It’s hard to listen to Dillon Carmichael and not come to the conclusion that his voice is pure raw talent. It’s true he comes from a family of iconic country musicians, but Dillon’s voice has become what it is because he grew up performing live, training his voice, and paving his own future as a country musician. Growing up in Burgin, Kentucky where the population was 975, Dillon was surrounded by a talented family — his two uncles are John Michael and Eddie Montgomery. We got the chance to talk to Dillon about his debut album Hell On An Angel, the inspiration behind his songs, and what it felt like the first time he performed at the Grand Ole Opry.
You grew up surrounded by a family of musicians. What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
I grew up around Country Southern Rock mostly but also grew up listening to some 80s rock. My family embedded country music in me, and I relate more to that type of music than anything else. My whole family is filled with musicians. They’re all singers — my mom actually tours with me and sings harmony on stage. Her brothers John Michael and Eddie Montgomery are also in the music industry and are very successful as country musicians and songwriters. I grew up around talented people for most of my life.
You landed on “Artist to Watch” lists by Pandora, Rolling Stone, Taste of Country, to name a few. What’s next for you in 2019? Where can fans see you perform in the upcoming months?
We have some dates coming up with Dwight Yoakam and Justin Moore. We’ll continue to tour, going out there, and making music. Last year we did like 120 or something full band dates, I want to beat that with possibly 200 this year. I got more singles coming out that are off the record. We’re on a radio tour now promoting our song “Dance Away With My Heart” trying to get it on the radio in as many places. Growth and time is such an important part of a long-lasting career. The biggest goal of 2019 is to continue putting music out there.
Can you walk us through your writing process? What is the inspiration behind some of your songs?
I’d say my influences are Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., and Alan Jackson, but the list goes on and on. My biggest influences are the people who over the past few years have taken the time to write with me. That’s how I learned to write songs — from other people. When aspiring artists come up to me and ask if I have some tips, I always say you have to write as much as you can. Songwriting is a 360-degree practice. You’re going to become a better singer, better songwriter, better guitarist, and you’re going to be better on the piano. Surrounding yourself by songwriters and songwriting environments is how you will progress as a musician.
To me, writing music is about whatever feels best. It may be the melody to the song first and then we add the lyrics, or maybe lyrics first and then add the melody. Sometimes when you write with a full band with three or four people it just varies on what feels right at the time. It’s all art. It’s also all about feeling it out.
How do you know which songs you want to include on an album or part of the collection?
Well for the record that we made, “Hell On An Angel” it was more of “Hey, check out this song” type of deal, which is the way that I like to do it. I’d play a song for anyone — the producer, manager, family, label — basically anyone who would listen so I could get their opinions to see whether or not they like it. As far as being in the studio and recording, I think the biggest thing is the song’s flow. The songs in the album have to flow from one to another, making a continuous sound. I also think that telling a story throughout the whole album is very important.
You once said that one of the simplest lessons from the album-making process was something no one could teach you. Sometimes that meant learning the hard way. You learned that you needed to listen to yourself, and not always listen to what everyone else was telling you to do. What is an example of this?
I met with producers over and over again and various influential people. I was always trying to get some backing for my music, but I couldn’t get any attention. I was always trying to fit in with everyone else. I was trying to sing this way or write songs that way trying to please everyone’s critiques. At one point, I gave up on trying to be someone else and just did what I wanted to do. And then all of a sudden there was there was a lot of attention. That’s when I started telling myself “You need to do what’s true to you. Don’t listen to everybody else even if they’re a very influential person. You know yourself best.”
You used to do security at the Grand Ole Opry, and then you performed there last year. That’s so cool — how did that feel?
There was a period where I was not making money playing music. I think everyone goes through that. I wasn’t making money playing music at all and I had to do something extra on the side. A friend told me, “You know you’re a pretty big dude you could probably do security or something like that.” So I started looking for security jobs, but I still wanted to do something related to music. I saw the job offer for security at the Grand Ole Opry and took it. It’s such a big part of my family that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. There’s a lot of respect for the Opry. I thought, well I’ll get to see the Opry every night and all I have to do is stay in and hold down the fort.
When I got the job initially, my boss said that the cool thing about being security at the Opry is that you can go step in the circle anytime. The circle is a piece of history. It’s wood from the original Opry stage that Hank Sr. played on, so when the new one was built they cut a big circle out of the old one and incorporated it into the new stage. When the artists are singing on stage, they can stand on the same spot that Hank Sr stood on. It’s a tradition. My boss said that I could step in the circle anytime I wanted and nobody would say anything. I always avoided it. I never stepped in there while I worked there. I wanted to be holding my guitar and play for a crowd. It was the only way I would let myself step on it. I never did step in it until August 21, 2018.