"Everyone is working hard, whether it's in the entertainment industry or with their hands, and I want to be the voice for that," says Riser House Entertainment artist Mitchell Tenpenny. Since he first started singing as a kid growing up in a musical home in Nashville, Mitchell has put in the time and effort, learning piano and guitar, honing his songwriting and finding his remarkably soulful voice. It all led him to Linden Ave., his new EP that exemplifies Mitchell's diverse set of influences, ranging from Michael Jackson and John Mayer to the Oak Ridge Boys and R. Kelly.
Named after the street that his grandmother, a pioneering Nashville music executive and inspiration to Mitchell, once lived, the adventurous, genre-bending EP flies in the face of contemporary country's adherence to formula. There's the windows-down jam of "Truck I Drove"; the empathetic, boozy "Mixed Drinks"; the easygoing anthem "Laid Back"; and his subdued solo take on the Billboard Country Songs Top 5 hit "If the Boot Fits" (Granger Smith), which he co-wrote. There's also a tongue-in-cheek – and instantly memorable – cheating song.
"Country music is grounded in authenticity and in blue-collar people working their asses off," says Mitchell, who is committed to honesty in both the studio and in front of a crowd. "Onstage is where I thrive. That's my moment to get up there and prove that we're not bullshitting."
Armed with a crystalline voice that dips and dives on command, and the hyper-creative mind of a songwriter, Mitchell pulls no punches. That cheating song? It's unapologetically titled "Bitches" and was written after a few close friends of the singer-songwriter had their hearts broken by less than faithful partners. Mitchell shakes his head, relaying the story of how he came to write such an unexpectedly buoyant song with an edgy title.
"A buddy of mine had just been cheated on and, in the past, I'd been cheated on. I kept thinking about that lousy feeling and the word that came to mind was 'bitches.' It wasn't about a specific girl or girls in general, but about people who cheat. A guy can cheat and I'd call him a bitch. Yeah, it can be a harsh word, but in our song, it's about a feeling more than a cuss."
But while "Bitches" may be the instant head-turner, it's songs like "Truck I Drove" and "Mixed Drinks" that sink deep into a listener's being. "Truck I Drove" is about that first taste of four-wheeled freedom, reminding fans how it felt to be "king of the road," speeding through adolescence as if there were no rules.
"You did anything you wanted to in your car or truck," says Mitchell, who says the secret to the song "is its cathartic "hell yeah!" chorus. "Country fans just want to go to a show, hold their beer, hold their girl or guy and scream, 'Hell yeah!' Combined with those images of their first car, it becomes a living memory."
It's past memories, however, that haunt "Mixed Drinks." Mitchell wrote the track with Jordan Walker (Walker McGuire), and frequent collaborator Andy Albert, after spying a down-on-her-luck woman nursing a heartbreak in a bar. "We saw her and thought, 'It's ok, you can go have your time and be upset,'" says Mitchell. "No one wants to be judged while drinking away a heartbreak."
Instead, they want to be assured that someone else has been there. Which is where Mitchell comes in.
"I want you to believe in everything I sing," he says, "and get lost in it."