What’s the significance of a Grammy to you?

The integrity associated with the Grammys is something I’ve always been aware of, even when I was growing up and not as attuned to the music world—I didn’t really dive in until I was older. I was consumed by athletics; I’d liken it to something like the Heisman Trophy. I’ve always been aware that it’s an honor reserved for the names at the top of the music game. Not just this year’s nominees, but all the artists who’ve been nominated before me; that’s the list that really blows my mind.

You’ve had great success over the last year-plus; what, if anything, has changed for you in the wake of this greater visibility?
My life certainly changed; I grew up in a small town where the pace was slow, then went to college in Birmingham, Alabama, then moved to Nashville. I was in that lifestyle for three or four years when this all hit—it was the biggest and most immediate change in lifestyle I’ve ever had. Just the traveling, the whole nature of this thing has completely changed for me, getting to play music for people every night.

Were there places that stood out for you from your travels?
I grew up in the Southeast; being out West was something I hadn’t done a whole lot of. I fell in love with Seattle. Visiting Denver, being out in California, the beaches out there—I really fell in love with that half of the country.

You’re a notable example of a Nashville artist who has substantial appeal outside of Country as well—what elements do you think contribute to that kind of reach?
I think the age group that tends to be the trendsetters for pop culture grew up listening to a lot of the same music I did. Even though I listened to a lot of country music, within the past 15 years, music of all styles has been available, even in small-town Georgia. That was the same music that people my age were listening to everywhere.

There were lots of other styles sprinkled in that made the music more relatable. ’90s Country radio was a big part of that. I stumbled across singer/songwriters like Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark as a teenager. I got into Otis Redding when I first started to play guitar. R&B and hip-hop were a huge part of that too, like Usher, R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, Dru Hill. I didn’t get into a lot of heavy hip-hop, but I played football and it was always on in the locker room.

It seems to have soaked in, because hip-hop grooves and phrasing are definitely an element of your music, even though the country part of it is so strong.
Absolutely. That’s just embedded in my DNA. When I sat down to write songs it naturally came out. At the time I was being influenced by all this music, I wasn’t soaking it in as a musician or songwriter; I was just consuming it as a fan.

You’re officially a “ New Artist.” Winners in the Best New Artist category seem to be a split of people who are never heard from again (A Taste of Honey, Starland Vocal Band) and others at the start of a strong career (The Beatles, Alicia Keys, Norah Jones). Are there any winners you particularly identify with?
I believe the last country artist to win was Carrie Underwood. That’s somebody who definitely comes to mind.