Chris Tompkins, Rodney Clawson Honored With CMA Triple Play Awards [Exclusive Interview]
Rodney Clawson and Chris Tompkins are two of the hottest songwriters in Nashville, and they both have brand-new CMA Triple Play Awards to prove it.
The Country Music Association bestows the Triple Play Award annually on songwriters who have scored at least three No. 1 hits in the course of a year. Tompkins was honored on Feb. 5 for the success of “Redneck Crazy,” “Helluva Life” and “Drunk on a Plane,” while Clawson was the only writer to earn two Triple Plays this year, with “American Kids,” “Dirt,” “Burnin’ It Down,” “Helluva Life,” “Lettin’ The Night Roll” and “Bartender” all reaching No. 1.
"I couldn't make it [to the awards ceremony] last year, because Josh Kear and I were writing with Carrie Underwood that day," Tompkins tells Taste of Country. "So we had to get our priorities straight. But this year, it was a very classy awards presentation. It's really great. It was all about the songwriters. We got up there and got our awards, and it was awesome."
Clawson is a double Triple Play winner this year for the second year in a row.
"It's more than I ever — you know, you start songwriting, you dream of maybe some day having one, and I've been lucky," he reflects. "My first No. 1 was on Jason Aldean back in I think '04, '05, and I had two or three there within about five years, and then man, in 2012 it started going crazy. So I don't know what it is, but I'll take it."
It was a very classy awards presentation. It's really great. It was all about the songwriters.
Both men readily admit that despite their success, there's really no way to plan for writing hit songs. Sometimes even they don't recognize when they've written a smash.
""Burnin' It Down," I loved the song, but I was definitely afraid of the whole thing. I was like, 'It's too risky for Aldean,' and I just didn't know," Tompkins says. "On the other hand there was "Drunk on a Plane," 'cause it kinda quietly went through a whole other life behind the scenes where people liked it, and then it fell through the cracks a little bit, and then they re-recorded it. But as soon as I heard the mix — the producer, Russ Copperman, pulled me aside one day and played it for me in my car — I was like, 'That's a smash.' I didn't know about "Burnin' It Down," but I did know about "Drunk on a Plane.""
Ironically, given his track record, Clawson tries to be cautious about predicting hits.
"I know lot of writers where every day, they've written the best song they've ever written. I'm a little more skeptical than that," he says. "The big ones I usually know; like when we wrote "American Kids," I knew that was a big song. When Chris and I wrote "Dirt," I knew that was a big song. But then there's other songs that kinda, for me, it just could be the process of writing a song gets a little harder than you wanted it to be, and then in your mind you're like, 'If it was that hard to write, is it that good?'
"I'd say for me it's 50/50; sometimes I know, and sometimes I don't," Clawson adds. "But usually I don't hear on the wrong side of it. At this point in my career, I usually don't think a song is really great and then nothing happens with it. It's usually the other way; it's a song that kinda went under my radar a little bit, and then everybody else picked up on it."
Though both of them worked long and hard to get to where they are, Tompkins and Clawson both acknowledge that it's easier to score hits once you've already done so.
"I definitely think a writer can get hot, almost like a baseball player can get on a streak," Tompkins observes. "There is a little bit of luck involved, but I think hard work and timing is a big part of it, especially in getting double Triple Play Awards."
He jokingly uses Clawson as an example: "He gets to choose which awards he wants to win," he says with a laugh. "'Am I going for two, or three Triple Play Awards? Maybe I'll win one next year.'"
There'll be some point in time when nobody will give a crap about anything I write. I know that. It happens to every writer, no matter who you are.
For his part, Clawson realizes the transitory nature of that kind of hot streak.
"You know, we go years and write stuff that's not really working for the market, and then there's years that at the time, what we're writing intersects and goes right down the middle of the market, and I think that's kind of where I am right now," he reflects. "There'll be some point in time when nobody will give a crap about anything I write. I know that. It happens to every writer, no matter who you are. I know that'll happen someday to me, too, so I'm just trying to enjoy it right now, as much as I can."
He emphasizes that work ethic is just as important as talent in building a career as a songwriter.
"It's just getting in the routine of showing up every day and treating it like a job. That's worked out good for me, doing it that way," Clawson says. "That's what we do. We show up every day and see what happens. I have the philosophy that you write songs to get to songs. There's songs that you write every day, and you're writing toward that one great song that's gonna happen at the right time with the right people with the right idea. But if you don't show up every day, you're reducing your chances of that happening."
Even with all the hard work and luck in the world, the job of songwriting is often a frustrating shot in the dark.
"It's a weird job. I can't explain it. Even my parents don't really understand what I do," Clawson admits. "I still go home, and they say, 'Did you sell any songs this week?' And I'm like, 'That's not how it works.' After you explain it 10 times, you just kinda give up and play along with whatever they think it is."
In addition to their recent Triple Play wins, Clawson and Tompkins are both nominated for Songwriter of the Year in the upcoming ACM Awards.
It's a weird job. I can't explain it. Even my parents don't really understand what I do.
"I'm kind of a little bummed out that the ACMs aren't going to be in Vegas, because even if you don't get nominated, it makes sense to go out to Vegas," Tompkins says. "It's going to be in Dallas this year, but I'll probably still head out there. I don't have an ACM. I'd love to have one. They actually give out pretty cool awards."
Clawson is philosophical about the voting process.
"This is my third year in a row to be nominated," he relates. "I know Dallas [Davidson] won it one year, and Shane [McAnally] won it last year, and we'll see this year. Everybody that's been nominated for it these last three years is worthy of winning it, in my opinion, so you can't argue with whoever ends up getting it. I write with every single person that's nominated, and we've all had hits together, and we're all friends. It's just fun to get to be in those situations with those kind of people."
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