Interview: How a Snowstorm Helped Todd O’Neill Land His Debut Single
When Todd O'Neill sat down to find his debut single after winning the 2016 Nash Next competition, he instantly fell in love with "Love Again." But before he could make it his own, the country newcomer had to convince Brett Young to let him have it.
Written by Young, Jesse Frasure and Cary Barlowe, "Love Again" is an upbeat and fun track that O'Neill describes as the perfect song to "put the top down on the Jeep in the summertime and just crank it up." O'Neill discovered the track after listening to hundreds of songs with executives at his brand-new label, Nash Next Records, which is part of the Big Machine Label Group family; he signed with the label as part of his Nash Next competition prize package.
"[We] did two full days, just listening to a verse and a chorus of hundreds of songs," O'Neill recalls to The Boot. "We were getting great material from all these wonderful songwriters around Nashville, [but] as soon as I head "Love Again," it immediately went at the top of my list. And I'm they type of guy that, I have to hear a song three or four or five times to get to know it and fall in love with it, but with "Love Again," I instantly loved that song. It went in my Top 5 immediately."
O'Neill's joy over finding the perfect single was short-lived, however: He discovered that Young (also a member of the BMLG family) had already put the song on hold for his next album. So, O'Neill and his team went back to the drawing board ... until a fateful night in New York City a couple of weeks later.
"I was doing a show in New York City, at a place called Printer's Alley, on a Wednesday night, and we were supposed to fly out the next morning, but a big snowstorm came, snowed us in and delayed our flight," O'Neill explains. "So, I'm sitting in my hotel room, in Times Square, in the middle of New York City, and my manager calls me and says, 'Guess who's playing tonight at Printer's Alley?'"
O'Neill seized the serendipitous opportunity: He headed back to the venue to see if he could meet Young.
"I waited for his fans to get all their autographs and finally stepped up to him at the end of the night and introduced myself and just told him how much I loved the song, just to throw it out there," O'Neill says with a laugh, still somewhat surprised by Young's gracious response. "He said, 'Really? Well, man, you should cut that song!' And I said, 'Well, I can't, because you put it on hold, and the record label said we can't!' And he said, 'No, man, if you want that song, I want you to have it.'
"So he gave us the song," O'Neill continues, "and four days later, [I was] in Nashville, Tenn., cutting a Brett Young song!"
Listen to Todd O'Neill, "Love Again":
O'Neill's acquisition of "Love Again" might seem too good to be true -- but that's sort of how life has been going for him recently. In October of 2016, the Louisiana native beat out hundreds of participants to win the Nash Next Challenge; BMLG head Scott Borchetta, Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, Danielle Bradbery and Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts were among the contest's judges. In addition to his Nash Next Records contract, O'Neill's Nash Next win came with a bunch of perks, including the opportunity to have DeMarcus as his producer.
"Getting to meet Jay was a thrill for me, because I've been a fan of Rascal Flatts since [their debut single,] "Prayin' for Daylight," and to be in the same room with Jay was incredible," O'Neill admits. "He's one of the most talented musicians in Nashville: He plays the keys and the bass. There's nothing this guy can't do in the studio; it's incredible.
"To get his direction in producing -- it was a whole other level for me," O'Neill continues. "Everything that he suggested, we were pretty much on the same page."
With DeMarcus by his side, O'Neill brought his own sound to "Love Again." The artist infused the track with his own musical blend of Cajun dance, New Orleans R&B and traditional country music.
"If you listen to it, especially toward the end of the song, I get to kind of cut loose and show that soul side of my country music," O'Neill notes. "Country music is so diverse these days -- people are bringing hip-hop and dance and pop style into it -- so I wanted to bring some of that Louisiana soul to the table. And I think, toward the end of the track, you can kind of hear that old-school feel coming out in the vocals."
It took Young, Frasure and Barlowe only an afternoon, during a songwriters' festival in Key West, Fla., to write "Love Again;" their demo has a raw, hip-hop style and very little production polish. And while that demo version is what caused O'Neill to fall in love with the track, the addition of DeMarcus' production and a full band created his amped-up single version.
"To get in the studio with Jay and hear the musicians come in on it -- there is so much going on on this track now," O'Neill says. "From banjo to synth to keys, and all the guitar parts -- all the musicians we had in the studio were just phenomenal. Then we had Terry Coleman come in, who's one of Nashville's best backup vocalists; he came in and just did a hell of a job. We had an all-star lineup on this track."
Fans will have the opportunity to catch O'Neill on the road throughout the summer: On June 4, he'll perform at a Nashville Disco Party (also featuring Brad Paisley) benefiting the Alzheimer's Association, among other upcoming shows. For a full list of tour dates, visit ToddONeillMusic.com, and follow O'Neill on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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