“It’s the stuff you dream about,” says Troy Cartwright of his whirlwind year. The young Dallas native began to see a lifetime of hard work pay off in spades in 2015, as he signed with Sunfire Entertainment, released a critically acclaimed debut album, cracked the top 25 on the Texas Music Chart, and shared bills with Hayes Carll, Randy Rogers, Turnpike Troubadours, Green River Ordinance, and more. “This is all I wanted to do since I was 14,” he reflects, “and now I’m doing it.”
With so much momentum on his side, it’s no surprise that Cartwright titled his new release ‘Don’t Fade.’ It’s a note-to-self that he more than lives up to on the EP, bringing together the heartfelt vulnerability of Ryan Adams and the arena-ready anthems of Eric Church into an infectious, genre-blurring masterpiece. The tracks showcase Cartwright’s considerable growth, both as a writer and performer, while honing in on the sharp lyrics and soulful delivery that earned his self-titled debut widespread praise in Texas and beyond. The Dallas Observer called that record “one of the very best of 2015,” while the Fort Worth Star Telegram raved that “there’s an ease and a polish…belying Cartwright’s relative youth,” and Red Dirt Nation said that it “stirs what makes us all feel young and poignantly reminds us how fragile we all are when it comes to love, heartbreak and home.” For Cartwright, though, it was only just the prelude.
“You never know what you don’t know,” he reflects from his newly adopted hometown of Nashville. “I’m very proud of that first record and some of those songs have done very well for me, but with a whole additional year-and-a-half of hard touring and writing under my belt when we recorded ‘Don’t Fade,’ I felt like I had a much better idea of how I wanted to sound and who I was as an artist.”
Cartwright grew up in a conservative Texas home where his exposure to modern music was limited primarily to the ‘Forrest Gump’ soundtrack and Steven Curtis Chapman records. For his twelfth birthday, his parents gave him an acoustic guitar, and suddenly the entire world opened up. He discovered singer-songwriters and alt-country troubadours, contemporaries like Pete Yorn and classic artists like John Prine. It led him to begin penning his own songs, and by the time he hit high school, he was playing regularly in bars and churches. A summer program at NYU exposed Cartwright to the world outside of Dallas and inspired him to head even further from home to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Throughout it all, Cartwright was a hustler to his core, playing 100+ shows per year without an agent or a manager, working harder than he ever had before in his life but moving closer towards his goals every day. The quality of the music and the exhilarating live performances were turning heads throughout the south, and that’s when Cartwright caught the ear of fellow Texas songwriter Rob Baird, who offered to produce ‘Don’t Fade’ with Brian Douglas Phillips at Phillips’ Austin-based Rattle Trap Studio.
“We spent three or four days in total at Rob’s house before we went into the studio because I had between 30-50 songs that I had written,” remembers Cartwright. “Rob and I went through each of them and pared the list down to figure out what made for a cohesive collection and what kind of sound we wanted to go after.”
The sound that they ultimately landed on is instantly appealing, a warm, radio-friendly blend that calls to mind everything from Will Hoge to The Old 97’s. Earworm opener “Never Coming Back” is an ideal showcase for Cartwright’s gifts, with his silky-smooth vocals riding a laid-back drum groove punctuated by dynamic electric guitar riffs and classic rock organ swells.
“That was one of the first co-writes I ever did in Nashville,” says Cartwright. “I wrote it with Ty Graham, who had actually been my next door neighbor at Berklee during my freshman year. We always used to talk about girls and relationships in college, and when we sat down to write this song, the story was something we’d both experienced in our personal lives, so it came together really naturally.”
Cartwright takes a darker turn on “Busted,” a driving, gritty tune inspired by the breakdown of a truck in the west Texas heat that mirrored the breakdown of his own crumbling relationship, while “Nobody But You” channels the pain of staying behind while a loved one leaves, and the sweetly emotional “Don’t Fade” battles the inevitable passage of time. One of the most special moments for Cartwright, though, comes at the end of the EP, as the stripped-down acoustic meditation of “Arkansas” drifts off into an ethereal soundscape like the last rays of light at sunset.
“That ending was a very specific idea that came to me on a camping trip with my roommate,” remembers Cartwright. “We were spending the days and nights out in the middle of nowhere just listening to the crickets chirp and trying to figure out life, and I wanted to recreate that feeling.”
The ability to capture such intimate, meaningful moments is the magic of Cartwright’s songwriting. These are tunes about coming and going, uncertainty and change, finding yourself and what you’re willing to sacrifice for your dreams. There are no dramatic revelations here, just the steadily deepening understanding of self that comes with maturing. Cartwright renders the sound of growing up beautifully and in vivid detail, capturing the anxiety and the ecstasy in all its messy, human glory. For a kid who grew up worshipping songwriters, to craft such exceptional music is to truly live the dream, and with another full length album on the way, it’s safe to say Troy Cartwright’s years are going to just keep getting bigger and bigger.
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