Interview: David Fanning chats about his evolution from music producer to a country superstar
© David Fanning, used with permission

David Fanning has had number one hit songs in country music as a music producer for Thompson Square and ParmaLee. Now, it is his turn as a country singer to fulfilling his dreams of becoming a household name in country music. AXS was able to catch David for an interview after his busy appearance at Arizona’s Country Thunder (CT). Here are the highlights.

AXS: You were crazy busy at Country Thunder this year.

David Fanning: Yes, it was a blast. That’s the first time I’ve played a festival all four nights. It was a really good experience and there were some crazy people out there.

AXS: Is this the first time you’ve played CT?

DF: It is. I really enjoyed it. It was a great experience. I can’t wait to do the rest of the country thunders this year. That’s the plan. I loved Arizona. I arrived a couple of days early to soak in some Arizona sun. I was there about six days and it was great.

AXS: I was reading that you are originally from northern Alabama?

DF: I was raised on the Alabama-Tennessee line. Literally, half the road is on the Alabama line and half the road is on the Tennessee line. My farm, where I grew up, was on the Tennessee side, but the school I attended was in Alabama. All my friends were from Alabama and I went to school in Alabama, but technically the farm was in Tennessee by a few feet.

AXS: Northern Alabama has a great musical history.

DF: Oh, I know. I’ve been in music my whole life. My family sings 50s and 60s a capella music. That’s how I got started. I was really young and I was a miniature Elvis. I was nine years old doing Elvis impersonations. It was an amazing way to grow up. The family did 40s and 50s barbershop and I learned all that. When I was 14 years old, I started my own band. By the time I was 16, I ended up in Muscle Schols for about a year. We found this little abandoned theatre that we fixed up and stayed. We got to work with a lot of great people like Gary Baker, a famous songwriter (“I Swear”). He influenced me by saying that you could do music as a business instead of just for fun. In other words, make a career out of music. We worked there for a little while and then we moved to Nashville.

AXS: How long were you in Nashville before you started producing records?

DF: I got lucky. I was in Nashville about a year and I ended up meeting Tully Kennedy and Kurt Allison who were Jason Aldean’s bass player and a guitar player. They had hardly had any success. They had written “Amarillo Sky” for Jason Aldean and had a little bit of success, but it was kind of rocky. I met those guys and we started hanging around.  They were working with music stuff and we looked at each other said, ‘we work together as a team, why don’t we start a production company?’ The first people I worked with were Keifer and Shawna of Thompson Square. I was 22 years old at the time and that was my first number one song as a producer.  It was a case of the right place at the right time. It was a lot of work. I moved to town and sent out 350 emails. One person emailed me back. A guy by the name of Kevin Neal and he was Jason’s booking agent. He’s the one who introduced me to all those guys. That led to my association with Thompson Square and the beginning of everything. It’s crazy how things work.

When I moved here, it was always about being the artist. Once I got the opportunity to produce, it was something I couldn’t let go of. I didn’t want to be the starving artist. I’m still producing and I just finished up a new record with ParmaLee. I produced their first record and had a little bit of success with them. They have just released their new album, Sunday Morning. It goes to radio in May, but it is for sale on iTunes, Spotify and all that this last week. I’m out on the road touring now so I can only produce when I’m off. But, the road is my passion. Being on the road is a way of staying in touch with people. Nothing against Nashville at all, but it’s a little bit of a bubble. Even going to Arizona, I could see what worked and what didn’t work at Country Thunder. I take those experiences and bring them back (to Nashville). I can use those experiences even in my production work. It’s a really cool thing to be in touch with everything, not just being in Nashville. Also I loved meeting the actual fans that make it all happen.

AXS: I noticed that you started out with Red Bow Records and that association has stopped. Do you have your own label now? I noticed that you released an EP in September called First.

DF: Yes, Red Bow is a part of Broken Bow that is Jason Aldean’s label. I was with them for at least three years. The truth is we didn’t see eye to eye on the music. They had always been good to me. I got to produce half of their artists. There is no animosity there. Sometimes you just separate the production side from the creative side when it comes to your own personal thing. I’m ‘left’ enough to be able creative in my own way thanks to everything I have learned on the production side. Now I’ve got a great independent company behind me. MV2 Entertainment is more like an indie label that we are working with now. They allow me to do what I want to do. I want to break boundaries. I want people to either love it or hate it. I don’t want there to be any in between. You work your whole life for a record deal and you realize that maybe that wasn’t what was supposed to happen at that time. I asked out of my record deal and it took a little time to convince them. They finally let me out and now things are getting back on track. It’s been less than a year and things are better. I hadn’t put new music out in a while. I’m working on a new EP right now. I would like to put out a new EP every quarter just because I have the flexibility to do it.

AXS: Are you writing the majority of your music?

DF: Yes, I am, but I’m a huge fan of if it’s a great song, it’s a great song. I don’t have to write everything. If I love a song, I’ll cut it. The biggest careers are based off of that. Take Jason Aldean, for example, almost all of his songs are outside songs. He has a great career. The same is true with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw. Some of their greatest hits are outside songs. I have no ego when it comes to that. If it’s a great song that I can relate to, then I will do it. On this First EP, I did write everything. Mainly, it was getting something out there after being tied down so long. It’s crazy what it has already accomplished. John Martin of Spotify picked it up and is on one of Spotify’s biggest play-lists and we are already at almost two million streams. It’s rockin,’ It is the power of music.

AXS: You did a Justin Timberlake cover.

DF: Yes, that was way before Stapleton did it. Stormy Warren called me up from “The Highway” Sirius XM and said that Justin Timberlake was coming into the studio and he wanted me to do a country version of a Timberlake song so we could show him what it would be like if he had a country song. This was like the day before he came in. I said, “Okay, I’ll try to.” I got into the studio and did that whole thing in a day and Timberlake flipped out. That was going to be the first single and it sold like hotcakes. It did a great thing by getting me out of producing and back into artist mode. Now everything is about coming out with new music and getting back on the road full time.

AXS: I have one last question. If you weren’t doing music, what would you be doing today?

DF: I’d probably be under a bridge (laughing). I’m one of those people that didn’t have a ‘plan B.’ I had to make it happen. It was always my passion. It still is. Even though you have had a decent amount of success, you always want to go to that next step. You always want that next number one. I have been blessed to have three from the production side. I just want that next one and not from just the people that I produce, but now my goal is for me. There are more people listening to music now than ever before. It’s just not monetized well as before.

That was where the interview ended. As mentioned during the interview, David will be performing at the rest of the Country Thunder Festivals this year. For more information on his tour, please click here.