Independent talent Johnny Gates captures the spark of romantic connection in his new single, “Flirt,” a blood pumping blast of midnight-country pop that arrives today, February 26. But it turns out his real life flirt game includes an especially painful missed opportunity.
With sleek vocals and a sampled beat describing a steamy scene of romantic desire, Gates co-wrote “Flirt” with Tyler Thompson and Mason Thornley, and says it ought to sound familiar to anyone who’s hung out in Music City’s late-night bar scene.
“With ‘Flirt,’ I was just trying to describe a typical Friday night in Nashville,” Gates tells Sounds Like Nashville. “Probably at the Red Door, and seeing a girl you just really want to get to know, and talk to until last call! Maybe she’s from out of town. And maybe she has really cool tattoos.”
Featuring a glossy sonic shine and lyrics that make him sound like a smooth operator, Gates goes on to say that “Flirt” does indeed come from some real-life experience — all the best country tunes do, after all. But he wouldn’t exactly call himself a master of seduction.
Back in 2010, he was featured as part of actress Leighton Meester’s band in the gritty 2021 movie Country Strong (starring Tim McGraw and Gwyneth Paltrow). And when the Rhode Island native found himself onstage with Meester for long breaks in between takes, he did what any red-blooded single guy would do. He tried to flirt… and it went about as well as you’d expect.
“Me and the guys were in Country Strong because our producer at the time, Nathan, was producing all of Leighton’s tracks,” Johnny Gates explains. “So he pulled some strings, got us in the movie. We were filming on Broadway at The Stage and this was my first time even being a part of a movie … and it takes so long in between takes. Like, so long! We’re standing up there … So I’m just kind of like, ‘Alright, here’s Leighton Meester. I think she’s super pretty. I need to shoot my shot. If there’s ever going to be a shot, this is it! And maybe because I’m in her fake band in a fake world, I’ll have a shot!’
“I just kind of lean over, because I’m next to her as her guitar player, and I’m just like, ‘Hey. So, you know Nathan, huh?’ And she’s just kind of like ‘Yeah.’ And I’m like ‘… Me too,’” Gates says with a laugh. “She’s just like ‘Okay.’ And then all of a sudden, Garrett Hedlund walks over and let’s just say, after that my chance completely evaporated. So that’s my story of completely failing to flirt with Leighton Meester. I hope it brings other people joy who have failed trying to flirt with someone.”
Luckily, this epic romantic fail wasn’t the inspiration for his new single. Things go a lot better in “Flirt.”
“I just wanna flirt, flirt, flirt with you / Girl tell me what you want, want, wanna do / We can find a dance floor, sneak out of the backdoor / Hit the backseat of my old Ford / I just wanna flirt, flirt, flirt with you / It’s all I wanna do, wanna do,” goes the track’s red-hot chorus.
Johnny Gates is the frontman of the band Runaway Saints, and “Flirt” is out today (February 26). Gates was also a contestant on season 12 of NBC’s The Voice, and was featured on Sounds Like Nashvilles’ 20 New Country Artists to Watch in 2020 list. He’s previously released tracks like “Buy You a Beer,” “Dive Bar” and more.