Taking The Time To Make His Music – A Chat With Country Musician David Fanning

Nashville has not only become a Mecca for country music but also has a melting pot of talent behind the scenes. The city has become the place for country musicians to travel to for recording. David Fanning may not yet be a name you are familiar with, but I can assure you that his talent shines through in other ways that you may have been touched by. Working together with artists Parmalee and Thompson Square, among others, this young man is wise beyond his years, and his ear for talent is spot on–not only a songwriter, but also as a producer.

Photo by Jeremy Cowart
Photo by Jeremy Cowart

Kathy Stockbridge (KS): Hi David, thank you so much for agreeing to talk to NYSMusic. It’s so nice to introduce you to our readers. You grew up on a farm in Alabama, talk to me a bit about how you found your way on this path of music.

David Fanning (DF): Well thank you for talking with me.  If you could ever see a picture of the town I grew up in,  it’s literally what you kinda write about in a song.  It’s kinda one of those one red light kind of towns.

KS:  I know them well.

DF:  What got me interested in music was honestly my family.  Growing up, ever since I was tiny, they were in a 50s and 60s a capella group. So they would sing bebop music on weekends just for fun, nothing obviously professional. That’s just what I grew up doing. So I was a miniature Elvis when I was like 9, 10, 11 years old. That’s how I learned about harmonies and melodies and all of that kind of stuff.  It was a great experience for sure.

KS:  So in addition to singing, what musical instruments do you enjoy playing?

DF:  I play guitar. I’m one of those people, especially in a live setting, that love to perform.  I’m definitely not Keith Urban, but when it comes down to it I can hold my own. I do a little piano, but honestly I actually started out on drums. I guess I’m one of those people that decided early on that I like to perform versus being “the guy” on any of that stuff. I do obviously play during the show a bunch, but I have a lead guitar player that is way better than I am at that.

KS:  I have a feeling you’re being very humble here. I read that you have a really good ear for music. At at the age of fourteen you began producing music and you taught yourself how to use ProTools.  Share with our readers a little bit about how that came about.

DF:  Where I grew up we had no studios, and even though it wasn’t that far from Nashville, Nashville was still about an hour and a half away. We couldn’t afford to come up here and spend that kind of money nor did I know how to growing up. I always wanted to, but just didn’t know how to. So, even though all we had was dial up internet, I learned how people recorded music and began ordering gear and just getting by. I ended up getting ProTools and established a little set up to record at the house. I started recording my own stuff and figured out how to do it as I went along. I made a bunch of mistakes, and just learned how to get sounds and different things down. When I was finally able to go to those studios, I took what I learned there and applied it to what I already knew and it really started shaping who I was as a producer. It paid off, because I was about 22 when we produced the first Thompson Square record, and  “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” was my first number one that we did on that album. It was an amazing thing. I never knew growing up that I could use all those skills and apply them to what I’m doing today.

KS:  Do you think having those skills helped to shape you as a better performer just knowing the whole process and how music is produced?

DF: I think so, it’s one of those things, I’m still growing as an artist. The negative (which is actually still a positive) is I took off about five or six years off from the road. I had been playing my whole life so getting back on the road the past couple years has been a new learning experience as to what works and what doesn’t work and how can I get better. In the studio it’s the same way on each project. We’re doing the new Parmalee project right now. This record is going to be different from the last record, as it’s a little more progressive. It’s awesome, but I’ve learned a lot more [in producing] since that last record too. Sonically I’ve learned a lot. With songs I’ve learned how to make dynamics happen more as well. It’s always just a learning experience. The music industry is always changing so it’s fun to evolve with it.

KS:  I like that word–evolve. There are so many different sub-categories within the country genre that it allows you to be creative even more so.

DF:  That’s the thing about country music. They are letting you be creative. You might be pop country, or rock country, or rap country even.

KS:  Yes, exactly. You spoke of taking some time off. Share with the readers a little about your timeline in the music business and your journey to where you are today.

DF:  Even though I took some time off from the road, I was working every day in town.  What happened with me is when I was around 20 I moved to Nashville. It’s crazy but I emailed about 300 people when I wanted to move to town. I was actually moving from LA to Nashville, as I lived there for a little while. I had moved out there because I thought, that’s just what you do. When you come from a small town you think LA is the place to be. That’s just what I thought. So I went out there and realized that I’m definitely not that kind of person. I’m definitely more of a small town southern boy, so I  moved to Nashville, and when I moved I e-mailed literally 300 people and thought maybe someone would want to give me a shot or something.  There was this one guy, his name was Kevin Neal, and at the time he was at a place called Buddy Lee Attractions who booked Jason Aldean. He was like “Man I’ll come out to one of your shows”, and at the time I was playing downtown Nashville at night. He came out and he ended up hooking me up with Aldean’s band who was Kurt Allison, Tully Kennedy, and Rich Redmond. Back then Jason was just starting to get some legs under him and stuff and have some hits. Me and the guys, his band, just hit it off and started working on my stuff in the studio. We cut about six songs and realized that we really work well together in the studio, so we started a production company. The first act we produced was Thompson Square. It all kinda went from “we actually have some success here”, to “I should focus a little bit on this production thing and build a little bit more of a name for myself on that end and see where it goes”. I went through a few years of working with Thompson Square and Parmalee, who I actually found at the Tin Roof parking lot in Nashville. [Parmalee] used to drive their RV up into town and that’s where they would park. One day I got set up to write with them and we ended up writing a song called “Musta Had A Good Time” together in their RV. I kinda fell in love with their whole vibe and I brought them to the guys and we ended up cutting “Musta Had A Good Time” and “Carolina”, getting them a record deal.

KS:  They are awesome. I had a chance to speak with them earlier this year and they are a bunch of fun loving guys. Very talented. Good call there David, great discover!

DF: During their last record we were doing I looked at the guys and said, ‘I gotta go do what I was made to do. I have to go play. I can’t sit here and get this studio tan on any more’.

KS: When you talk about your production company you’re talking about New Voice Entertainment? You’re what they consider a triple threat. You perform, you write and you produce. Do you find yourself being drawn to one particular aspect of music or do all the parts feed your creative soul?

DF: Live performance for me and just live entertainment is my thing. I love it. There’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like the rush. I love writing songs and I love producing, but to me they don’t fulfill the void that I have. I could have a million number ones on the side, and still wouldn’t feel complete if I couldn’t play. That’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m finally getting the chance to do it. I’m obviously happier than I’ve ever been. I’m a lot more tired than I’ve ever been, but where I’m at is a fun place to be at. Sometimes you’re on a bus, sometimes you’re in a van, and you’re all over the place, and it’s definitely had its growing pains as we just did a 5,300 mile West Coast trip in a miniature bus with me and the band guys getting stuck in there for eight days. It was really cool and fun though. We had a blast. It’s one of those things where we’re definitely creating memories and such. It’s been a fun journey so far. We’re ready to come to NY though.

KS:  Yeah, we’re ready to have you here. Hope you’ll be able to take in some sites while you’re here.  Our Adirondacks are gorgeous!

DF: Yeah, I hear it’s beautiful.

KS: Well, right now you’re in the studio doing some recording for yourself, talk to us a little about this new album and what we can expect.

DF: I am. We’re cutting music right now. It’s got a good amount of songs and a little bit of a different direction than the rest of the music that we’ve cut previously. It has a little depth to some of it, some is a little more progressive. For me I grew up listening to Chesney and McGraw and all those artists. But I also felt like I was on the verge of where people are now. With iPhones people are able to listen to all different kinds of music;  I was kinda there too. I listened to 90s-early 2000s rock, country, and pop.  One thing I liked about older records was it felt like each song told it’s own story and didn’t necessarily sound exactly alike. So that’s kinda how I wanted my record to be. Some of it is country-pop, some of it’s country-rock, some of it is happy and some of it is sad. I just wanted every song to have it’s own flavor to it and sound different than the song before.

KS:  I’m anxious to hear it. Will you be sharing any of the new material with us at Keg’s Canalside on August 14th, when you play?

DF:  Oh yeah, for sure. The fun thing about the show is that I still play some of the music I produced so that people kinda get familiar with some of the work I’ve done. I play a bunch of familiar stuff, but I also sprinkle in a bunch of new stuff too so that people get the whole picture of who I am.

KS:  Speaking of who you are.  You, like many musicians, dedicate time to charity work.  You work with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Can you tell us a little about your cause and why you chose to work with this one?

DF: Honestly, I’ve of course heard of St. Jude’s for a long time, and I didn’t get a chance to go and visit until a couple years ago. We went there for a few days and it was just eye opening of where it’s started, where it’s gone, what they accomplish, and the success rate they are having right now. I was expecting it to be a super sad place when I toured, but it’s not. The doctors, nurses, patients and families are all so positive. It blows your mind because they are going through the hardest time of their lives yet they are building hope and finding cures. Once I saw that I just had to be a part of it. It’s something I’ll always be a part of. It’s a great cause and they can’t have too much support.

KS: Thank you so much David for speaking to us today.  I am so thankful for the chance to personally welcome you to NY and allow our readers an opportunity to get to know David Fanning.

So as I finished up the interview, I found myself so impressed by this young man’s range of talent, his down-home goodness, and musical skills. I find the journey musicians take very retrospective as we discuss the beginnings, the journey and the current events occurring in their lives at that time both musically and personally. The one constant I always find among them all? The love of performing. The sheer love of the music. Whether he made a living out of it or not, I believe David would absolutely be on the stage somewhere doing what he was meant to do, perform live for anyone who’ll listen to him.

I urge you all to take a trip tomorrow night over to Keg’s Canalside in Jordon, N.Y. and meet David Fanning and give him a warm Central New York welcome.