Interview: Ty Herndon Talks Revealing New Album, ‘House on Fire’
It's been just over three years since Ty Herndon released his last album, 2013's Lies I Told Myself. Since then, the singer-songwriter has been writing and recording what has become House on Fire, his new album that dropped on Friday (Nov. 11); as fans likely know, between then and now, Herndon also came out.
The diversity of House on Fire -- available for purchase on Amazon -- has surprised Herndon ... as has the fact that he even put together a record at all. The artist recently sat down with The Boot for an honest, no-holds-barred discussion about House on Fire, his ever-evolving life and why this project might be the most important one he's ever released.
You wrote most of House on Fire but didn't realize when you started writing that you were actually writing a full-length album, correct?
Eric Halbig and I wrote and produced this album; I wrote everything on it but three songs. Eric and I started writing with Drew Davis, and before we knew it, within the matter of about a month, we had written six amazing songs. We pulled in a few other writers on the album.
The album was almost called Fighter, but I feel like we had kind of told that record with [2010's] Journey On and Lies I Told Myself. I feel like with this album, it was important to go as commercial as I could and still have a message in it.
Talk a little bit about some of the songs on House on Fire.
The first song on the album, "That Kind of Night," it’s one of the songs I actually didn’t write. Eric produced it on a record ... and I just fell in love with this song, and I said, "I have to have it on this record." It’s actually the opening song on the CD. It’s a real feel-good song.
"‘Sweet, Sweet Way to Go" was a song I wrote for [my partner] Matt [Collum], and it says, "You’re going to be the death of me, death of me, I know / But what a sweet, sweet way to go."
I put the first five singles right at the top of the album; they tell a story. The album definitely tells a story as it goes along, and it gets deeper as we get into songs like "House on Fire," which is the title track. That was written when -- there was a time in my life I just felt like the house was falling in around me. Everything on the walls was not my life; there was nothing authentic or real in the whole house, or the characters in the house. I felt like, at one point, I had no choice but to burn it down and start over.
I burned a lot of houses down; make sure if you burn a house down, you have a place to live. So, in building a healthy new life, it was good to burn that last house down, and to move into my life. So that song is a pivotal moment; it sits at No. 7 on a 12-song album.
And then we start getting into a little more serious material -- closing out the album with ‘"Fighter," which was written by Annie Bosko.
Why did you want to have Annie sing with you on "Fighter"?
It was kind of fun recording the song, because "Fighter" is just like it sounds: It’s the fighter in all of us that makes us survivors.
Annie sings so great, so we went through quite a few phases of the song, because it was coming off like a love song; it was coming off like she and I were fighting for the relationship, which is not the message. It wasn’t written that way. It’s just about the struggle of life, and all life matters, and we had to fight for it.
We finally settled into a place where Annie walked in as a guest appearance.
It's been 15 years since you had a Top 40 hit, "Heather's Wall." Did you have any apprehensions about making a return to radio?
I did in the beginning. And me not wanting to go to radio was not about fear; it was just about timing, and, is there a place for all of us kids from the ‘90s and early 2000s that are making great music that is still relevant? It’s really hard to get attention in a market today that’s so saturated with these crazy-amazing new artists out there.
I’m still a great big fan of country music. I love the progress of music. I recognize when something’s really authentic, and I recognize when something’s cookie-cutter, but I also recognize a great song. I still buy records.
Are you a fan of what is currently on radio, even though it's a lot different from the music you released on your earlier albums?
I love hearing the new sounds. I love hearing production; I love hearing new producers. And that’s something I never cared about. I came into the music business knowing very little. I knew a lot about singing Christian music and gospel music and bluegrass music, and getting in my dad’s Sunbeam bread truck and hauling my butt across the country as a child prodigy preacher and singer. But by the time I got my record deal, I knew very little about the business.
What are your plans for radio with House on Fire?
I didn’t want to do country radio at first, because a lot of my friends out there, from the ‘90s and early 2000s, are just really concentrating on their fan base, and building a new fan base using social media, selling music and building fan bases for shows. Country radio’s a really big animal right now; it’s expensive. I’m not saying anything that anybody else wouldn’t tell you. It’s not as simple as putting a single out there and having people play it. It’s a lot of additional work, which I’m not afraid of.
I wanted people to be able to hear themselves in the songs, through the experiences that I’ve lived in my life ... So it was important to do an album that was gender-free.
All of that to say -- this is a big circle answer here -- I guess I accidentally wrote and did a great record that people feel like is radio-worthy. So I sent it out to some of my great radio fans, and they said, ‘Man you’ve got five or six singles on this. You absolutely should go out and work this at country radio.’ So we decided to do that. That made us look for an ever bigger situation for a record label home.
This is also the first album you've released since you've come out as a gay man. How did that influence the record?
It was very important to me with where I’m at in life today, that it be a non-gender record, because I have a broader audience right now, not only in country music but with the LGBT community and anywhere around the world. We’re about to go into some different countries and do shows.
I wanted people -- people -- to be able to hear themselves in the songs, through the experiences that I’ve lived in my life. It’s always been important to me that, if I’m going to go in and sing this song, and you’re going to buy it and listen to it, you have to be able to put your own life into that song, or someone that you know and love. So it was important to do an album that was gender-free.
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