If any artist can marry the right lyrics with the right melody in three minutes flat and connect with an audience, it’s Greg Bates. Full of energy and ambition, he’s always ready to write, forever in search of that perfect song.
In the most genuine sense, he is a true product of Music City, motivated not by the trappings of country-music stardom, but by the reward of a well-written lyric and melody. For Greg, it really did all start with a song.
“I was crazy about reading liner notes,” says the 24-year-old singer, guitarist and songwriter, who is poised to release his self-titled major-label debut on Republic Nashville. “I started picking up patterns of certain songwriters and hearing them in the music, and that was always the coolest thing to me.”
Traditional ’90s artists like Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam and Alan Jackson were an inspiration to Greg, and he soon discovered that some of the songs he enjoyed hearing on the radio were in fact composed by his classmates’ moms and dads.
“There were a lot of writers whose kids I went to elementary school with,” he says. “They would have writers’ rounds as fundraisers at the school and play their hits. Looking back now, I was really lucky to get to do that so early on. I was going to writers’ rounds before I ever went to a concert.”
Clearly, Greg absorbed a lot during those charity nights. While studying the ins and outs of the music business at Belmont University, the Nashville native played a showcase of his own during his freshman year and word quickly began to spread about his gift for turning a phrase. By the time he became a senior, Greg was meeting regularly with publishers eager to hear his work.
“The first day that I figured out that you can tell a story with three chords in three minutes and just impact somebody emotionally, I was hooked,” he says. “The stories are what really drew me to country music.”
And what eventually drew him to the stage as a performer. With his younger brother on bass, he and his band played assorted venues around town, entertaining crowds with George Strait covers and his own material.
Still, his primary goal was not honky-tonk domination, but earning his degree from Belmont. With that mission accomplished, Greg committed himself to his craft. “All I wanted to do was write,” he says, likening his creative process to one of self-imposed isolation. “Once I graduated, it’s like I went into a cave and wrote for about a year and a half. And that’s where the majority of this record comes from.”
Produced by Jimmy Ritchey, who also oversaw Greg’s original demos, the hook-filled album is a tight and often twangy collection of 10 tracks, all written or co-written by Greg.
His songs don’t just tell relatable tales, they tell them in a fresh way. Grooving first single “Did It for the Girl” details the extra effort a guy puts into a particularly promising date with phrases that crackle with description: I got the Chevy all shined up, paid a little more for a haircut, ironed up a pearl-snap, left that ol’ ballcap, gave myself a little extra smell-good splash.
The hard-charging “Go Time,” meanwhile, is a call-to-arms to live life and love the girl. It also contains what may be the greatest litany of cities since Johnny Cash hollered his way across the map in “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
And the explosive “I’m on It” is a staccato list of similes that would do any wordsmith proud: I’m on it, like a tick on a hound dog, white on rice, like dirt on a groundhog, like Amazing Graces on a Sunday morning/I’m on it, like rubber on the blacktop, boot on the pedal on the metal and it don’t stop/You want it done? I’ve already done it.
It’s an exhilarating song—and it’s all over in two minutes and 38 seconds. But there’s brilliance in that brevity. Greg is able to convey more in those two-plus minutes than some artists could do with six. It’s an approach, he says, that can best be summed up with four letters: WWSD?
“What would Strait do?” he says with a smile, recalling how he and cowriter Aaron Scherz asked that very question when mulling a second verse to “I’m on It.”
“I said to Aaron, ‘I don’t think it needs one. George Strait wouldn’t put a second verse in there.’ He’d even cut a full album that is under 30 minutes,” Greg says. “And when I go back and listen to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, their songs are under two minutes.”
He pauses, amazed that his gift for penning infectious, universal country songs has led to a chance at a recording career.
“I’m so excited, but most of all honored to have this opportunity,” Greg says. “The writing process is so much fun to me. Now I can’t wait to get out there and play what I’ve written for the fans.”
In other words, it’s “Go Time.”