Longtime fans of Ty Herndon will hear much to enjoy on his new album, House on Fire, which releases Friday, Nov. 11. His expressive vocals, the surging romance of his lyrics — all the things that put him on the map with his No. 1 debut single What Mattered Most are evident on each of its 12 tracks.

But there are differences. Listen closely to Just Friends, with its nod to “our little secret,” or the promise that “tonight we’re gonna do whatever we want to do” on All Night Tonight, or the admonition “don’t tell” on Sweet Way To Go. For all their expressions of love and intimacy, there’s no reference at all to gender.

Mention that to Herndon, 54, and he chuckles. “You got me,” he acknowledges. “But it wasn’t planned. When we were writing these songs, Erik (Halbig, producer) pointed that out. And I said, ‘Man, there are no accidents.’ I want anybody, from any walk of life, to hear this record and put their own stories into it while still hearing mine.”

Ty Herndon, right, shows off his shoes as Matt Collum
Ty Herndon, right, shows off his shoes as Matt Collum watches on the red carpet for the 50th CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena. (Photo: George Walker IV, The Tennessean/USA TODAY Sports)
The latest chapter in Herndon’s story began just two years ago, when he came out as gay — the first major male country performer to take that step. While House on Fire proves that his musical essence hasn’t changed, his message has evolved, mostly through details in his writing but, on the title track, much more frankly and powerfully.

“It took me two days to write that song because I kept getting so emotional that I had to walk out of the room,” he recalls. “Halfway through the process, my co-writers were feeling it too. I knew at that moment that I was not only writing my story, but I was writing a lot of people’s stories with these songs. All the pressure I’d felt just flew out the window at that point because I knew that my truth was a lot of people’s’ truth.”

Herndon savors the exhilaration of being able to live openly with his partner Matt Collum and the opportunities he’s found for counseling homeless youth, working with GLAAD and other worthy pursuits. Yet at heart, he insists, he’s pretty much what he’s always been … only more so.

“If I ever make it to Carnegie Hall, I’m not gonna preach — I’m just gonna sing,” he insists. “There’s a time and place for everything

by Bob Doerschuk, Special for USA TODAY

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