Columbus native Chase McGill, left, performs at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., May 31 with fellow songwriter Kalisa Ewing and band. Photo by: Courtesy photo
June 8, 2013 7:57:35 PM
It was a memorable birthday gift, the milestone kind. One many an aspiring musicmaker in Nashville works toward for years. That it happened for Columbus native Chase McGill on only his 26th birthday. May 31 was an humbling opportunity, a sign that maybe this music thing might work out after all.
Those who remember McGill as an alt rocker in the band Enursha back at Heritage Academy and Mississippi State University might be surprised to see his leap to a hallowed country music stage. But those who kept up with his evolution -- with the formation of the nationally touring indie folk rock band Come On Go With Us and a move to Los Angeles -- will get it.
After a few thousand miles on the road and hundreds of gigs between the two coasts with COGWU, McGill was in search of music that still lit a fire in him.
And he was tired of trying to outrun the country music influences of his past.
"L.A. was really the turning point for me," he said. "I wasn't there long enough to get my boots
dirty, but I had a realization.
I was meant for country."
The long ride back to Mississippi from the West Coast in September 2010 hammered home the point. McGill's close friend, Wes Gibson of Columbus, flew out to L.A. to make the cross-country drive with him.
"I was telling Wes about how I was having a hard time finding any music I really liked. I'd grown up listening to Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, George Strait and Sammy Kershaw; that's what I'd loved,
and I had this picture that country music was no longer like that, that the sound had changed.
Then Wes said, 'Let me play you some of these bands I'm listening to.'"
When the switch flipped, McGill knew his calling was to write songs that really meant something, "that really allowed me to say exactly what I wanted to say."
And today the Columbus native is one of the newest additions to the Universal Music Publishing
Group's roster of songwriters.
Hopeful songwriters stream into Music City USA every day, their dreams on their sleeves. The difference between the ones who eventually make a living at music and those who don't is often a cocktail of talent, hard work, perseverance, tough skin and "luck."
A knack for bunking on friends' couches is useful, too.
"It's very tight-knit, and it's fairly hard to break into the circle," observed McGill.
He made a plan: The first priority was to create a source of income.
That came by way of a job with the William Morris agency, assisting various agents who booked artists from "people you've never heard of to Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley."
When an agent heard him picking on a banjo one day during lunch break, it was a matter of hours before McGill was on stage filling in as sideman with one of the agency's acts.
That gig opened doors, leading to meeting other songwriters, collaborative sessions, performances and career choices.
A different kind of hard
Being signed to Universal Music Publishing Group in December 2012 was a dream realized for McGill, who is the son of Rick and Edna McGill of Columbus.
"It's very mentally taxing, of course," the songwriter said. "You have to look at every line
as, this line could be not worth one penny, or it could change the way your family lives forever
if it goes on the radio. It's a different kind of hard. It's very much a job you can't leave at the office.
Not that I would even want to," he laughed.
In a typical day, a creative manager puts McGill together with different artists and writers to "write songs all day." The creative manager then takes the songs to various artists, in hopes they'll end up on a recording. McGill estimates he's written close to 150 songs already.
At the Opry
An invitation from fellow songwriter Kalisa Ewing to perform with her at the Grand Ole Opry May 31 was a thrill. McGill thought he wouldn't be nervous, having played larger audiences before.
"But it's not the size of the crowd that gets to your stomach. It's the history that gets you,"
admitted McGill. "When you walk onto that wood, it's just a different ball game. Especially that
night: Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs were in the lineup, and they've got some of the best banjo players in the industry.
I was thinking, please let them stay in their dressing rooms so they don't hear me playing,"
he chuckled. He need not have worried.
"To see him achieving one of his dreams, that was the biggest thing, and for it to happen on his birthday just madeit more special," said Rick McGill, the picker's father. Chase's parents have been unstinting supporters since they first signed their son up for piano lessons at age 5.
They led a large contingency from the Golden Triangle to Nashville to be in the Opry audience
"God has just opened up one door after another for him," Rick McGill continued. "God's given
him an opening, and he's taken it and been grateful for it."
Chase McGill wakes up every morning thinking he'll find out it's a dream.
"I can't imagine the day when I couldn't do this. I'm just so thankful for the opportunity to
learn from these other songwriters and hopefully be able to contribute to the rich American genre
that is country music."
For others thinking of pursuing the path, he cautions them to expect a slow process.
"I'd say if you've only got five years to give it a whirl in, I probably wouldn't try it. It'll definitely put you to the test of how much you want it."
But when it works, the fulfillment runs bonedeep.
"Having somebody record one of your songs is definitely worth celebrating," he said, an audible
smile in his voice. "It's nice to have somebody besides mom and dad say I'm writing good songs."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.