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SHY CARTER: COUNTRY SOUL MAN

Shy Carter could do anything. He’s contributed songs, his voice and his vibe to hits for Rob Thomas (“Someday”), Charlie Puth (“One Call Away”), Latinx superstar Gloria Trevi (“Habla Blah Blah”), Meghan Trainor, Jason Derulo with J-Lo and Matoma, Chingy, Ashanti and Jamie Foxx. But starting with Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue,” the 11th-most-downloaded country song, there was something the Memphis-born musician, who played sax in church and on Beale Street, found in Nashville that sparked him.

There’s a country/pop/gospel twist to the life-affirming songs he’s co-written for Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Billy Currington, Keith Urban and Kane Brown, and Carter’s vocals on his features as well as his own singles resonate with a Rascal Flatts/Dan + Shay soulfulness. With his creeping beats and rafter-leaping modulations, the hyper-creative Carter creates infectious melodies that bring earworm stickiness to country’s good-time moments and deeper truths. Whether it’s the muscular duet “Life’s Still Good” with Ashley McBryde, the buddy romp “Beer With My Friends” featuring David Lee Murphy and Cole Swindell or his funky new single “Boom in the Boondocks,” Carter’s sinewy, sensual country is one giant smile.

How did growing up in Memphis affect you?
Such a soulful place, you can feel the music. It’s my formative years, so it’s always in my music.

There’s a lot going on, a lot of oppression; it’s where Martin Luther King died. You gotta be careful—that’s why the God side is always in my music. But the South scene—Three 6 Mafia—talk about dark. That Southern rap is now all over pop—Maroon 5, Ariana Grande—and it’s everything in hip-hop. 

You moved to Michigan, of all places.
Grand Rapids, which is the countriest place I’d ever been. Winter made me dig real deep into my songwriting. We moved junior year; I went to college there. I was depressed and was writing what I needed to hear. Real R&B, hip-hop, that real flava stuff. Boyz II Men was my favorite.

It was all about fun. I was making love songs, uptempo. I signed with Nelly for a development deal, and I was curious. I wanted to see songs go global, be in different genres.

Is that how country comes in?
I’d heard Tracy Chapman and Van Morrison from my mom. The soul and the folk of “Crazy Love” from Van Morrison sounded like “Die a Happy Man” from Thomas Rhett. R&B music was turning to the trap sound, and something about it intrigued me.

How did your career get started?
Carla Wallace at Big Yellow Dog was really helpful to me. I had braids in my hair, dreadlocks, walking around with a mandolin. I had tattoos on my knuckles. When I met Jennifer [Nettles] and Kristian [Bush], they were all in. It was so organic. We were beatboxing, but on a guitar. Trying things that hadn’t been done—it was the first time some of that was on Country radio.

You sensed an impending overlap way back in 2010?
I grew up with All-4-One doing “I Swear” and “I Can Love You Like That.” They were absolutely country hits and R&B hits. It made sense to me.

Your stuff is so positive. Even “Hard,” which is the precipice.
It’s about something real deep. It’s not up, but it gives hope—and a better way of seeing a situation. I need songs for myself. People say I must be so happy ’cause of the songs. But I look at writing as the answer to my problem, or the question itself. I need these songs to pull me out of the place I’m in.

You’re mixed-race.
To the black kids, I was the white kid with straight hair and blue eyes. I didn’t grow up with the same movies or music; white kids didn’t hang out with me. I didn’t understand.

So you came to Nashville, where  you and Kane killed “Worldwide Beautiful.”
In Cali, I was freer as a person of color. But moving here, I had peace. No cellphone towers, not all the electromagnetic energy. And [manager/uberpublisher] Missi Gallimore’s been a huge help. She connected me to Tim and Faith, was someone I could always count on. Once I said, “I’m moving,” she was all in. Suddenly, the best writers were writing with me for my project.

And Kane? When we had that idea, he turned it into a bigger idea, wanting to talk about white churches, black churches. My parents would try to find a multicolor church, and it’s tough. Kane has a platform, and he’s willing.

Now what?
My mission is definitely for people to come together, to notice all the similarities. We care for our families, have the same feelings, need love, want peace. I want to spread love and positivity. Put my music on in the morning, start the day happy. Soul country, you know? That’s it, baby.

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