House on Fire is Ty Herndon’s eighth career studio album. As I listened to the album for the first time, it was like meeting up with an old friend and listening as he told me about his life experiences. He always was able to convey a lot of feeling with his compelling lyrics and charismatic voice. As I listened to his new album, I was reminded of another time, in another place.
It was during an interview back in 2004, I asked him if he could change anything in the music business, what would it be? His instantaneous reply was, “That everyone would be heard.” The compassion in his voice, and the determination on his face as he responded, lead me to believe he wasn’t only talking about music. He was a man on a mission, one soulful voice, hoping to make a difference in the world and considering his previous tenacity and resolve, I predicted he would succeed. Judging by the things we know about him now, and after listening to his newest album, I’m thinking I may have missed my calling as a pschyic.
The album, co-produced by Herndon and Erik Halbig, with Drew Davis as co-producer on six of the songs, gives a voice to Herndon’s wish that “everyone would be heard”. He takes full advantage of his powerful and marvelous voice to deliver lyrics that are destined to be meaningful to everyone who hears them. How is he able to deliver so much reality and passion via a song? The answer is simple, “If I haven’t lived it, I haven’t sung it,” he says.
Herndon addresses that feeling of brokenness on the title track, House on Fire, his first release since publicly coming out in late 2014. “I still replay those words / Only ten years old and hate is what I heard from that loving church / and there’s no salvation on the road you’re taking / and a kid like you ain’t worth saving,” he sings. “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.”
“Stick With What I Know” is a stand out track for me. His voice on this track is the one that first caught my attention all those years ago and this song is one of those melodious tunes with simple lyrics that encourages you to sing along. Yep! I’ll “Stick With What I Know”.
Another stand out track for me is “Fighter”.
Between 1995 and 2002, Herndon charted seventeen singles, including his three No.1s and numerous top ten hits. He topped the charts again in 1996 with the single “Living in a Moment” and again in 1998 with “It Must Be Love.” In 2010, Herndon released the album, Journey On. It was his first venture into songwriting and not only did he receive a lot of critical acclaim, he earned a Grammy nomination and his first Dove award.
Longtime fans will love the new album. His dramatic vocals and heartfelt lyrics are what took his debut single, “What Mattered Most,” to number one and that same genuine passion for life and love is discernible on each of the twelve tracks. He told Rolling Stone, “I’m a country artist. And I’m a country artist who happens to be gay and some days I feel like I’m walking very thin line with it,” he says. “But I’m just trying to stay true to who I am and the music I’m making.”
Well Mr. Herndon, I was smitten by your incredible voice back in 1996 and I still am. I think I’m like the majority of your fans. We get it. We get you. And we are comforted by your voice, your lyrics, your music, your songs, because you are singing our lives.
“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
It’s been a memorable two years for country singer Ty Herndon. He has joined only a handful of country artists who have been brave enough to publicly come out as gay — a secret he hid through the height of his career in the early and mid-1990s. He also hit No. 1 with his debut single, “What Mattered Most,” and charted over a dozen songs during that decade. Eventually, he disappeared from the airwaves and battled with some personal issues that landed him in drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
Now, with his past behind him and his own personal truth in the open, Herndon has crafted an album that truly signals his return to country music.
House on Fire is Herndon’s eighth career studio album, which reclaims the magic that was sprinkled throughout his first three records. Overall, the project has a more polished and obvious Top 40 production behind it. That isn’t a complaint, though. Herndon’s pure yet twangy voice has always been the main element that has infused the country sound into every song.
From the first note of opening track “That Kind of Night,” listeners are taken through an uplifting and purely joyful mix of love songs, biting anthems and unapologetic goodbyes. It’s one of his strongest collections of records since 1998’s Big Hopes, which produced three Top 5 tracks.
Of course, country music has changed a lot since 1998 — and so has Herndon. But the themes ingrained in these songs are likely to connect just as strongly with country fans as his earlier works. That’s likely in part a result of Herndon’s efforts to shy away from specifically referencing males or females in the songs. Although he happens to be a gay man, Herndon’s music is for everyone.
“What’s different about this record is that it’s gender-free,” Herndon told Wide Open Country earlier this year. “If you’re a diehard country fan who’s married woman with nine kids in Des Moines, or if you’re an LGBT person in Chicago, you’re going to hear your life in this record.”
Instead of focusing on gender, Herndon chooses to dial into the situations we’ve all been in. From the rush and fear of taking the next step in “Just Friends,” to the satisfaction of telling off an awful ex in “If You,” Herndon becomes the narrator of our lives.
It’s hard to pinpoint a handful of standout tracks, because like any great album, this one is meant to be heard all the way through.
by Lorie Liebig for Wide Open Country
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
Once you listen to House On Fire, the forthcoming disc from Ty Herndon, you might be struck by somewhat of a different sound from what you’re expecting from the singer of such hits as “What Mattered Most” and “Living In A Moment.” The singer tells Sounds Like Nashville that one of the most iconic performers in the genre’s history once told him he would need to shake things up a bit in order to stay fresh.
“I remembered starting this journey of making the new record, and going back to something that Reba McEntire told me years ago – I was going to constantly be re-inventing myself. I really didn’t know what that meant at the time. Working with great engineers and producers in putting these sounds together that people haven’t heard on a Ty Herndon record before. For me, that made it very current. I also played around with the way I sang a little bit, which made for a very fun experience.”
The resulting factor is an album that is as fresh sounding and as cutting-edge as such artists as Sam Hunt and Chris Lane, both of whom are topping the charts with their unique blend of Country, Pop, and R&B.
But, he didn’t totally abandon the sound he’s known for, either. “That Kind Of Night,” the album’s lead single, definitely feels like it could be played right alongside of such Herndon classics as “Loved Too Much.”
“When you take a look at the album as a whole body of work, you’ll definitely hear some Ty Herndon songs on this record,” he emphasizes. “That one is one I probably would have cut in the mid-90s, and would have been tremendous. I loved the way the journey it takes you on. It’s a real feel-good song.”
One of the songs that Herndon experiments with more of a 2010’s sound is “All Night Tonight.” He said that was one of the first songs written for the album. Herndon had a hand in penning six of the songs on the disc. He says he wished he could have written more, but “I got busy, and I said ‘I can’t be one of those selfish writers who tries to write a whole album because that would just delay the process. Luckily, my producers, Eric Halbig and Drew Davis are both great songwriters, so we pulled from other catalogs, and I actually ended up tailor-making some of the songs for the record, changing this or that. We were able to complete the story of this album by pulling in some great songs from my friends who might have had some similar stories in their own lives. It was very important on this record for me to be authentic with the stories.”
The singer – who announced the fact that he is gay to the world in an October 2014 interview with People – says that one unique factor about House On Fire is that the album’s lyrics are gender-free. He says that wasn’t the plan, but it worked out well.
“I wanted fans from all walks of life to be able to put their life into the music, no matter what it is or what it’s about,” he admitted. “Eric heard some of the stuff we were writing and said ‘You know, you’re going gender-free with this. Are you ok with that?” I said ‘That may be a great accident. Let’s go with it.”
He says that he so far, the reaction to the new material has been amazing. “It’s just important to me that people can come hear me sing, and go ‘I have an expectation now of Ty that I have seen these songs live.’ People that have heard my hits for years are singing those songs at the top of their lungs, but it’s awesome to be able to get the new music out there. Just last week in Indiana, we did ‘House On Fire,’ and it was a good two minutes before I could start the next song. When things like that happen to you as an artist, it really catches you off guard – and makes you realize that the people really heard it. That was an unbelievable feeling. To have them stand on their feet because they love it so much is an incredible feeling. As a matter of fact, it’s brought me to tears more than a few times,” he confesses.
Perhaps the biggest departure on House On Fire is the in-your-face feel of “If You.” He admits it’s very different for him, but once he heard it – it was a no-brainer. “My buddy Walker is one of the writers on the album, and I heard him do it at a showcase. I thought ‘I love that song. I’ve got to record it,’ and I didn’t even know why. But, I loved it that much. My management team thought it might be a little too edgy, and I said ‘No, No. We’re going to cut it. Just trust me.’ When we finished the record, it became clear to me why I had to cut it. In my life, I’ve had a career of love songs or songs about heartbreak and loss. We’ve all had relationships that didn’t work out, and we might want to be a little sassy about. This was the song where I found a sense of humor about one that didn’t’ work out.”
On the other end of the emotional spectrum is the warm and tender “Stick With What I Know,” which is pure Ty Herndon from start to finish. “I thought it was very important in cutting that song that I gave the fans an opportunity to remember the songs I did in the past. The feel of that one is very familiar. It’s a song that, for me, I can walk on stage and it’s so natural for me. It fits like a glove, my voice, and my personality.”
The album ends with “Fighter,” a song whose lyrics Herndon can identify with. “When I heard this song, I knew I had to close the album out with this song. It has such a strong message. I know when I go out and speak at schools or at different events, one of the things I tell people is ‘If you believe in something, and you want it, you’ve got to fight for it.”
If you ever need to brighten your day, it isn’t just Ty Herndon’s house that is on fire; it’s his personality that is ablaze. The country veteran is all fired up these days, excited to share new music with his fans and the industry, all of which is packaged on what is being deemed “the most powerful record of his career,” House On Fire.
This is my fifteenth studio album, which is kind of crazy to think there have been that many over the years, but House On Fire is one of my most personal albums. I wrote the majority of it with Eric Halbig, Drew Davis, and a handful of other writers, and it was a real learning process for me. It’s eighteen months in the making, from day one that we wrote the first song, which is a song called “All Night Tonight.” Experimenting with sounds and production and I grew so much as a producer and a songwriter, and it’s even possible today after all these years doing it. I even grew as a singer in the studio because I was experimenting with so many different melodies and had such a great time in the studio. And I had some heartbreaking times too. . . . I definitely had times I had to walk out of the room too, even during the writing process, ’cause you want to put yourself out there that raw and that emotional and you know people are gonna be listening to your stories. It’s really tough. You find yourself pulling back on how honest you want to be, and it’s so funny because you always come back to “say what you wrote.”
Part of that experimentation process for Herndon included figuring out a way to twist and bend a bit to fit into a genre that has evolved into a melting pot over the last few years. Though he ultimately ended up right where he wanted to be with this record, the journey to reach the destination was not always easy. In fact, Herndon admits to showing signs of resistance initially when it came to changing his style to make sense in today’s country music mold.
I did it kicking and screaming because I’m so set in my ways, but working with Eric and Drew who are really out there today writing with the current songwriters and producers and working with these musicians that are bringing all this great stuff to the table; I didn’t want to put a synthesizer bass over a real bass. Then I realized it wasn’t taking anything away from the integrity of what that bass player was playing. It was just adding a really cool texture to it. The old school Ty had to kind of grow up a little bit.
In “growing up,” Herndon had to learn it was okay to let loose and let go, even sharing those pieces of his heart and soul that led to quick trips out of the writing room or studio to compose himself. The result of those moments are songs like the title track, “House On Fire,” which he calls one of his favorites in the collection.
It’s the blueprint of this record. It’s sitting right up in the middle. I really had trouble placing it ’cause, it’s actually song number seven out of twelve songs, so it is in the middle. It’s a lot of fun. A lot of cool, flirty stuff and then we get up into the meat and potatoes of the record, and from there you go on a very serious journey for a few songs. Then, rounding it out with “Fighter,” which is an anthem for me. The personal content started with “House On Fire.” That was a very difficult song to write. It’s truly my story.
While “House On Fire” is his most personal song to date, Herndon does share that he has tracks from his earlier years that also touch him deeply — some for different reasons.
“Hat Full of Rain,” that was really talking about the heartbreak at that time of my life; all the struggles I was going through. Or the song “Living In a Moment.” I love singing love songs and just hearing people sing that at the top of their lungs. There was a lot of me in that and a lot of happy in that. I could take you through every song I ever recorded song-by-song and tell you exactly what was going on in my life at that time.
Conversely, Herndon does have one song that stands out as a recording regret, and fans, you may want to skim past this part if your hearts can’t take it.
I hated that I recorded Joe Cocker’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On.” We did it just as a show favorite and a fan favorite and, a lot of the fans are going to kill me for this, but I never loved steam. I still have a scar on my hand from that video where I cut myself. See? Poured some blood on that.
Now that Herndon has felt a personal evolution with his music, he is allowing nothing to hold him back — even that pesky scar. With a next record already in mind, Herndon’s wheels are spinning about who he could possibly approach for a duet, considering his catalog contains some pretty notable collaborations. While Bonnie Raitt is at the top of his list, he also has his ear on a couple of prominent country music females.
I really am a fan of Carrie [Underwood]. I really am a fan of Kacey Musgraves. Just people who are recording and putting out clever lyrics and can sing their butts off. I love singing duets.
Before Herndon can think about joining forces with other artists though, he wants to take some time to fly solo, bring his new, personal music to fans, and really talk about the stories behind the songs.
11/11 is the due date for this baby and we’re already talking about the next record. . . . I want more. I want more musical content. I have a book coming in the Spring too. There are so many more stories to tell.
As for those stories, at the end of the day, Herndon wants nothing more than to be remembered for the integrity in his music. Though he had moments in life when being honest on a personal level wasn’t always possible, his music always told the truth and spoke the words from his heart. This can especially be said about his next album, House On Fire, which will become available on November 11 and is able to be pre-ordered today.
It’s a musical crazy journey, but I feel like it’s one of my best albums since my first album What Mattered Most. It feels that new and that wonderful.
by Jen Swirsky