Get To Know: Ryan Griffin [Exclusive Interview]

It’s tough for anyone to beat the roller-coaster music career of country newcomer, Ryan Griffin. While he’s a fresh name to many, the Florida native actually moved to Nashville at was 17 years old to pursue his passion-fueled dream of becoming a singer. His early years saw him being a full-time student at the city’s famed Belmont University, interning at the then-fairly new Broken Bow Records, and being tour manager for Jason Aldean. But, the years that followed presented Griffin with moments that no textbook could prepare him for.

The celebratory highs included earning his first No. 1 as a songwriter on Kelsea Ballerini’s “Dibs” and inking record deals with Sony Music Nashville and Warner Music Nashville. Conversely, the aching lows included getting dropped by the latter, his second label home, just as the music industry was reeling from the business impact of the pandemic. However, with a steadfast support system and fire-forged spirit of determination, Griffin decided against throwing in the towel. Instead, he turned to TikTok to independently share a never-heard-before song, “Salt, Lime & Tequila.” 

Today, that very video boasts 3.8 million views and 589K likes, while the hit-ready track has accrued over 8 million streams on Spotify alone. Additionally, it’s also earned him a record deal as the flagship artist of Red Street Country, a newly-formed division of Red Street Records, which is co-helmed by Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts.

Sounds Like Nashville spoke with Griffin from his home in Nashville about his roller-coaster music career, Grand Ole Opry debut, and the success of “Salt Lime & Tequila” — including a vibrant Stripped Version video premiering exclusively below.

Introducing the next promising newcomer you have to know: Ryan Griffin.

 Dan Crockett – Owner/Chairman RSC, Ryan Griffin, Jay DeMarcus, Mark Lusk – President, General Manager RSC; Photo credit: Cooper Smith

What sparked your passion to become a country singer?

For me, it’s been an interesting journey because no one is musical at all. When I started writing songs and picking up the guitar, the first thing I ever did was sing. My parents were like, “I don’t know what to do with him.” [laughs] In the very beginning, what happened was dad sat down one morning and called every studio in a hundred-mile radius and finally got someone to talk to him. So we got into the studio, cut the music that I had been writing, and that was the first time I got to hear myself recorded. I always knew I wanted to be in country music and a singer, so it’s very interesting to have it all go together.

Who are some artists that you grew up listening to?

I always tell the story of when I was a young kid cramped in the backseat with my two older brothers in my mama’s station wagon. She played DJ, so my younger years of being introduced to music were Vince Gill, George Strait, Collin Raye, and Brooks & Dunn. Then right around middle school, I got to go to Peaches, a record store in South Florida, where my brothers and I would pull our money together to buy the records that came out that day. I’d always sneak away from the country section and dive into the R&B section, and that’s where I discovered Brian McKnight. The record Anytime really just changed it for me. In my head, I wanted to blend this Vince Gill and George Strait vibe with this Brian McKnight vibe [and make] really soulful music. That’s the first time where I started to go, “Man, I don’t know if there’s a spot for me in country music.” A lot of my family would be like “you’re too country for pop,” and a lot of my friends would be like “you’re too pop for country.” I was in this no man’s land trying to figure out where I fit. And then I heard “You’ll Think of Me” by Keith Urban and said, “I’m going to Nashville! There is a spot for me there!” Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts were the two influences that paved the way for me in Nashville. 

How did you end up moving to Nashville?

I came to Nashville via college. That was my way to get there because my parents made me go to college. [laughs] But I always knew I wanted to go to Nashville. If I’m going to play in the big leagues, I got to be there, and that’s what I always tell everybody. You got to be present to win. So I moved up to Nashville through Belmont University, which just had some great opportunities. Iron sharpens iron, and there was a lot of good talent at Belmont that helped me push myself further. No matter if you come up to Nashville and you’re in college or just in a writer’s room and playing writer’s rounds, iron really just sharpens iron here. There are so many talented artists, songwriters and musicians, so being in Nashville is a huge aspect of it.

Since graduating from college, it’s been a roller-coaster journey for you. You’ve scored your first No. 1 song with Kelsea Ballerini’s “Dibs” and recently signed with Red Street Records as their flagship artist. But what new fans may not know is that prior to that, you also lost two record deals and a publishing deal. Could you talk more about that?

It’s truly been a ten-year town. For me, it’s been a little bit more. It’s been such a crazy winding road where I’ve called my mom and went, “Mom, it’s happening! I’m going to be on radio!” Then the head of the label leaves, something happens, and I never get off the ground at a label. And then the pandemic hits or whatever it is. The lowest was probably losing Busbee. That was really tough to get over because I thought we were going to build a lifetime career together. Losing him was a shock to everybody and really difficult for all of us. But there have been a lot of incredible opportunities that [reminded me] I’m on the right path. I’ve been super blessed to have Clint Higham and Will Hitchcock over at Morris Higham, my management company, to stick with me through all of the ups and downs. A lot of people get scared at the bottom of the roller-coaster not knowing how we’re going to climb the mountain from the valley, but they never got deterred and just stuck by me. That also gave me a little bit of confidence to keep pushing forward when I got knocked down.

How did you end up signing with Red Street Country, the country division of Jay DeMarcus’ label, Red Street Records?

Landing a deal with Jay DeMarcus at Red Street Records feels like everything has led me to this point. I know it’s cliche and cheeky to say it’s all in God’s timing, but I truly believe that in this crazy journey, everything has happened for this reason. When Jay sat me down, in less than five minutes, he was like a kid in the candy shop and he told me, “I want you to be the flagship artist of my new label that I just started. It’s called Red Street Records and we’re doing a country division!” My jaw literally dropped as I looked at him. Without thinking twice, I said, “Yes! I want to be a part of it!” And he looks at me and goes, “Well, take some time to think about it, go talk to your manager and your team.” I said, “Well, I would definitely do that but yes, my answer is yes.” It was just the vibe where Jay’s an artist and he understands the industry from an artist’s perspective. [It’s something that] you’re not going to get anywhere else. He told me, “My goal is to create a very artist-friendly environment where you’re treated fairly and where we all win. I’m going to come out on radio tour with you, you can use my bus.” And he really has come out on the majority of it. I’ve just learned so much just from observing him, how he talks to radio, and how he carries himself on the road. 

I’ve heard that the name of Red Street Record has a faith-based genesis. Could you tell me more about it?

I didn’t learn till we were sitting at a label dinner one night and celebrating the signing and launching of the label. My wife was sitting at the other table and asked, “Jay, I’ve been curious. What does Red Street mean?” He said, “It means paved by the blood of Christ.” I didn’t know the answer at that point and literally started tearing up. I thought, “That’s why this felt so right. It’s because of what it stands for!” I’m really thankful, honored, and proud to be at a label that truly stands for something like that. We talk about our faith often on the road and that’s a really important part of my life. It’s really cool that I get to share that in my career as well.

Last July, you made your long-awaited Grand Ole Opry debut. Congratulations on that, Ryan! Would you talk about what that opportunity meant to you?

It’s a huge accomplishment in my career to say that I’ve got to play the Opry!  My grandfather introduced me to it way back in the day when I was very young and we would have family dinners at their place all the time. He would tell me who the people were and a lot of them were old classic songs he grew up on. We just really bonded that way. From a young age, I really had such a huge appreciation for the Opry and what they had done for country music. Before my grandfather passed, one of the last things he told me was, “Keep pushing forward. You’re going to be in that circle one day, kid. Don’t stop.” 

And you finally got to fulfill that lifelong goal. What was the night like?

The curtain was down, it was intermission, I was standing side stage with butterflies and nervous like I never had been before. Then I walk out there to stand on that circle and I was really nervous about plugging my guitar in! [laughs] When the curtain went up, my drummer Michael Sturd stood behind me and said, “Griff! You’re standing in the circle!” I looked down and I’m in that circle my grandfather and I had dreamed about for so long. The curtain goes up and as soon as I saw the thousands of faces out there in the crowd, it was like the spirit of the Opry just washed over me and all of my nerves away. It was this moment of peace. We hit the first note and I’m off to the races singing two of my favorite songs, “One Prayer Left” and “Salt, Lime & Tequila.” The coolest part was when I got to the chorus of “Salt, Lime & Tequila” and the entire audience started singing it back. They blew the roof off that place! When I got done singing and walked off to the side of the stage, the Opry President Dan Rogers goes, “Buddy, that does not happen.” It was my Opry debut and the whole house sang back to me! He’s like, “You got something special here, can’t wait to have you back.” When he said that, I about fell over. Man, he was true to his word because [we’ve played it for the third time] now. But there’s never going to be anything like the first time. 

Speaking of “Salt, Lime & Tequila,” it blew up on social media, streaming, and satellite radio even before becoming your debut single on terrestrial radio! What’s the story behind writing this one?

The raw truth of it all was that we wrote that song in the middle of the pandemic. My kids were screaming downstairs and everyone kind of hit their moment where it felt too much. So I walked upstairs to write with Jason Massey and Ava Suppelsa [via Zoom] and they asked what I wanted to write about. I said, “A song that’s going to make my kids be quiet when I turn it on, let my wife and I have three minutes of peace, and make the world go away. Something that helps us take life with a grain of salt,” and Ava said “lime,” and Massey said “tequila.” We laughed [at first] and then realized it was a song! In two hours, that song fell out. 

You have a very cool “Salt Lime & Tequila (Stripped)” video that we’re premiering exclusively here on Sounds Like Nashville! Where was it filmed, and what’s the concept behind it?

We filmed it at Chopper, a bar here in Nashville. They make amazing margaritas there and have that kind of vibe to it. Salt Lime & Tequila’s already a pretty stripped song. There’re two versions, the acoustic one that’s already out and the stripped version. The acoustic version has more of a party vibe to it with some background hoot and hollers. For the stripped version, I just wanted to give people something really really simple. The coolest thing is that the song can literally stand on its own with just an acoustic guitar. A lot of people have been asking for that kind of stuff because they want to play it in different environments since it evokes different emotions. I’m really excited to have this one out! 

Let’s talk about another “Salt, Lime & Tequila” video — the one with your dad that went viral on TikTok. Was that a management nudge or just a spur-of-the-moment idea?

It was a hundred percent spur of the moment. Not long after we wrote “Salt, Lime & Tequila,” [my previous record label] Warner had called and said, “Hey man, sorry. Last in first out. We’re dropping five artists because of budget and covid. We’re sorry. We failed you as a label” and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t know what I was going to do and just threw a pity party for myself. The next week, my wife actually told me, “You have nothing to lose. Why don’t you take all of the music that you’ve been writing and start putting it out on social platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook?” My parents actually came up to be here during that time because they knew I was going through a lot. One day, dad and I were riding in a truck and because we grew up in the Florida keys, I felt that song sounded like one he’d like. So I threw the phone up and told him, “Pops, listen to this song!” He said, “Why are you recording me, boy?” [laughs] I played the song and it was perfect! We call him “bobblehead” now because he was just bopping along. I [uploaded] it on TikTok that night and the next morning, my wife came screaming into the room, saying, “Look at TikTok, look at TikTok!” I had thrown up a couple of songs before that and none of them were moving the needle. But when I looked at this, it was like a million, two million, and then three million views. I think it stopped at six or seven million views. 

It seems like many people connected with the carefree spirit of the song as well, right?

It’s the little song that could, that’s what I keep calling it. It’s really cool that it had its launch on a platform like that because I got to read all the comments and see how and why people were connecting with it. So many people would say “this is exactly what I need right now because I’m so stressed out and anxiety’s through the roof,” “I listen to it first thing in the morning when I wake up so it sets the tone for my day,” or “I listen to it the first thing when I come back from work to be with my family because it de-stresses me and I can be a better dad and husband.” That’s why we do music. It’s to have an impact in people’s lives. It’s been really cool to have that song impact their lives in such a positive way.

You’re releasing your new Slow Down Sunrise EP on May 6, just a day after Cinco de Mayo! What inspired this project?

My whole purpose with this collection of songs really is just inspired by “Salt, Lime & Tequila.” I’m a big beach person with saltwater in my veins. I wanted to create a collection of songs that you can press play and be sitting by the beach or a lake, or sitting in the cubicle in your office wanting to go to the beach. You could play these songs back to back to back without skipping any. It just takes you to that place of serenity and peace. That’s what I wanted to create. We just got the masters back yesterday. The team got to listen to the whole EP and they sent me a voicemail freaking out. Jason Massey produced it and he just crushed it. We’ll hopefully round up the record this year or early next year and have a full record out. I’m also playing Stagecoach at the end of the month! That’s one of my bucket list shows. I’m excited to get out and tour, meet new people, make new fans, build relationships, and continue to write music that connects with folks. I’m really looking forward to getting the opportunity to do all of that.

Lastly, what’s one thing you want fans to know about you, both as a person and as an artist?

That’s a great question. I think as a person, I want people to know that I love my family, I love the Lord, I am striving every day to be a better version of myself, and I’m really, really thankful to be able to do what I love for a living and support my family. As an artist, I want people to know that I’m super thankful when people connect with this music and give me a chance. There’s a lot of music out there for people to consume and I’m so thankful when people give me a shot and listen to my music, comment on posts, or show up to a show. My favorite aspect of this industry is getting to meet new people, hold a place in their lives through music, and be the soundtrack to a season in their lives. That’s the ultimate goal as an artist. I just want people to know how thankful I am.

Watch the “Salt Lime & Tequila (Stripped)” video above, and pre-save Ryan Griffin’s just-announced Slow Down Sunrise EP here.

Slow Down Sunrise EP Tracklist:

1. Summer On It
2. Salt, Lime & Tequila 
3. Beer Like That 
4. Slow Down Sunrise 
5. Closing Time 
6. Salt, Lime & Tequila (Acoustic) 

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