How Classic Country and Luke Combs Shaped Dillon Carmichael’s Career
Dillon Carmichael remembers writing with Luke Combs soon after he moved to Nashville several years ago. He remembers a conversation they had even better. It'd be a few years before either became a star on any level. Both men faced a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
“Me and him had a conversation about us being big dudes," the "I Do for You" singer recalls. "Back then it was a thing where it’s like you can’t get a record deal if you’re not thin. I starved myself. I would go to personal trainers, pay thousands and thousands of dollars and go through different managers because that was a serious topic."
When Combs broke through with "Hurricane" and then four more No. 1 hits, everything changed.
"Now it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s not even a big deal.’”
This anecdote came late in a conversation about classic country, old songs, new songs and girlfriends. Carmichael is a throwback in every way possible. Progressive, 21st century country music doesn't interest or influence him much, something apparent on his Dave Cobb-produced solo debut Hell on an Angel (2018).
“The new music, the most contemporary it would get is ‘90s country,” he says with a slow, middle-Kentucky drawl you can't help but lean into. That rich voice is what makes him such an exciting new artist — well, that voice and the authenticity he brings to a format artists from other genres are borrowing from like it's a take-a-penny tray. There's nothing un-country about Dillon Carmichael.
“To me it’s better right now to be getting back to ‘90s country than going forward to whatever the next thing is," he shares.
Carmichael is the nephew of Montgomery Gentry's Eddie Montgomery (you hear it when he laughs), but he cut his own trail to Nashville. Bolstered by the slow love song single "Dancing Away With My Heart," the Hell on an Angel album was received warmly so he started to book larger and larger concerts, including spots at Seven Peaks Festival in Colorado and Faster Horses Festival in Michigan last month. Earlier this year Taste of Country invited him in to tribute Keith Whitley, something he did eagerly and nervously even though he'd performed "Don't Close Your Eyes" hundreds of times.
WATCH: Dillon Carmichael Performs "Don't Close Your Eyes"
Phil O'Donnell is at the helm for Carmichael's next project, a set of songs that are less of a concept album and more of a broad listen to all the things he does well. His new single "I Do for You" was inspired by co-writerJimmy Melton's relationship with his wife of many, many years.
“I'm not married, but I got a girlfriend and that song is becoming truth for me now," Carmichael says, thinking back a few years to when they wrote it. "Back then it was about him and his wife."
The 25-year-old likes that it's not a mushy love song. "I don’t take phone calls when I’m fishin’ ... But I proudly say I do for you," he sings, thus keeping a little tough guy front. That's what comes easily for him, both musically and physically. The fact is Carmichael didn't lose much weight fasting and exercising.
“I think I lost a few pounds, but not really," he says, smiling. "(But) I got real strong.”
Fortunately for him and fans of "real country music", Combs flipped a switch that allows big men to be judged on their song quality and voice, not physique.
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