'It's a very pure way of doing things': Amy Wadge talks country's songwriting revolution

Amy Wadge

Country To Country festival may be over for another year, but country music seems to be here to stay. The genre has taken giant strides internationally in recent years, while UK acts such as The Shires, Ward Thomas and Catherine McGrath have been picking up interest in the United States.

But the scene’s growth is also impacting on songwriting and publishing. Last week, Music Week told how Nashville is rapidly becoming the songwriting capital of the world – and also attracting writing talent from far outside of the country genre.

One such writer is the UK’s Amy Wadge, who has co-written with Ed Sheeran throughout his career, helping to craft such huge hits as Thinking Out Loud and Galway Girl. Warner/Chappell-signed Wadge played her part in C2C, appearing at the music publishing company’s Nashville Showcase Night at Old Street Records in London on Thursday, alongside Adam Argyle, Twinnie, Johan Fransson, Heather Morgan, Leslie Satcher, Ryan Kinder and Iain James.

Wadge now owns an apartment in Nashville and divides her time between the US city and the UK. She’s already co-written the likes of Keith Urban’s Parallel Line (with Ed Sheeran) and Camila Cabello’s Consequences (with Nicolle Galyon and Emily Weisband), the latter being one of the songs she played at the showcase.

So Music Week sat down with Wadge to talk Sheeran, songwriting and the eternal romance of Music Row… 

You grew up in Wales. Did you always have a picture of Nashville in your head?

“I’ve always had a romantic notion about Nashville. When I was an artist, there were always Nashville references [in my songs]. I went there 10 years ago and absolutely fell in love with it, but then got into the cycle of being a mum and trying to write and do all those things so I didn’t go back. But after the Grammys [Thinking Out Loud won Song Of The Year in 2016] and everything changing I made it a very high priority. In fact, I made a list of artists I wanted to work with and they were basically all Nashville artists. I went there at the end of 2015 and loved it so much that I bought a condo within a month of coming back to the UK, which was a bit crazy. I wanted to really make the solid statement that I wanted to divide my time between there and here. I did nine American trips last year and seven of them were to Nashville.” 

And does the city live up to your romantic notion of it?

“It really does. It’s one of the only places that lives up to the hype. There’s this constant creative energy when you go there. Everybody gets up to write songs, that’s their purpose, there’s no procrastination whatsoever, which appeals to me as a person. When I’m there, I do two to three sessions a day, which is unheard of anywhere else.” 

When you’re in Nashville, do you tend to write country songs or across genres?

“I keep it pretty pure. I’m there for the most part to write country, but that’s not to say that the artists that are coming there aren’t experimenting with these things, which I’m completely up for. I have an absolute love for the music, I’ve always loved it, so for me the initial pull was to go and do really old-fashioned songwriting, which is what they still do. You have to sit in a room and sometimes you don’t even pick up an instrument for three hours until the lyrics are done. That’s what appealed to me. I did go with Kylie Minogue last year when we were doing her album, so that’s not to say I don’t go outside the genre, but Kylie was interested in the country side of things as well.” 

Was it difficult to break into the Nashville songwriting scene?

“No, they really have been so welcoming. Quite disconcertingly so, because it is quite a cut-throat world we work in, but I’ve never had a sense of anybody being like, ‘What are you doing here?’ I have a genuine love of the music, so it’s not like I’ve just rocked up and said I’m going to try my hand at a bit of country. I’ve genuinely grown up on it and I’m a huge fan of Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves, so there was a sincerity to me being there. And the fact that I bought somewhere and my family come means they realise I’m not just going to flit in and out, I really have committed my time to learn as much as I possibly can. And they really are the loveliest people in the world. It’s unique to Nashville; there’s a really lovely synergy to people where they say, ‘You should work with this person’. You really feel embraced by a community of writers and artists, it’s brilliant.” 

Is there a different process to writing a country song compared to a pop song?

“They are still very pure in the way that they do things. The majority of the time they really want to say something, so you’re much less likely to be writing to a track and often, more than anywhere else, you start with the title. When I’ve gone with that to sessions in LA and London people are like, ‘Wow, that’s really unique’, whereas in Nashville, that’s just the norm. There’s a lot of conversation about trying to say something. And the whole process is quicker because you don’t tend to record the track in the session. If the song’s a goer that will all happen later. Which means I tend to work 10am-2pm and then 3-6pm and sometimes I’ve even done a session again in the night, because you’re just there for a four-hour period. Get it done and off you go, which is just brilliant.” 

Have you noticed an increasing crossover between country and pop music?

“When I’m in Nashville, there’s normally a really big name in town, like David Guetta or Lady Gaga, because people are getting wind of the fact that there are these people that are amazing at songwriting that have almost been overlooked because they’re ‘country’. From an artist’s point of view, even if they’re not looking for a country song, they might just go to Nashville and come away with something different.” 

When you wrote Consequences, was it with Camila Cabello in mind?

“No. I wrote it with Nicolle Galyon and Emily Weisband, then played it to Ed [Sheeran] and he said, ‘You know who you need to send this to?’ So he sent it to her, she worked her magic, wrote a bit as well and that’s how it came to life. Which is an exclusive actually – no one knows that, it’s the first time I’ve told anyone! It was all down to Mr Sheeran again. He’s always got my back, he’s a very generous soul and he always listens to everything I do. He’s incredibly generous like that. I owe him yet again, which is fine by me.” 

Ed has also done some country songwriting…

“Yes, I wrote the latest Keith Urban with Ed. The thing is, he’s a very old soul in terms of his songwriting. I’ve always said Thinking Out Loud is a country song. He will be embraced there, I’m sure Ed will do a Nashville thing one day.” 

So, should aspiring songwriters all be heading to Nashville?

“100%! Everybody I work with, I say, ‘Have you been to Nashville yet?’ If you want to go and run a race with some of the best athletes in the world, that’s where you need to go. That’s how I see it. These people a literally machines when it comes to songwriting, I’ve learned more in the last two years than in 20 years of being a songwriter. Just because they are used to creating every single day, to a really high level. If you were to start in Nashville and work outwards from there, you’ll have a real sense of what it is to craft a song from start to finish without the aid of a computer. If the electricity goes down, I know I can still write a song in Nashville. Every songwriter should be able to say that.”

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