Thomas Rhett sat down with us at his ranch outside Nashville to chat about family, the Home Team, a lifetime of music, a 10-year career, and the people who inspired the boots in his new collection.
Let’s get started, would you like to introduce yourself?
What's up? I'm Thomas Rhett. [TR makes a face, which in turn cracks up our film crew]
[Chuckling] Where'd you grow up?
Born in Valdosta, Georgia. But grew up in Nashville, so it’s home for me.
What does Tennessee hospitality mean to you?
I immediately go to most of my grandparents. Some of them lived in Knoxville. I think I was just taught how to be kind growing up by my grandparents. When I think of some of their hospitality, I think of comfort food. I think of biscuits and gravy. I think bacon and sweet tea, and chocolate delight. There's a difference here in the South. I think me and all my friends were taught at a young age, just how to treat people with kindness and welcome everybody.
I felt like growing up, going to friends' houses and whatnot, it was always “come in, make yourself at home.” That’s how my wife and I treat our house today. When friends and family come over, it's “My house is your house, our fridge is your fridge — make yourself at home.”
Tell me about your first pair of boots that you loved.
The first pair of boots that I loved, I remember I got 'em out of my dad's closet. I remember being like two or three years old, always going to my dad's closet, stealing hats or stealing jackets that obviously came down to my knees. But my dad had this really old pair of snakeskin ropers. I always used to put 'em on as a three-year-old and walk through the house in a diaper and cowboy boots.
It wasn't until I was probably 14 or 15, when a lot of kids started to wear boots to school. I didn’t have any, but my dad happened to be the same size. So I remember putting those snakeskin ropers on for the first time. I’m wearing 'em to school and just feeling like a million bucks, you know what I mean? You can't beat a hand-me-down pair of boots that you got from your dad or your granddad. So for me, those were my first pair of boots, that I … kind of stole outta my dad's closet.
Cool. How did this collaboration happen?
I slid into their DMs. [Crew chuckles]
I do feel like a lot of great friendships in my life have been spurred by social media. And it is not above me to reach out to anyone being like, “What's up?” I DM’d Tecovas asking what size I should buy ‘cause my feet are weird, and Paul got back to me and we struck up a little bit of a friendship. They sent me some boots and then a couple of years later we reconnected to make this collection. It’s kind of been a dream. I love the design process. I love getting to be there firsthand, picking leathers and picking silhouettes and, just being a part of that team. Now we're sitting here today talking about six new boots. So yeah, it’s crazy what a DM can do.
What were some highlights?
I remember the initial meeting was cool because the team started with, “Well, what do you normally gravitate towards?” And I said, “Hey, can we please just for sure make a roper boot?” So we checked that box, and then they really challenged me into some silhouettes and colors that maybe wouldn't have initially been my vibe, but the more I sat with the final product, I was like, “Dang, these are incredible.” It was a two-way street of me explaining what I loved growing up, what I love now, and them coming back and being like, “Man, what if we tried this really deep chocolate lizard cutter toe?” I'd never worn a cutter toe before, but now it’s right up there with my favorite boot in the collection. It was a very seamless process. I've done a few collaborations in my life, and this has to be one of the most hands-on I’ve been. It was a blast for me.
So, these six boots. Let’s start with the ones you’re wearing:
Ah, so these are The Akins, an ostrich roper. Obviously, my last name is Akins — and my dad — and these might not come off my feet. I remember in the design process I asked, “How do we get the ostrich to look as tan as possible?” I remember seeing Dwight Yoakam in a really bright pair of ostrich ropers back in the 80s with really skintight white jeans. And I was like, “Man, if we could recreate the Dwight Yoakum light-colored ostrich boots, then we would be good to go.” They also have a sick goat shaft on them, which is super cool. It’s probably my favorite boot in the collection, which is why I named it after myself. I love 'em to death.
The Lauren is the suede cowgirl boot in the collection. Obviously, Lauren is my wife and I named that boot after her because she grew up with horses. We've been married 10 years now, and had always been thinking, “When are we gonna get in the horse game?” And to be truthful, I've always been kind of freaked out of horses a little bit. But maybe six months or a year ago I went, “If this is my wife's passion, I'm gonna dive into it with her.” Everybody’s said, “You’re gonna become obsessed.” And I thought, “There's no way.” But as we started riding, and doing a little bit of cutting turned into a little bit of roping — I've really gotten into it. So when this boot started coming together, it reminded me so much of my wife hopping on a horse and riding around the farm, and this boot just really represents the spirit of who my wife is. And that's how The Lauren got its name.
The Gregory is the roughout cowboy, if you will. Steve Gregory, who is Lauren’s dad and my father-in-law, is a local Nashvillian but spent a ton of time in West Texas working on oil rigs. And he loved wrangling rattlesnakes as a hobby. I've seen old pictures of him in the 70s when guys used to wear really short Wrangler shorts, and there are pictures of him just holding nine-foot rattlesnakes on either side of him. I remember him wearing these suede cowboy boots with short shorts and that forever stuck out in my brain. So when it came to designing these, the silhouette and the roughout reminded me of West Texas and of Steve.
The Lankford is named after my stepdad. He came into my life when I was about 12 years old and has been super influential to me. He's always worn cowboy boots and he's always been the guy wearing either a snip or cutter toe. He also likes to dress his boots up. He wears 'em to church, wears 'em to work, — wherever he is—he's always in a nice pair of cowboy boots. So I decided to make him a stunning pair of Chocolate lizards with a cutter toe.
The Kasey is named after my sister who is four years younger than me. I used to go visit her at UT in Knoxville, and we’d go up to football games to tailgate and hang out she would always be wearing really tall cowboy boots with shorts and an orange Tennessee tank top. I texted her a picture of the boot a couple of days ago. She was like, “I sign off on that.” So that's Kasey for you.
Last but not least, The Macy. Macy is my sister-in-law and Lauren's sister. Whenever you see Macy, she's always, I mean always dressed up. If she comes over to the house to hang out, she's dressed up. So this boot reminded me of stepping out to the nicest dinner in town. It reminded me of her sense of style. And it’s a beautiful boot — a chocolate lizard zip boot with a snip toe.
What's a dream day on your ranch look like?
A dream day on my ranch is when the kids are out of school. It's not fully summertime yet because summer in Nashville is so hot. But like right now, late spring, getting to come out here with all of our kids running around, jumping in the pond, catching some fish, letting the dogs run around. We're about to get the horses out here permanently, which is going to make this place a place that I'll never want to leave. We just got fencing up and a running shed, so once we get our horses out here, I can see us being out here a ton. And that will be my new perfect day, to be out here doing trail rides with all the kids. Really just watching my kids run around like crazy people is kind of a perfect day.
What was it like growing up with a country star dad?
I remember being eight or nine years old begging my parents to let me outta school on a Thursday, so I could hop on the bus with my dad to go play wherever he was playing. But growing up with a dad that sang music was definitely different.
When I was in a rock band playing drums in sixth grade, I remember being at soundcheck rehearsing like Sweet Home Alabama or something with my dad. And during his encore, he'd let me come out and play the drums or I'd come out and sing whatever his hit was. So I got kind of addicted to being on stage at a young age. I've kind of always been that kid that whenever there was a camera around, I was just trying to figure out a way to get in front of it, you know?
Being in the business now, I feel like I got somewhat of a backstage pass into what I was getting myself into. To this day, he's one of my greatest supporters and mentors. We've written tons of songs together, and he's written a lot of hits for me. It’s very cool to have a dad that is not only your dad, but somebody that you have a great working relationship with as well. He's been such an inspiration for me and still is to this day. It’s fun to work with your dad.
Do your kids play music?
The kids love music. None of them have really picked up an instrument...yet. But I bought my seven-year-old a piano for her birthday. I got my five-year-old a drum kit, so I'm hoping that at some point they'll see enough of what I do to maybe start a band — a sister band!
When I'm down in my home studio at the house and I'm recording a vocal or putting a groove together, they love to get on the microphone. They ask me to crank the reverb to a thousand and love to hear themselves in the microphone. They're all very musical. They come up with hooks all the time. It's pretty phenomenal just to watch them. It's innately a part of their lives and really fun to watch.
What does being a father mean to you?
It is single-handedly the hardest, coolest job that I've ever gotten to do. I thought being a musician was hard until I had kids. For me, it's all about raising them right — to treat people well, and to treat people with kindness because they're looking at you all the time. You know what I mean? If you get angry at a situation, they might get angry at that situation. If you get frustrated, they might get frustrated. It's the single greatest responsibility that I've ever been given.
Who were your biggest inspirations?
My mom, dad, and my stepdad all played equally crucial roles in my life. I learned hard work from my parents and I'm very, very grateful for that. I learned respect from my parents, very grateful for that, too. And I just learned how to love, um, maybe overly love. When I was 15 and 16, there were so many girls that I felt like I tried to date that were just like, “Well, you're just too much for me.” [big grin] I got a lot to give, man. I feel like I learned so much of that from my mom, my dad, and my stepdad. And those are qualities I'm excited to continue to instill in my children as well.
When did the guitar click for you as an instrument?
I remember I was going to a party when I was 15 years old and I knew there was gonna be a guitar there. It was like a Buddy Whittington guitar, and I remember telling my dad, “I need to learn something to play this party.” And I'll never forget learning 3AM by Matchbox 20. That was the first song I learned how to play. It was easy — easy chord structure. And at that moment, getting to learn those chords and then getting to play them for a group of people that reacted and sang along?! It was like something ignited my brain — this is my new favorite thing in the world, you know?
So from that point forward, I would sit with my dad all day every day learning. Learning blues scales, learning old Rolling Stones songs, learning how to play my favorite songs on the radio. I learned how to play every Eric Church song off his first album. I wore it out in my truck. Then it became: “How many chords can I learn? How can I play 'em forwards and backward and sideways?” And “What are some variations of these chords?” I dove deep into just the art of playing the acoustic guitar.
What does Don’t Go Gently mean to you?
Don't Go Gently. There've been moments where I probably could have played it really safe, but I've never been one to play anything safe. So for me, whether it’s drawing outside the lines when it comes to music, trying crazy stuff on stage, saying crazy things on stage, making our production as cool as it can possibly be—when we step on that stage — it's go time. When I see our fans at our concerts, we're all kind of gathered under the same vibe of joy. Don’t live your life with hesitation or in a nervous fashion. Just go for it. You just gotta jump right in.
Tell us about Where We Started.
I think that whole phrase dawned on me when I realized I’ve been doing this career for 10 years. When I was thinking of what to call this record, I was talking to Lauren, and I was just like, “Can you believe how far we’ve made it?” You know what I mean? Starting 10 years ago, getting married, having $0 in our bank account, eating frozen pizza, and drinking a six-pack of beer on a Friday night. Like that was a big deal for us. And I look back at those nights and the simplicity of our lives, and you never know what the next 10 years will have in store for you.
What do your fans mean to you?
I remember when I first started in this career not having any. Going out there and playing bars to nine people. Then I started opening for people and it was like every single night we played, I could tell that our music was resonating with people. I look back after 10 years at the folks who have stuck with me through every album I've put out and for every tour that we've done, and I feel like I have some of the kindest fans on the planet. And I love meeting them before shows. Many of them are bringing gifts for my kids or bringing dog treats for my dogs, or telling me how much my wife is so much more famous than I will ever be [crew laughs]. Really! When I go to a meet and greet and Lauren is there, I just kind of step to the side. It's amazing how my fans have just loved my family so well, and the privilege to get to go out there and play for them every night is something that I could have never dreamed of.
We call our fans the Home Team and wherever we are in this country, we are always playing for you. We're pulling for your team, we're eating at your local restaurants. When we are in your town, we are here for you. Through the years it's been incredible to watch this fan base grow. The best word I can use to describe it is just: kind. When I come to a show and get to see all these faces, there is truly nothing like knowing that a lot of those folks were with you on your very first single when you had nothing going on. And then they're still with you to this day, 10 years down the road. They mean the world to me.
What do you hope your fans notice about The Collection?
A lot of people have been asking when I was going to do a boot for a very long time. To be able to finally announce that I'm partnering with my favorite boot brand and it’s also been an organic process is going to make it really cool for everybody. I see so many people at my shows wearing Tecovas boots, so I just think this is a very natural collaboration which is what every collaboration should be. I think my fans are gonna freak. I really do. I think they're gonna freak.
No, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
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