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BWW Interview: Ty Herndon of BROADWAY AT BIRDLAND

BWW Interview: Ty Herndon of BROADWAY AT BIRDLAND

Ty Herndon is a true-blue trailblazer. He has given his life to his art and to his fans and, now, he gives more than ever before. A few years after becoming the first mainstream male country singer to come out, Herndon returned to his roots as a songwriter and began producing his most personal albums to date, using his art to illuminate and living his life to lead by example. Bouncing back from a dark time, he has come to the happiest place in his life, and much of that is due to the devotion of old fans and the accumulation of new fans, all of whom support and welcome all of his new ventures - and all of whom he respects and connects with during personal appearances and social media interactions. In an effort to keep that connection growing, Ty Herndon has begun playing intimate venues where the dialogue between him and his audience is so personal that there can never be any doubt that they are family. That's what Ty Herndon wants to do with his work and his art: bring people together as one, and he is succeeding in a big way.

BWW Interview: Ty Herndon of BROADWAY AT BIRDLANDIn the fall of 2019, Herndon made his New York City small venue debut at Joe's Pub and the fans turned up for the special experience of being thisclose to their idol (and another idol when his "sister from another mister" Kristin Chenoweth put in a surprise appearance. That show such a hit, Herndon is about to make his second NYC small venue appearance when, on March 16th, he plays the legendary jazz club Birdland. It may seem a bit strange to think of one of Country Music's great stars playing a jazz room, but it's not strange when one considers how the powers that be at Birdland have been thinking outside of the box and expanding their artistic vision, and Ty Herndon is just right for that vision.

As the days before his concert count down, I reached out to Mr. Herndon to chat about his music, his new LGBTQ+ family, and his ink...

This interview has been edited for space and content.

Ty, how are you doing today?

I am doing so well, my friend, just sitting in my pickup truck in Nashville talking to you. (Laughing)

That's a nice way to spend half an hour. I hear you just had a vacation

An awesome vacation! We did. It's just a nice reset button,

Right? That's what they're supposed to be. I'm glad for you.

Oh man, thank you. I've got two albums to make in the next two months, so I needed it.

You're making two albums at the exact same time?

I am! Yes! I'm making two albums - up first is the new original album for me, I'm going to dig really deep on this record, taking off some band-aids, exploring some old wounds and talking about healing -- and there'll definitely be some sunshine in there as well.

There's always sunshine with healing.

I know that's right, I love that you said that.

And the second album?

I'm exploring some old jazz classics. I'm going back to some Frank Sinatra... in 2021, I'll be doing some symphonies, so I wanted to put an album together that I could go into symphony halls with, and also do my hits. My record label loved the idea, so they blessed me with putting two of them together.BWW Interview: Ty Herndon of BROADWAY AT BIRDLAND

I'm really happy that you started the conversation with openness, talking about healing because I was at your show at Joe's Pub last fall and you bring such openness to your concert appearance. What you give to your audience is so vulnerable and strong at the same time - I think that's a power that you have.

I appreciate you saying that. I think that's my grandmother in me - my grandmother and my mother. (Laughing) I come from a lot of strong women, and I have a little bit of American Indian in my background. So, my sweet Mama Peggy calls me an old Indian woman. (Laughing)

I bet she says that to all the boys.

(Laughing) I don't think she hands that out too often. (Laughing)

I'd like to learn about your upcoming show at Birdland, which they are billing as a part of their Broadway at Birdland series: with your exploration of some Sinatra, are you going to be singing any Broadway at Birdland or are you going to stick to your classic Ty Herndon sound?

Yeah, I'm going to stick to my classic show right now. But I've got so many amazing friends in New York, so I will definitely have some guest appearances by some friends. I'm going to let them stick to what they do and I'll stick to what I do. (Laughing)

How does it feel, going out of your comfort zone as a country singer and into the Great American Songbook?

I've loved it my whole life. My father had every Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra record. So exploring that, I did reach out to Kristin and I said, "I really would love for you to help me find the perfect songs for this." I really have leaned on her expertise with some of the material, but as far as being in the studio with it, I feel like it'll fit really comfortable, like an old glove. I think it's going to be great.

You're singing some songs that you have written on the new CD on which you're going to be taking off the bandaids - I read that it took you a while to get to the songwriting aspect of your artistry. How did you finally come around to writing your own music?

BWW Interview: Ty Herndon of BROADWAY AT BIRDLANDI remember writing my first song when I was six years old, and my grandmother, she played acoustic guitar, and we would write songs together and sing them in church. When I got my first recording contract in the 90s, there weren't a lot of artists writing their own songs, other than Alan Jackson... there were a few... even the great George Strait wasn't writing his own songs back then. So I fell into the machine of the great songwriters of that time, and kind of lost my mojo about songwriting. I think for songwriting to come home to me, I had to live a little bit more life - I had to have some bridges fall out from under me (Laughing) and in my first venture into songwriting, I got a Grammy nomination and won a Dove Award for that album! So I knew that I had come home to myself, with my songwriting, at that point. I always tell these kids, when I go talk to them, if they're songwriters or singers, you have to be really comfortable and confident with what you're doing and it doesn't happen overnight. That same lesson applies to me. I've had a lot of journeys. I've been down a lot of dirt roads and I've been down a lot of great freeways. (Laughing) But I love where I'm at today, it's a great balance.

I follow you on Instagram. You seem really happy right now.

(Laughing) I think any person that is settled into their bones and has a great love story... and I get to work on the national stage of music, and helping people... I appreciate you saying that - I love where I'm at today and I pray it keeps going (Laughing) every day!

Joe's Pub was my first Ty Herndon concert. It's a more intimate venue than I imagine you are used to playing. Are you enjoying playing these smaller rooms?

We started doing this on the Lies I Told Myself album, which was almost three years ago. We still do all the fairs and festivals, the big casinos... but they are my favorite because I get to really sink my teeth into the Bluebird style and the Joe's Pub style, what the music's all about. I probably do close to 50 of them a year now and I just love it.

You're very connected to your public.

I didn't get to be for a long time, so I'm finding great joy in being authentic and connected with the public, whether it's the die-hard country music fans, which are very affirming these days, or my LGBTQ family. It's just so rare to do a show and have those people all married, in one audience. It's fantastic to be able to speak into so much.

You've mentioned the LGBTQ family; at the Joe's Pub show, I noticed fans of all different demographics. I noticed some good old boys with their women, I noticed some young men with their men, and I wonder what that feels like, to stand up on a stage and look around you and see that you have continued to garner such support from such a wide cross-section of fans.

You know, man, I talk about the rainbow, the LGBTQ rainbow, I always like to say that I just added red white and blue to it. (Laughing) I'm just marrying it all together, and so far so good with that. I also still have to approach some hate sometimes, I had to do it last week, but I do it with love. I'm like: you don't need to be on my page, saying your vile words here. We want to send you away with love. So, now bye bye - delete. (Laughing)

There are times when all those who are living in the light frequently do have to deal with the hate, and then try to turn some tides. It's nice that you have a visibility and a platform that gives you the opportunity to teach people by leading through example.

Thank you! I can handle a lot, with myself... but if you want to see my ears turn red, you start messing with my family or friends - I still have that cowboy in me. I've had to learn to even peel that back because I think if people are going to spread hate they've got a large journey they need to take to get on the other side of that. I can only do my part in speaking into that. It really is their work to do. I've talked to many of my friends like Chely Wright and Dana Goldberg and even the amazing Tim McGRaw - we just try to speak love into people because it's really the only thing that wins. You can fight with somebody on the internet all day long and you're just not going to win. So it's best just to speak love and shut her down.BWW Interview: Ty Herndon of BROADWAY AT BIRDLAND

Your CD Journey On is a CD made up exclusively of songs that you wrote, am I right?


But your next CD Got It Covered is all songs that were previously recorded by you and other artists. Did it take some of the pressure off of you to know that you were singing songs that were already established, rather than songs that you were debuting for the first time?

I was a little nervous about it, but six of them were my hits, so I just kind of re-imagined those. I just thought of those that like this beautiful old house that needed a new coat of paint, so I just reinvented those a little bit, and took great joy in "What Mattered Most" (on its 25th birthday) being able to change the pronouns in the song - so I opened the album with that version and closed it with the original version, but just a new sound. So the bookend of that, I love; but I was definitely nervous about diving into a Bonnie Raitt song or a Mark Cohen song, just songs that I have loved my whole life-- I sing them live. It's not unusual to come to my show, many people will tell you this: I love covering friends' songs. I loved covering Carrie's song because it spoke so deeply to me - and doing that video, "So Small," with the Rainbow Squad in Nashville, it's gorgeous. All the LGBTQ kids, they come together from all over Nashville and they just kind of hang out and they just love each other and support each other. I loved being able to put that element into that song. So that album, even though it was all my songs and covers, it actually ran pretty deep for me.

You've got three or four songs on there that are dance mixes. What prompted those dance mixes?

(Laughing) I just wanted to do 'em. (Laughing) Because I do three or four Prides in the summer and it was so fun to create those - and it was the perfect album to put them on. Hey, I wasn't going to do a whole album of dance mixes, so this was the perfect situation to make them bonus cuts.

They're great dance songs.

Thank you!

They mixed them really well. When you cover a friend's song, do you give them a heads up or do you let them find out by surprise?

(Laughing) Well, I did email Bonnie Raitt's office and they were cool about it. Carrie Underwood and I share a really close friend, so I kinda got the thumbs up there. I was more worried about the songwriters. Gary Burr and Vince Melamed gave me my first number one record and, you know, kinda messing with the integrity of that song... but when we did the new version, I heard from them and they loved it. So I was apprehensive about that at first... but it did not mean I wasn't going to do it. (Laughing)

Well, I think at this stage of the game, you're equal to any task, aren't you?

I hope so. I love to be challenged. I can tell you that because I think being challenged is great and I love it, walking into something, and I think fear is also a part of your DNA. My knees still knock when I walk out for 20,000 people, my knees still knock if I walk out in front of the 300 people that are an intimate crowd and I know they're listening for a pin to drop. I love that moment when you feel somehow one with either of those situations - when that happens it's spiritual to me.

Ty, you were the very first male country singer to come out. How much time did you take thinking about that before you went ahead and did that?

I've often had people say, "Oh, it's so easy to come out." And I'm like, "No, it's not."(Laughing) It takes a lot of brainpower and a lot of thought. I wore my friend Chely Wright out, but she was a great mentor to me, she was so gracious, and walked me through it, but it took me six months of prayer and meditation and talking to family, talking to friends, and just really kind of telling my story before it became public. And it was a big, scary thing, but I knew I had to do it. Sitting down with Entertainment Tonight, that day in New York City, oddly enough, I thought I'd be terrified, but I wasn't. I felt a calmness come over me that day, even my partner, Matthew said, "You're very calm today." I said, "I know, right? (Laughing) I'm getting to tell my truth today. I don't have to sit down and worry about telling a lie and I don't have to sit down and worry about covering my tracks. I just get to tell my truth." And in that moment, in that day I knew that everything was going to be okay. I knew that I was going to get to keep singing. I knew that people were going to love me - I knew my family was, of course, and I knew I had a huge support system. The story broke a bit early and I woke up to over 250 text messages on a Wednesday morning on November 14th. Matt and I both just read texts and cried. We got a cup of coffee and sat and read texts and just held each other and cried. It was a good day.

Billy Gilman told me that your coming out was the impetus for his coming out. That must make you feel really proud.

I always tell Billy - because we were on Epic records together, he was 12 years old - so I'm like, "Dude, I used to hold your hand when you crossed the street." He's like, "Please don't tell that story" and I'm like, "Oh, I'm telling everyone." (Laughing)

That's wonderful.

So, Billy, I tell him, "Man, it was a story that I was coming out, but what you did, and your YouTube video, you gave the story rocket fuel and it was everywhere for kids to see." I really thanked him profusely for that.

And now you talk to youth, you spend a lot of time working with GLAAD.

I do. Yes, we partner for my Concert For Love And Acceptance, which is the Ty Herndon Foundation, and under that umbrella, we give away scholarships to kids that want to be in the music business, so I'm just thrilled about that and we have a lot of work to do.BWW Interview: Ty Herndon of BROADWAY AT BIRDLAND

All right. So here's a tough question for you. I am just longing to know about the tattoo on your right arm.

Okay. The Rose Garden? I'm so happy you asked about that! That's my grandfather's Rose Garden where I learned to pray and meditate. He would sit there and he would teach me about my life. I lost my dad at an early age - my Grandpa was around for a long time and he grew roses, it represents his Rose Garden. I always said I would never put one of my lyrics on my arm. This song "Lies I Told Myself - I'm glad I didn't believe," was a pivotal moment for me. That album was basically my coming out album and it was a hint to the world that something was about to happen. So I put it on my arm in the Rose Garden.

Is that the only tattoo you have?

No, I have one on the left arm, a little higher up, I have faith and hope. I'm just a faith and hope cowboy. (Laughing)

Once I had my first tattoo, I wanted to hear the story behind everyone's tattoo.

Oh yeah! I always say please have a story behind your tat - even if it's just something silly, you're going to put it on your body forever, there needs to be a little bit of story.

Right? What are your two new CDs called? Have you titled them yet?

I have not. You know, that's the last thing I do. I get all the music down and get it put together and I've never struggled with it, it just kind of names itself, to be honest.

One of your CDs was funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Are you going to do the same thing with these two?

I'm not because I'm on a really awesome record label, they fund me and let me kind of do what I want to do. When I did the Kickstarter campaign, I didn't have a record label and I had just moved back from Los Angeles and, to be quite honest, I didn't have a lot. I was starting from ground zero and the fans really took care of me. I got to do this most amazing album.

It's really inspirational to hear how you have, rather like a Phoenix, risen from the ashes. You have come back from the brink and are thriving now.

Thank you! (Laughing) And from the ashes, come the old man! (Laughing)

For information and tickets to Ty Herndon at Birdland please visit the Birdland website

Find Ty Herndon online at his website

Learn about The Rainbow Squad by visiting their website

All photo provided by Ty Herndon

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