davis) had already made an impact in Nashville as a songwriter (Tracy Lawrence’s “Today’s Lonely Fool” and “Better Man, Better Off”) decades before you decided to become a country artist. Did he have any words of advice to give you before your move from Louisiana to Tennessee?

A: He’s not a man of too many words, but I think the best advice I got from him was just to listen to his songs. When you first get to (Nashville), you’re already writing, because everyone believes the old saying that you have to write 100 bad songs before you can write a good one. Uncle Stan’s “bad” songs were a lot better than what I thought were my good songs.

He walked the walk instead of talking the talk, if that makes any sense, although he did tell me that you have to (write) every day. He warned me that there would be spells where I’d have absolutely nothing going on, and wonder why I’m doing (music), but the bottom line is that we come here to write songs. To do that, you have to get up out of bed every day and write. Whether you’re having a good season or a bad season. Because if you play music, you’ll have both of those. You still have to get up and go to work. That stuck with me.

Q: You moved to Nashville in 2012 and had a recording contract with Universal Music Group in 2016. Is there one moment that really sticks out in your mind as the one where you could have walked away from music during that four-year wait?

A: There was one moment when I realized that all of my friends were kind of moving on, and I was just standing still. It had gotten to the point where I was 28 years old and still bartending with a college degree. I think everyone has goals of where they want to be at certain points in their life, and I was running right up until the last minute on some of mine.

I remember having some really tough nights, there towards the end (of waiting for a contract), where I still didn’t have (anyone recording my songs) or a (songwriting) publishing deal; a record contract wasn’t even in my thoughts, as I was trying to pay rent. That wasn’t the ideal setting for me being 28 years old.

They tell you all the time that this is a 10-year town, but that meant absolutely nothing to me. In my opinion, if it took people 10 years to see what I brought to the table musically, this wasn’t a town that I wanted to be in. It got tough there for a minute, and I almost moved back home, but my brother helped me through that phase. Kudos to the people who can stick it out in Nashville for 10 years while waiting for someone to notice them, because that time period just sucked for me.

I can promise you this: if you had stopped time at the point right before when things started clicking for me, and been like, “Alright, think back to that moment that you decided to move from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Nashville, and tell me if you’d do it again?” I have to be honest with you, I wouldn’t jump at it the way I did the first time.

Q: With so many young musicians moving to Nashville every day, and hindsight being 20/20, what decisions that you made when you first moved there would you change if you had to do it over again?

A: That’s a tough question, because now I’m sitting here with an album that I’m extremely proud of, and songs that are getting played on the radio. I can kind of put myself into that mindset of where I was, and I don’t know that I can really say that I’d go back and change anything that happened, because I needed every little bit of that tough intro to Nashville.

I can tell you that the tough thing about being here for that long — and I know some people can say that they were here longer before getting attention, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still hard — was that it was at that four-year mark where I was really getting tested, despite knowing that this business is all about perseverance. It made me work harder at it: I listened to more music; wrote more songs; I tried to get into writing rooms with other writers that would make me better.

The new up-and-coming act in any city, whether it’s Raleigh or somewhere in Texas, you’re a big fish in a little bitty pond. When you move to Nashville, Tennessee…the best songwriters in the world, the best musicians, the best singers all live in this town. You need to be 100-percent confident, and not in your talent but more in who you are as a music artist. If you don’t have that figured out when you move here, you’re not going to be the best at what you do. You have to know who you are when you come in to Music City.

I really felt like I knew who I was as a songwriter and performer when I first moved to Nashville, and I still haven’t changed one thing since I first stepped into town. I still write the same songs. It’s just that, after four years of tough, I’ve learned to write them just a little bit better.

Kip Moore with Jordan Davis and Jillian Jacqueline

When: 7:30 p.m., Oct. 18
Where: The Ritz Raleigh, 2820 Industrial Drive, Raleigh
Cost: $18 to $35. VIP tickets available.
Info: RitzRaleigh.com or 919-424-1400
Note: He will play in Jacksonville Oct. 19 at Hooligans Music Hall.

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