Riley Green doesn’t want to mess with what’s working

The Academy of Country Music’s new male artist of the year plays two nights at the Roxy.

Credit: Sam Crabtree

Credit: Sam Crabtree

Riley Green has made no secret that one of his goals in following up his 2019 full-length debut album, “Different ‘Round Here,” was to not stray too far from the sound or lyrical personality of that first major label album.

That album, which brought together songs from three earlier EPs, gave Green his first two top 15 hits on Billboard magazine’s Country Songs chart in “There Was This Girl” and “I Wish Grandpas Never Died.” He knows he’s trying now to accomplish what he considers one of the biggest challenges an artist faces, beginning with his recently released EP, “Behind The Bar.”

“I think it’s really hard for a new artist to go from ‘Hey, I know this song, but I don’t know who sings it’ into ‘Oh, and that’s a Riley Green song.’” Green explained in a recent phone interview. “I think that probably comes from maybe too much bouncing (around stylistically) with your first few singles.

“Ten years ago, your average Joe couldn’t go into the studio and record something and put it out on Spotify or Amazon or iTunes,” he added. “Now that you have so much music, this overflow of music, you’ve got to find a way to stand out, and I think that’s kind of by having your own sound.”

Green, ironically, isn’t able to actually articulate just yet exactly what makes his songs or his sound stand apart from other country artists.

Credit: Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP

Credit: Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP

“I have no idea what it is about what I’m doing that’s working, but I just want to make sure I don’t mess it up,” he said.

Perhaps part of what is working for Green is the way he puts pieces of himself, his life and the people he’s known into his lyrics. His songs are solid musically, but that’s not what sets him apart. On uptempo tunes like “Jesus and Wranglers,” “If I Didn’t Wear Boots” (both from the “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” EP), and “Put ‘Em On Mine” (from “Behind The Bar”) he mixes a good bit of twang with muscular rock, creating a sound that fits well in today’s mainstream country. Even his lyrics, which incorporate familiar country themes about family bonds, faith, a blue-collar work ethic, small-town life and wholesome values, might not seem that unique.

Still, Green’s lyrics give listeners a tangible sense of where he’s from (the small Alabama town of Jacksonville), his down-to-earth upbringing, his outlook on life and his love of country and rock music.

Green certainly came to country music honestly, spending many an hour listening to the music of country legends like Roy Acuff and Merle Haggard with his grandfather, Buford. And he put in plenty of time and effort as an independent artist before reaching the point now where he’s a major label artist (signed to Big Machine Records), with a couple of hit singles on his resume that helped him win the prestigious 2020 Academy of Country Music award for New Male Artist of the Year.

It all started back in Jacksonville, Alabama. As Green learned guitar, he started writing songs, and by his early 20s, he was getting gigs around the Southeast. He posted songs online and self-released several EPs, gradually building a following that was large enough to allow him to make music a full-time venture. This self-made career was what eventually got noticed in Nashville.

“I played for probably 10 years before a record label ever showed up at a show,” Green said. “I had never been to Nashville. It wasn’t because I was just amazing or I had some big hit song that I got discovered. It was because I was selling a lot of tickets and people were coming to my shows and downloading my songs.”

After spending much of 2020 unable to tour, Green is back on the road, where he’ll be able to debut songs from the seven-song “Behind The Bar” EP. Like the “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” EP, “Behind The Bar” has a mix of rock-edged uptempo tunes such as “That Was Us,” “Put ‘Em On Mine” and the title track and acoustic-leaning ballads like “That’s My Dixie” and “That’s What I’ve Been Told.”

Green likes doing EPs because it involves fewer songs and he can get music released soon after songs have been written and recorded.

“Now there are so many platforms where you can put music out and for me it’s just, the only way I can really disappoint my fans is by not putting out music,” he said. “And so it takes awhile to go do a full-length album. That’s months and months and months of planning and picking songs and (scheduling) studio time. You know, when you put out a project like this EP, it buys you some time. And I think it will probably be similar to how my debut album was, ‘Different ‘Round Here,’ where it was actually three EPs that became an album. That, to me, is sort of an easier way to give fans (a larger batch) of music, but also not jump the gun and go hey man, we’ve got to go cut 12 songs right now.”


Riley Green

7 p.m. Jan. 7-8. $39.50-$99. Coca-Cola Roxy, 800 Battery Ave. SE, Suite 500, Atlanta. 470-351- 3866, Ext. 38186,