Ben Burgess may not be a household name in country music yet, however, he is certainly no stranger to the genre. A notable name in prestigious songwriting circles, the 37-year-old singer/songwriter has been credited for co-writing Morgan Wallen’s smash breakthrough hit “Whiskey Glasses.”
He’s also behind songs like the Jonas Brothers’ “Chillin’ in the Summertime,” Lil Wayne’s “Dreams,” ERNEST’s “Flower Shops,” Dierks Bentley’s “My Religion,” and more.
These days, Burgess is stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight, beginning with his debut project entitled, Tears The Size of Texas. Out now via Big Loud Records, the compelling ten-track collection finds Burgess putting his earnest weathered vocals over brutally honest lyrics.
With all songs co-written by Burgess, the album includes eight cowboy songs and two murder ballads.
Burgess, who hails from East Texas, and attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, spent years honing his craft, first in Austin, performing at the clubs on Sixth Street, then in Los Angeles, where he cut his teeth. But, it was Nashville’s music scene where he felt most at home.
“Music Row opened its arms to me. It felt like I was back in East Dallas with friends, cousins, relatives, and people I’ve known my whole life,” Burgess, who eventually signed deals with Warner Chappell Publishing, and Big Loud Records, tells Music Mayhem.
Burgess recently spent some time with Music Mayhem to talk about his journey in country music as well as his 10-track Tears The Size of Texas album.
Read on to find out more about Ben Burgess in this exclusive Q&A below.
When did you begin a career in country music?
It all started when my dad put a guitar in my hand as a youngster. He taught me to craft a song. That eventually led me to Austin, where I played in a cover band for about 5-6 years. I studied all of the classics and songs that live on for years to come. Through that, I got a cut with the Jonas Brothers. That’s when I realized that writing songs for other people was an actual business. The lady who got that going for me told me she could get me signed with a publishing deal in three months if I were to move to LA. I went there and left everything I knew. I got like one cut out there, and then I got my a** kicked for about four years. But I got in with a ton of professional songwriters and producers. That’s where I got my first taste of the business. But around that time, I ran out of money… Then I met a guy named Patrick Clifford, who worked out of Nashville. He said, ‘Dude…You’d be crazy if you weren’t coming to Nashville to write songs. So, I headed there and fell in love with the city. Music Row opened its arms to me. It felt like I was back in East Dallas with friends, cousins, relatives, and people I’ve known my whole life. A couple of years later, my buddy Kevin Kadish and I wrote “Whiskey Glasses,” and that’s pretty much all she wrote. Now, I’m going my own thing. I’m just about as nervous and excited as a turtle about it. I can’t stand it! I’m so excited!
You have a unique sound that sets you apart from other artists. Have you reflected on your success with “Whiskey Glasses”? How did you navigate your songwriting after experiencing a No. 1 hit?
Thank you for that…Once I started writing for country music, I had to get in there and try to write for it. Through doing that, you can lose yourself. Along the way, I did. With songs like ‘Whiskey Glasses’ and Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Life Rolls On,’ those are some of the moments I remember saying, ‘You know what? I want to write these songs for me as a songwriter, and if somebody likes them, great. If not, at least I like them.’ That’s where my switch came and what transitioned into this artist project. About half of the songs I wrote before the record deal, and the other half I wrote afterward. Some were songs that people were too scared to cut or too personal to cut, for them, as artists. I’m glad they didn’t. But when it comes to ‘Whiskey Glasses,’ now that I’m on this artist route, I think about Morgan a lot because I’ve been a part of his journey. We’ve become close friends over the years. All those shows we’ve been to, and the songs we’ve written together, make me grateful for how it worked out. It also has me focused to have my version of “Whiskey Glasses” as an artist.
Your buddies like Morgan Wallen are selling out big stage arenas. Do they offer you any advice as far as the performance side goes?
They do! Jake Owen says it’s all about your posture onstage. HARDY says it’s all about getting in the crowd’s face. Morgan says it’s all about getting up there and singing your a** off.
Congratulations on your new album, Tears the Size of Texas. So, you co-wrote all of the songs on there. Did you intentionally choose not to cut any outside songs for this project?
I think it is important and indicative of an artist on Music Row who signed a deal, to cut outside songs. It changed my life to have Morgan cut my song. I want to do that in my own time. But, once we started cutting, some of the sounds weren’t lining up with the songs I had written. So, I think we’ll save those for the next album. But, we weren’t saying, ‘It’s gotta be written.’ It just has to follow the story and sound we’re trying to grab a hold of. We want something people can listen to while smoking a joint or at a concert where they can start a mosh pit. So we toed the line, and I think we did a pretty good job. I’m excited about cutting other songs. I keep seeing songwriters around town and telling them to send me songs. I’m looking!
Tears the Size of Texas includes cowboy songs and murder ballads. What inspired this project? Did you watch Westerns, or do those sounds and lyrics stem from your upbringing in Texas?
I think it’s a little bit of both. I was raised by one of the baddest men to walk the face of the earth. My father, Steve Burgess, was a fireman for The Dallas Fire-Rescue Department for 33 years. I had the honor of being raised in a family that was split up at a young age. I was raised in the firehouse by a bunch of heroes and legends. They taught me everything I know. I wanted to be a fireman, but college and me didn’t go together. I knew I was destined to do something heroic. I feel like that has followed into the music. I also grew up on Westerns and crazy old western music. I feel like it’s my mission to run toward the face of danger like my heroes did growing up. It always hurt me when I was on the engine with them, and they would run into a burning building. I had to sit back in the car because I was just a kid, but it took everything I had for me not to go in and fight it with them. I feel like, in some ways, I’m out there fighting fire with them boys with this album.
When you talk about pitching songs to other artists, who were too afraid to cut them, titles like “When We Die” and “Kill A Man” stand out to me. Is there one track on the album that you consider the riskiest move?
I think you nailed it on the head. After I wrote “Kill A Man,” I sent it to Morgan Wallen and Jake Owen. They didn’t say anything about it. It was just crickets. So, I figured they were scared to touch it. I’m glad they didn’t because I loved how that song came out. I feel like I touch on some honesty there and some self-reflecting. I say, ‘Hey, man. I can take a loss. I can talk about it because I think that makes a man. That’s what leads you to turn a page in your life and be able to move on and create a new chapter for yourself.’ “Kill A Man” is one of those songs.
I think “When We Die” is a tough one. You gotta be honest and say, ‘Hey man. I’m pretty much at the end of my rope here. So, I’d like to know where I’m going because I don’t wanna wake up without you by my side. So tell me, where do we go when we die?’ I feel like both of those songs touch on heartbreak in different ways. One is where you’re fed up, and the other is where you want to kill somebody. There’s nobody I don’t know that doesn’t say, ‘I wanna kill somebody today.’ They are just kidding. But in this world, it’s not lost on me that a ton of tragedy happens every day. I hope this song can help somebody realize, ‘Look, man. Tomorrow is tomorrow. As long as you get there, that sun will come up. We’re going to be alright.’
How did “High Road” come about?
Let’s say, I and an ex, who can’t be named, got to a point in our relationship where there were a couple of bumps in the road. Every time we drank, they came up, and we had to talk about it, fight about it, and get all in a tizzy about it. I just said, ‘You know what? We should put the bottle down and pick up that Mary Jane.’ I’m a huge proponent of the legalization of marijuana. My father and grandfather were first responders, and my uncle was in the Navy. I have military members in my family, and I feel like there’s good medicine for people in need. It helped my lady and me at the time. It helped us get over some of the older things. We were able to – no pun intended – turn a new leaf when it came to getting stoned and having a good time without booze. Even though I am the king of whiskey, I think it’s good to practice different practices now and then.
Do you have a favorite track on the album?
“Ain’t Got No Phone.” I think that’s why I ended the record with it. It’s one of my most personal songs. It’s short and sweet, like life. I think I dove into some of my favorite songs. I feel like I wrapped them all up with some heartbreak and honesty. I hope it touches people, who may have lost somebody.
What do you want fans to take away from this album?
I want people to take away that cowboys do cry. No matter how tough it is, there’s always tomorrow. I hope it brings some hope… it gives people that might need extra Diesel fuel in their tanks some gusto and I hope some of it rings true because I feel that with honesty and truth, other people can relate. After all, I feel like we’re not all that different, and a bunch of us have been through the same thing, if not going through the same thing at the same damn time.
What’s next for you?
We’re writing for the next album as we speak. It’s exciting to see what songs are people’s favorites because I’ve just been playing these for myself, the label, and my family. So, now that other people are here and we’re in a bigger pond, I’m excited to see what the fish are biting on. I’m doing about 10 shows with Warren Zeiders, the Internet Outlaw. I’m doing acoustic shows. I get to show people the more intimate side of me. We don’t write these songs with the band. We write them stripped-down on guitars. So it’s nice to show fans the bare bones of it. I think people are responding to it. Then I’m getting on the Role Models Tour with Jelly Roll and Koe Wetzel, the bada** of Texas. I’m excited about that. I think we’ll end the year in Las Vegas at the bull riding convention in December, the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) with Koe and Bones Owen. These guys are some of my favorite artists. To play with them and open shows, has been a goal of mine that’s become a reality. So I can’t wait to see what happens next year.