Ben Burgess Reflects on the Long Road to His Debut Album: ‘Chase Your Dreams or They’ll Chase You’
From the Lone Star State to the ever-bustling City of Angels, Ben Burgess has traveled far and wide in pursuit of his passion for music. Now, after more than a decade of settling in and calling Nashville home, the 37-year-old is finally showcasing his craft as a country storyteller with his debut album, Tears the Size of Texas, out now.
This tight 10-song collection is an impressive introductory effort. Organically bound by a cohesive neo-traditional and country-rock sound, every track on the “dramatic and dangerous” project features raw twang, unfiltered candor, and heart-on-sleeve lyrics that evoke picturesque Western imagery of either a heart-wrenching breakup or vengeance-driven act.
Intentionality was very much at the forefront of Burgess’ mind when he was conceptualizing his perilous album of “classic cowboy songs and two murder ballads.” Inspired by Western films and classic cowboy records like Marty Robbins’ iconic Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, he wanted the album to sound like one was “riding out” a Western musical voyage.
It’s hard to imagine a visionary like Burgess only getting his big artist break at 37. His journey has been a slow-burning process filled with mountain-top highs and valley low moments, which include a challenging few years in Los Angeles where his Texas roots and country songwriting were muted.
“As soon as I got to Nashville, it was like ‘welcome home, son!’ It was a moment where I finally found my place,” Burgess tells Taste of Country. “I only lasted for four-and-a-half years in L.A. It was rough and tough, but it was where I cut my teeth. I have no regrets. I feel like everything happens for a reason. The process is part of the payoff. It’s part of the story. That’s what I look back on, and I’m proud of,” he reflects.
As soon as Burgess relocated to Nashville in 2010, he put the pedal to the metal and started honing in on his craft as a lyricist, which eventually got him into the rooms with Ashley Gorley, Jesse Frasure, Randy Montana and other acclaimed tunesmiths.
His songwriting cred skyrocketed in 2019 when Morgan Wallen’s now-seven-time Platinum certified “Whiskey Glasses” topped the Billboard Country Airplay chart. In no time, Burgess became a highly sought-after Music Row songwriter as the likes of Dierks Bentley, Tyler Rich, Pat Green, Ernest and global superstar DJ Diplo recorded his songs.
The next year, in 2020, his hard work paid off when award-winning producer and Big Loud Record co-founder Joey Moi offered him a recording contract. Now, it was his time to shine as an artist and record his hit-ready songs other singers passed on because of their deeply personal and perilous nature.
“I think in the beginning, there were a couple of songs like ‘Kill a Man’ and ‘When We Die’ that were pitched around, but not getting cut because they were too unique to me and maybe, too dangerous,” Burgess recalls. “I pitched ‘Kill a Man’ to Morgan and it was crickets. There’s stuff on [my album] that people just wouldn’t touch because they were a little too brazen and wild. But I’m the man for it. If anybody’s going to do it, it’s going to be me.”
Burgess’ penchant for writing unique-to-him stone-cold country songs is displayed throughout Tears the Size of Texas, including on its real-life-inspired title track.
A wistful mid-tempo ballad, the song pulls from a reservoir of heartache to detail the misery felt by two parties after their breakup. Here, Burgess, who co-wrote the track with Josh Kerr, assumes the identity of an outlaw who’s been wrongly condemned for his inability to stay grounded and committed to a relationship. The spotlight first focuses on his ex-girlfriend’s plight, before concluding with an elegiac recount of how he, too, has been “crying tears the size of Texas.”
“I’m always thinking about the public and trying to write songs that connect with everybody from every part of the world. I feel like to do that, we got to be honest. Honesty is vulnerability. The turn around of ‘I’m crying tears the size of Texas’ is vulnerable, where it’s like, ‘I got to be honest about it to learn from my mistakes,” Burgess notes.
The rising singer-songwriter takes pride in being an honest storyteller on his album, even if it means sharing an unvarnished account of a time when he was vexed and, per a song title, completely "Sick and Tired."
Co-written by Burgess, Jacob Davis and Kerr, the song starts off unassumingly solemn with a gospel choir-like delivery as the singer prayers, “Lord I pray they’ll come a day / When the stars fall from the sky / And every wish my baby makes / Comes true a thousand times.”
The tempo gradually picks up and Burgess’ rambunctious attitude takes center stage as he furiously protests, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired / Wondering when this fever gon’ break It feels like we’re all slow off the draw ‘/ ‘Cause the bad guy keeps getting away.” The song is far from a mellow gospel number — it’s a country-rocker that melds pent-up frustration and grit over a sinfully catchy Southern rock-inflected chorus.
“‘Sick and Tired’ deals with being at the end of our ropes and having to talk about it. It’s about being honest about all the things I’m f---ing sick and tired of, and using country music [as well as] old songs and melodies to get the emotion across,” says the songwriter. “I think everybody’s got a bad guy in their lives. There’s always going to be somebody, and I think that’s why it’s relatable. It’s either the boss or an actual bad guy. Who knows what it could be? Everybody’s got one.”
The shared human experience is another key tenet of Burgess’ honestly-chronicled LP. “When We Die” finds the Texas native addressing the concept of life and death head-on and in true Ben Burgess fashion. He doesn’t fight to intellectually unearth the notion of existence, nor does he bemoan the looming arrival of his final day on earth. Instead, he chooses to blithely embrace the fact and throw a jubilant bar party to celebrate it.
“‘Cause I’m goin’ to the bar right now / I’ma buy the boys one more round / I’m stayin’ out all night long if tomorrow I'll be gone / ‘Cause I ain’t gonna wake up without you by my side / Tell me where do we go when we die,” Burgess sings with high-flying gravely vocals over chest-thumping drumbeats and virtuosic guitar lines that completely rip and let loose in the electrifying bridge.
The larger-than-life anthem was one Burgess wrote on the cusp of a trifecta of unfortunate events: He had just gone through a breakup, lost a loved one, and was in the universal state of uncertainty the COVID pandemic had thrust everyone into. Life seemed devoid of meaning at times as Burgess pondered on the dark, dark season he was in.
“I was at the end of my ropes where I was like, ‘I can’t take it anymore!’ he reveals. “I felt like if I got COVID and died or something happens and I go, I’m ready because I’m about sick of this shit. Thank God I didn’t.”
Burgess then quips with a smirk, “Let’s face it. If I’m surrounded in a church and the outlaws are out there and they got a hang rope on a tree, I’m going to pull a bottle of whiskey and light me a smoke and go out partying.”
As the old adage goes, age is just a number, and Burgess’ career is a testament to that. He’ll be the first to admit that he didn’t catch lightning in a bottle, and also the first to proudly claim ownership of his tenacity-fueled roller-coaster journey. That is why he hopes, through his music and story, to inspire dream chasers and budding artists to not give up on their ambitions no matter how difficult the road may get.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned in my 37 years, it’s ‘chase your dreams or they’ll chase you.’I feel like I always knew I’d get a shot. I’ve stayed with it and somehow some dreams have come true and now, the big ones are coming true,” he shares.
“I hope Tears the Size of Texas gives people a little comfort knowing that somebody else is going through [what they’re going through]. I hope it gives them some inspiration to keep going. And I hope they hear themselves in it and know that it’s okay to f--- up. It doesn’t mean it’s over. It just means you get another day, another song, another sunrise, and another sunset.”