FOR DILLON CARMICHAEL, THE LAST THREE YEARS HAVE BEEN A WHIRLWIND, TO SAY THE LEAST.
Since unleashing his critically acclaimed 2018 debut, Hell On An Angel, he’s toured with everyone from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Trace Adkins to Dwight Yoakam and Justin Moore, written a song for Travis Tritt’s latest album, racked up millions of streams on Spotify, gone viral on TikTok, and even gotten engaged. And while you might have expected the cancellation of a year’s worth of tour dates to finally slow him down, Carmichael instead used his pandemic downtime to head right back into the studio and record Hot Beer, a brand new collection of high-energy, feel-good country.
“I felt like my catalog could use a little more fun in it,” says Carmichael. “After putting out a record as heavy as Hell On An Angel, I wanted to make something faster, something looser, something that’d leave you with a smile on your face.”
Recorded with producers Jon Pardi and Ryan Gore, Dan Huff, and Phil O’Donnell, Hot Beer is all sly humor and raw heart, with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and double entendres lurking around every corner. Carmichael’s rich, velvety baritone is still very much front and center here, but there’s a newfound playfulness to his delivery that manages to offer up a knowing wink even as it breaks your heart. It’s a delicate tightrope for any artist to walk, but if Hot Beer proves anything, it’s that Dillon Carmichael is a songwriter who knows how to take his fun seriously.
“Whether I’m singing a tear jerker or a party tune, the only thing that really matters to me is that it’s a great song,” Carmichael says. “And great songs are honest songs.”
Growing up in the small town of Burgin, KY, Carmichael inherited his passion for honest music through familial osmosis: his father and uncles performed in a Southern Gospel Quartet, his mother sang all over the eastern part of the state, and her brothers (John Michael and Eddie Montgomery) both enjoyed massive chart success. As a kid, Carmichael fell in love with country legends like Waylon Jennings and Vern Gosdin alongside the rock and roll he heard on the radio, and by the time he hit his teens, he was writing his own songs and performing live.
“I didn’t at any point consciously decide I was going to be a musician,” says Carmichael. “It just happened naturally. I found a kind of truth in country music that I couldn’t get anywhere else.”
After finishing high school, Carmichael relocated to Nashville, where he earned a publishing deal at the tender age of 18. It was his first taste of life outside of rural Kentucky, and the discovery of a whole city full of like-minded artists whose lives revolved around making music thrilled him. Buoyed by his early success, Carmichael began collaborating all over town with some of most revered writers in the business, but no Nashville resident had a bigger influence on him than producer Dave Cobb, whose stewardship helped guide Hell On An Angel from a dream to a reality.
“Dave just immediately understood my vision,” says Carmichael. “He helped me zero in on my truth.”
Merging a sonically progressive palette with a tasteful reverence for the past, Hell On An Angel was at once old school and modern, traditional and contemporary, timeless and timely. The New York Times compared Carmichael to Randy Travis and said his voice “moves with the heft and certainty of a tractor-trailer,” while NPR praised his “deep holler,” and Parade raved that “Carmichael defines pure country.” He landed on Artist To Watch lists from Billboard, Rolling Stone, Taste of Country, Pandora, and more, reached #2 at country radio’s Most Added chart with his debut single, “Dancing Away With My Heart,” and electrified festival crowds from Seven Peaks to Faster Horses.
“One of the things I learned getting to play big festivals and arenas and theaters was that it doesn’t matter if there’s 200 people or 20,000 people in the audience,” says Carmichael. “They’re there to hear country music and have a good time. It’s that simple.”
And so Carmichael began plotting his follow-up to Hell On Angel with those good times in mind. Reaching back to the lighthearted 90s country that had always held a special place in his heart, he began cutting a series of lively, uptempo, sometimes hilarious tunes full of mischief and innuendo. Lead single “Hot Beer,” written by Carmichael’s good friend HARDY, rattles off a list of everything the singer would rather do than get back together with his cheating ex (“I’d rather drink a hot beer / Build a fire in the pouring rain / Burn all of my fishing gear / Then set sail in a hurricane”), while the anthemic “Big Truck,” written with David Lee Murphy and Jessi Alexander, questions the true source of his partner’s affection, and the bawdy “Sawin’ Logs” spins a tale of two lovers on very different pages.
“Phil sent me that song last year and it was our summer jam,” says Carmichael. “We rocked out to it all the time, and I posted an acoustic version to TikTok just for fun one day. It ended up getting millions and millions of views and everyone started singing along to it at my shows, so I knew I had to record it.”
Not everything on Hot Beer is quite so irreverent, though. The sweetly sincere “Since You’ve Been In It” celebrates the kind of love that makes everything better; the bittersweet “Somewhere She Ain’t” reckons with the ghosts of a lost love that just won’t fade away; and the grateful “Lucky Man” takes stock of the little things that add up to a beautiful life.
“My uncle Eddie originally recorded ‘Lucky Man’ with Troy Gentry back in 2006,” says Carmichael, “and I thought putting my own spin on it would be a nice nod to my family legacy, as well as a tribute to Troy, who passed away in 2017. I’ve loved that song ever since I heard them sing it for the first time, and I’m honored be able to share my version of it.”
With live music returning and his calendar filling up once more, Dillon Carmichael is indeed a lucky man. And with Hot Beer, it’s clear he’s ready to dive back into the whirlwind and have some serious fun.