The fascinating thing about country music is that there are a number of different ways to “make it” in the genre. While you can make an argument that this is true for the music industry as a whole, country music truly is one that can break into through various different avenues. You can ask a random selection of 10 country artists, and likely would hear 10 different stories of how they not only got into Nashville, but started gaining some traction thereafter.

Pickering, Ontario, Canada’s Griffen Palmer is no different. His story is a unique one in that he didn’t set out to join country music and to make music. In fact, he went to college on a scholarship for something entirely different: rugby. So while it was not in his career plan necessarily, Palmer has spent the last few years grinding it out in the country scene and slowly but surely making a name for himself.

His breakout originally came when he appeared on Songland, pitching his original song “Second Guessing” — that ultimately got picked up by Florida Georgia Line and released on their 2020’s 6-Pack EP, and later 2021’s Life Rolls On. Palmer has gone on to write songs for artists such as Keith Urban, The Band Camino, Mackenzie Porter, and more.

You can read all about Palmer’s story below on our exclusive one-on-one interview with him, where we discuss why he moved down to Ohio for college, appearing on Songland, and his career in country music so far.

SUBSTREAM: I know you came down to Ohio and attended Bowling Green for college and kind of did some shows there in the meantime. Is that how you got into country music?

Palmer: Yeah, since I was an international student — I’m Canadian — it was really tricky for me to get a normal job because I had all of these restrictions as to what I could and couldn’t do, how many hours, whatever. 

So I was just thinking back to like when I was a kid and my dad would always play these shows at bars, I thought maybe I could do that. That was just kind of my way of making things work and making me be able to stay in school and play rugby, stay in the states. It just kind of worked perfectly and synonymously with what I was trying to do. That’s really the start of country music for me.

I’m down here in Columbus so I’m familiar with Bowling Green and the area. Was it just the rugby aspect that drew you to Bowling Green, or where there other colleges you were looking at and they still won out?

I was mainly looking at colleges in Canada. Bowling Green was the first school [in the U.S.] that reached out to me and said they wanted me to come play rugby there.

For any athlete in Canada, playing sports in the states is next level so I knew that I wanted to go there. I actually had to choose my major and stuff after I already decided I was going.

Rugby was definitely the main reason. We used to joke all the time that we didn’t come here to play school.

I was going to ask, you know, how coming to Ohio and Bowling Green influenced your career — but it seems like that it really played a bigger part than I thought. Country is big out here in Ohio and the midwest, so it’s kinda fun that being out here and just doing something to pay the bills lead you to where you’re at now.

Yeah. It also kind of gave me the confidence that it was possible. Once I started playing those shows at one bar and getting asked to play at like 4-5 different bars or whatever, when you step up like that gradually you can see that momentum and it all seems possible. It gives you confidence that you can go a little further.

Of course as the story goes, you signed with Big Loud Publishing in 2019, made an appearance on Songland, and thus “Second Guessing” was born. What can you tell me about that time and what you learned from that experience to help you grow as a songwriter?

Initially I wrote that song for some friends of mine that were getting married at Bowling Green. So the idea for that song was to just give them a little gift for their wedding.

Then the opportunity came to submit it to Songland, and you know Florida Georgia Line had so many huge love songs so I thought it was a great song to them. 

It was my first time on TV, my first time doing anything legit, big Hollywood style. That just brought a lot of attention to the songwriting and what I was doing, and luckily opened a ton of doors. Everything’s just moved right along since then.

I know you had your publishing deal already, but it still seemed like that show helped push you forward right? You ended up writing songs for Keith Urban, Mackenzie Porter, The Band Camino, and more. All of that started steamrolling from there it seems like.

I mean, you’d think too when you’re just starting out as a musician, when I sign the publishing deal, things will automatically happen. Still there’s little steps on the ladder, like there’s a ton of work between them all. That was the catalyst for getting more songs recorded, then signing my record deal and putting out music as an artist.

Even when you’re taking these big leaps when you’re making this big milestones, you still have to climb your way up to the next one and then the next one.

Now, finally, you’ve got your own record deal with Big Loud, and your time to shine front and center right. Tell me about the decision to record “Second Guessing” and put it out under your own name.

I think just my team and I really thought that was the big moment in my career at that point. It’s a big part of my story and how I got here.

Also there were so many people that had never heard of me before [Songland] and decided to follow along. It’s been a few years and I get messages still all the time, even before I put the song out, of wanting to use it in their wedding or for me to put the song out.  

So as much as it was, you know, just a continuation of the story this far, it was a way to give back to the people who were listening way before. It was just cool to be able to do that for them and just give this song a little bit more life with my voice this time.

What a weird, surreal circle of life for that song right? When you originally wrote that song for a friend’s wedding all those years ago, and now you have people you don’t know reaching out asking to use it for their weddings.

It’s very surreal. But also a very human thing, like obviously it’s a huge honor when someone wants to use a song for such a huge moment like that. Songs have a funny way of doing that, when one person connects with a song it usually means another person will connect with that song. Even though I’m not at these weddings, it’s fun to think I have a little hand in their special day.

I wanted to ask you too, with “Second Guessing” and playing a big part in people’s lives — you did that song on The Bachelor.  I’ve always been curious about the behind the scenes for the artist in those scenarios, like what that day is really like for you, cause on the show obviously it’s a crucial part but yet time-wise a small portion. Your screen is much smaller, but still what is that day like for you?

It’s fun, but it is a very long day. The reason that it’s such a long day is because the production team and the crew do a great job of making that experience for the date pretty genuine for them. 

Basically, you go into sound check and then they want you disappeared into the dark corners of wherever this date is so that the two people on the date don’t know you’re there.

It’s only long because we’re waiting and waiting while they’re enjoying this moment together. In order to genuinely get this experience they weren’t expecting, it takes a lot of timing, going up back elevators, secret entrances, hiding the instruments. That 3 minute performance you see on TV is really like an 8 hour ordeal to make sure it all works.

For you as well, what was it like working with Jesse in a sense. Obviously you guys have such different careers and such, but you guys at least got the chance to intersect there a bit, so I’m sure that was fun.

Yeah, I mean he’s obviously been so much older than me our entire lives. When I was in second grade, he was playing college football down in Florida. We never really got to talk on any sort of similar wavelengths since he was so much further ahead in life. It’s fun now kind of doing the same sort of things.

We got to go for coffee when I was out in LA, and just chat about. For him to even tell me what it’s been like for him on this ride, cause you know there’s just some things you can’t talk to an 8 year old about when you’re in the middle of it. Not like anything bad, but I just would have never related [to the stories] back then, but now I do. 

He’s just super proud of everything that I’m doing, and obviously his career is incredible. It’s really inspiring to have a cousin like that that’s really been doing it for so long.

Yeah that makes a lot of sense. Obviously when you’re a kid, you know that him playing football in college then professionally, doing all of these things in the media, that these are big things. But you don’t really know how to relate to him with that.

I still remember when I was a kid and would go watch him play football or something like that, I just thought that everyone’s cousin did that. I didn’t understand it at all, I didn’t know how cool it was or how special it was. Now with the context I know now, that was amazing. Especially being a kid from Canada being able to go do that and build his career in the states, that doesn’t happen a lot.

I know we’ve talked a lot about what’s lead to this point for you, so let’s get into the album, Unlearn, a bit. When did you really start working on this album?

When I first moved to Nashville, the whole dream for me was to be able to put out some sort of project. I didn’t even know it was going to be an album back then, and I think just because of the timing and everything, having four years because of the pandemic and everything, we had so much time to write and had so much music.

We went from a couple hundred songs to narrow down and pick what would be the first piece of music. It just gradually turned into a record just by nature of doing all this work, but it’s been like four years in the making.

There’s some songs on this record that I wrote six months ago, some songs that I wrote years and years ago.

So you had just such a large collection of songs from over the years. You mentioned the pandemic, you had really nothing to do but write, so that certainly makes sense. Did you find it any different as you were writing these songs for yourself knowing you were going to hold onto them versus send them out into the universe for someone else to record?

I feel like when you’re writing this much, especially when you’re someone that has a publishing deal that writes for other artists, and also writing as an artist, it’s kind of — different ideas serve different things.

Like, you have songs like “Unlearn” on this record which is so personal and so about my story, that it wouldn’t make sense to write it for anybody else, you know what I mean?

Right, right. That makes sense. 

But, there are a lot of times too when you’re writing that “Oh, this sounds like this person” or “I can see this being on this type of record.” So that’s a whole different style of writing.

Every time I’m writing a song, I just want it to have the best life that it can. I’m a believer in a song is going to connect with whoever it connects with, and it’s gonna do what it does. I try not to get in my own way of thinking I know what it’s gonna be before it is. 

I get that. I think the opposite way of doing it could be limiting, right? You have a song and are hellbent on keeping it, when another artist could have taken it and who knows what could have happened. So I think that makes a lot of sense to write songs the best you can, and whatever they need to succeed is what they need — whether that’s you or someone else.

Right yeah. Obviously there are ones that you know you want, or that only make sense to be a part of you, but there’s a whole lot of other ones that could live all sorts of different lives. 

This record really encapsulates, you know, the cycle of love and relationships as they go through the different phases, and as someone that came from a small town and is getting married this week, the love songs are obviously currently relatable and then songs like “Small Town After All” and “How Many Beers” I’m like “Ahhh yeah, I remember those days.” And I think that’s an impressive bit on these songs, is they strike an emotion that’s important to do whether someone is actively going through something similar or they’re just able to relate to their past.

I think all of the songs on this record really stem from my experience, starting when I moved to Ohio. They cover all of these little moments, that I can go back and picture  myself in a moment feeling exactly how that song feels. 

It’s just all about being young and in your 20’s, figuring out who you are and usually that includes relationships. That’s just my mentality of when I was writing these songs, so that’s awesome that you’re able to relate and I hope that a bunch of other people can, too.

When you were putting this album together, was there any songs hard to finish, whether lyrically, musically, anything like that?

“Unlearn” was the hardest one for me to release, just because it’s so personal. So that’s hard on a whole different level, but it wasn’t necessarily difficult to write.

Some of the more difficult ones to write were “Put Me Through Hello,” just because when I had the idea and I was pitching it to my co-writer Geoff Warburton, it was a very abstract idea. Just until it’s all put together you’re like, “How are we going to do this?”

“25 To Life” was also kind of tricky, because you’re doing these linguistic gymnastics. When not everything is on paper, it can go so many different ways. 

So you’re just trying to harness yourself in and keeping the idea of “What’s the ultimate goal here?” Like, we want it to feel like this and want it to make sense at the end of the day.

Is there a song you’re most proud of, or really most excited for people to hear?

You always kind of go through phases of having a favorite, right? Right now my favorite, or one that I’m listening to the most, is “Came Here to Leave.” I just think that sonically it does a lot of really cool things, it feels like my Coldplay moment so I’m rooting for that one a bit.

“Bottles on the Table” I’m really excited about, too, because it kind of throws back to a lot of the music I grew up listening to. My dad was huge into like 80’s rock, so to me it gives Police/Sting vibe, which sounds cool mixed with some country instruments. 

I’m really excited for people to hear the musicality of the record and if it’s as fresh as I feel it is to people, and that they relate to some of these sounds I relate to. 

  1. What’s next for you? You bringing this shown on the road here?