The Voice Alumnus Curtis Grimes on Balancing Commercial and Personal Music
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In the late spring of 2011, Gilmer, Texas-raised Curtis Grimes competed in the first season of the NBC's ratings-bonanza The Voice. While the show has remained a phenomenon, Grimes made his mark on that trail-blazing season by showing off his smooth, confident baritone vocals. He also showed his competitive-edge by sending the contestant he was picked to "battle" against, Emily Valentine, packing after they covered Lady Antebellum's pop-rock booty-call "I Need You Now." But before the two were separated, Grimes and Valentine shocked the judges by laying a massive smooch onto one another.
Whether the kiss was planned or not, it seemed sincere, and was at the very least a nice bit of showmanship from the East Texan who loves baseball as much as the traditional country music he grew up on. The slick mainstream hit he succeeded with on The Voice isn't really his style of music, but he made it seem as though it was. With Our Side of the Fence, Grimes new album, out next week, it's again clear he's an artist who knows how to be comfortable in skin that might not look like his own on the surface.
Grimes and two of his AMP Entertainment (the high-powered management team led by Tim DuBois) buddies, Matt Caldwell and Cody Johnson, each have cow-poke flavored tunes on their records. In fact, "The Cowboy Kind," the lead single from Grimes' new album has already cracked the Top 10 of the Texas Music Chart. Though Grimes hasn't ever busted broncos or hung-on for eight seconds when riding a bull, he feels the song rings true to who he is, just not in a literal manner.
"It's true I've never done the rodeo thing," says Grimes. "But, growing up, my first two jobs were on a ranch, working as a real ranch-hand. I wore the cowboy hat, tucked my jeans into my boots, mended barbed-wire fences and bailed hay every day, so I'm not the rodeo kind of cowboy that Cody Johnson is, but if someone needs me to work some horses for them right now, I could definitely hold my own."
Grimes goes on to explain the actions or responsibility of a rodeo cowboy isn't what the song's really about, anyway.
"The whole touring thing feels a lot like what a traveling rodeo cowboy goes through," he explains. "You're away from home so much, and make a ton of sacrifices for your dream, so that part is similar and really hard."
It's not only the subject matter of a song that Grimes admits to sometimes having difficulty balancing, but the overall sounds of his tunes present dilemmas in-terms of choosing personal taste over commercial needs. Given that as a pre-teen, Grimes first CD purchase was Garth Brooks' Pieces -- a fine example of a neon cowboy covering many sonic bases very well. So it's not that surprising Grimes knows how to please a party crowd without vanquishing his tear-stained leanings.
On his new record, he wrote six of the songs, and picked six songs from other writers. Though it was a first for Grimes to record other people's songs, producer and Texas-bred singer-songwriter Trent Willmon was a great help in shaping the album to sound as if it were all Grimes, all the time.
"My love is traditional country music," he says. "But the biggest challenge I face as a writer, and especially as a live performer, is how to be modern and fresh without cutting my nose off to spite my face. I might be playing to a room full of Keith Whitley fans, but they don't want me to kill the mood at a bar by only playing his sad songs the whole night. You can't be too stubborn, but you can't go too extreme, either."
While his time on The Voice provided him with a higher national profile than many in the current realm of Texas Country, Grimes had already been plugging away, gigging in many of the state's bars and honky-tonks while attending Texas State in San Marcos for three years. Because of his pre-Voice experience, he was welcomed back to Texas with open arms by other artists and not looked upon as a carpet-bagging reality show casualty.
Whether he's singing pop-songs on television, singing about the cowboy life on record or starring in a Supercuts commercial, Grimes manages to feel real, sound sincere, and deliver a record that's great fun. It's the simplicity of it all that makes it work for him, it seems. "I definitely don't ever want to act like something I'm not," he says. "People can be many things, but I still have to be me."
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