Mitchell Tenpenny Carries on Family Legacy With Songwriting, Debut EP
Mitchell Tenpenny fell in love with songwriting watching his grandmother, Donna Hilley. A radio DJ-turned-publishing company executive, Hilley worked her way up to the position of president and CEO of Sony / ATV Nashville in the early 1990s. Responsible for signing acts such as Little Big Town, Hilley is also a big part of the reason her grandson decided to pursue songwriting and a country music career himself.
Hilley bought Tenpenny his first ProTools rig and a guitar, and she told him to learn his way around a number of instruments and how to produce his own material. Shortly thereafter, Hilley got sick (she died in 2012), but, Tenpenny tells The Boot, "it was enough to inspire me to learn how to play everything ... and not be dependent on other people in the room."
Tenpenny's debut EP, Linden Ave., released in mid-July via Riser House Records, is named in Hilley's honor. Linden Avenue, located in Nashville's 12 South neighborhood, was where Hilley lived; Tenpenny briefly moved in with her ("back when 12 South was, like, not the safest place to be," he recalls) around the time he started playing music. The EP contains six songs co-written by Tenpenny; he produced five of the six as well.
A writer for Sony / ATV himself, Tenpenny pens songs for a living, so when it came time to pick a few for his own project, he had a varied bunch from which to choose. The singer-songwriter decided that he wanted to select material that was "as all across the board as possible" -- and given that he cites influences that range from *NSYNC and Michael Jackson to Eminem and the hardcore music he played growing up ("I was the screamer and the drummer," Tenpenny admits with a chuckle), that wasn't too difficult.
"I wanted to do as many different things [as I could]," Tenpenny explains, "to kind of test the waters [and] try to find my sound as well."
Fans of Granger Smith will recognize Linden Ave.'s closing track, "If the Boot Fits," which is a Tenpenny co-write. Fellow up-and-comer Devin Dawson, meanwhile, is a co-writer on "Truck I Drove in High School;" the two met at a writers' round a few years ago, and Tenpenny admits that Dawson's demo of the song set a high bar.
And then there's "Bitches," an effortlessly singable song that calls out and tells off cheaters. Tenpenny wrote it joking around, never expecting "to sing the song for real," but after it made its way around as a demo, it was actually his label that suggested including it on the EP. Don't let the song's title scare you off, though: It's aimed at anyone, of any gender, who's done someone wrong.
"If you called them a--holes, it doesn't describe the same thing," Tenpenny says. "The words are there for a reason."
This fall, Tenpenny is hitting the road for a series of headlining shows, as well as for dates with Granger Smith, Jake Owen and Gary Allan. Visit Mitchell10Penny.com for details, and to download the Linden Ave. EP.
Listen to Mitchell Tenpenny's "Bitches"
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