Grady Smith
November 01, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

You’re tied with Taylor Swift for the most nominations for the CMAs — six each. How did you get the news?
I was woken up by a phone call from friends and my manager. And my roommate downstairs was screaming up at me. [Laughs]

Were you trying to stay asleep to distract yourself from your nerves?
No, I was just hungover. But it was a good reason to get out of bed, I’d say.

It’s interesting that you and Taylor are in the same spot, since in many ways you seem like opposites. Where do you see yourself on the spectrum?
Undeniably, I’m a country singer, I’m a country songwriter. But I feel like I make country music for people who like country music, and for people who don’t. It’s a blend of being inspired by super-traditional country roots and then all these other kinds of music: Cake, Weezer, Electric Light Orchestra, the Beatles, Glen Campbell. I don’t really see genre boxes. I see good and bad.

Who was your country idol growing up?
I used to love, and I still do, Lee Ann Womack. And Alison Krauss. I mean, how many Grammys does she have? She’s just remained solid and true and great, and I respect that.

Does meeting your idols freak you out?
I don’t really get starstruck by anyone except Willie [Nelson], who I’ve met a couple times now. Yeah, Willie or Loretta [Lynn]. And if I met Dolly [Parton], I would probably s— my pants.

Your first big Nashville moment came when Miranda Lambert recorded ”Mama’s Broken Heart,” which you co-wrote. How did that come together?
She heard it and just fell in love with it and wanted to do it herself. As a songwriter, that’s one of the biggest compliments you can ever get — some of my favorite artists had hits with other people before they had their own. I was like, “She’ll do it justice, her fans will love it, everybody wins.”

But we really got to know you with your debut single, ”Merry Go ‘Round,” which showcases a mix of pride and frustration with small-town America. Did you catch any flak back in Texas?
There’s been literally one person who’s ever been negative about the song, and I think they’re just negative in general. I feel like big city or small town, you can relate to following your parents’ footsteps, or putting your own dreams on the back burner, or vices that we get caught up in — that whole cycle. That’s not just a small-town thing. That’s a life thing.

Your new single, ”Follow Your Arrow,” includes the lines ”Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into.” How have country fans responded to that?
It’s been positive. The thing is, that’s not controversial. It’s 2013! Nobody wants to admit that they’re on the wrong side of that. I feel like country music has kind of wrapped their arms around me about it. Maybe it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. Not to be corny, but that’s them not following their arrow, and that’s what it’s about.

”Arrow” also mentions rolling up a joint, which seems to be a rising trend in country, with other songs like Ashley Monroe’s ”Weed Instead of Roses.” Is Nashville more high than we realize?
[Laughs] Ha, who’s to say? It’s been around in country music for a long time, and it’s no different than singing about moonshine.

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