Talking to Adam Doleac is fascinating.
He never puts on a rockstar swagger, and he never makes you feel like you owe him something for his presence. His conversational, easy, down-to-earth qualities seem at odds with what you'd expect from an artist who's rising fast in the country scene. While his track " Famous" enjoys its second week on Sirius XM The Highway's Hot 30 Countdown, Doleac's two new singles are climbing in popularity, and he's recently played to crowds of 20,000 at the Taste of Country Festival. You almost want him to strut into the room wearing dark sunglasses, still smelling of last night's party, and grinning like he knows something you don't. Instead, he's adroit, collected, and full of ready insight that you'd expect from the CEO of a startup more than from a musician.
"I grew up listening to Amos Lee, Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and all these guys that weren't country but had cool voices," he says of his early influences, "The songwriting is what got me in to country. The storytelling that's involved." When it comes to country, many people are quick to be dismissive, but Doleac is able to tread a fine line that keeps him modern and relevant while also appealing to classic Country fans. "I think country has always come from the writing instead of the music," he explains, "The production of my stuff could go right to pop if it wanted to. I like the middle place we've found where it can swing both ways." While he does play around with slide guitar and other country staples, Doleac's stuff can, with a few tweaks, easily sound like pop hits. "Sometimes country is still... beer, pickup trucks, and slide guitars," he enthuses. "But what I love that's happening now is that we're bringing people over who didn't know they liked country music. Our market's turned into 'I didn't think I liked country music, but I like your stuff.'" He adds, "If the listener feels something, I don't think they're ever going to stop and think 'Is this song country or pop?' They're just gonna say 'This song's good.'"
So as Doleac grows as a brand and diversifies the Country audience, what's his process for creating new material? "I won't sit down to write a song unless I'm half towards an idea I've come up with in my head," he explains. "And normally I'll be on the road, so I come back to Nashville with five or six things I've written down. Then it starts with myself... trying to get 2 or 3 lines in so I know the direction it's headed. And then I get in and add music." However, as he tells it, inspiration can come from anywhere. Like with his new single "Solo." "At my house in Nashville I have a swing. I lay on it and have coffee pretty much every morning. The apartment complex [next door] is called 'Solo East'. I kept looking and thinking 'I'm gonna get to [writing] that one day, and then, eventually, I did."
As he tells it, "Solo," his breezy, romantic, John Mayer-esque track, is an oddity. "We wrote it and couldn't stop listening to it," he says, detailing the song's creation. "Normally I have to live with songs for a long time, but I wrote it probably a month and a half ago, and now it's already been through the grinder. Mixed, mastered, produced, and coming out." He smiles a little to himself as he hints at Easter eggs in the song. "I don't know if everyone will catch this, but SOLO is Stay Over Lay Over… here with me," he says. "I wanted to come up with what solo meant. I started writing it on a plane, so that's where that came from. I think when we do the video we'll use that… Maybe with a flight attendant on the plane…"
In contrast, his process for his single "Wake Up Beautiful" displays Doleac's skill for slowly metering his efforts to produce maximal effect. "'Wake Up Beautiful' is three years old. I almost recorded it for the first EP I ever put out. We did six songs, and it ended up being number seven; it's a three-minute pickup line. I've always loved it." He muses, "Music's funny. You can only put so many songs out at once or you end up wasting them." This brings up the interesting position Doleac is currently in, professionally. "Everyone on the Breakout Stage [the other day] had a record deal. We were the independent act, and we had the biggest turnout of the weekend, which was really cool," he explains. "There's literally no strings independently right now. We do what the fans want. We play the song, see them love it, say, 'Hey you want this song, well here it comes on streaming.' Artists on labels can't do that."
But even with all the perks of independence, his aim is always set higher, and his approach remains as practical as ever. "If I was an artist that wanted to sell 20,000 records and have a couple of number ones on Sirius XM, then I'm making it, and I can keep going like this; but my goal, ultimately, is to play stadiums and fill them suckers up and really grow this thing big. No one's done it independently in country yet. You need terrestrial radio to do that." It's at moments like this when Doleac really feels like the young CEO entrepreneur of Adam Doleac Inc. When he's not writing and focusing on putting on a great show, he is running himself as a business—even down to his consistent use of the pronoun "we" in his speech, acknowledging the support of those around him.
All of this aside, Doleac's number one concern is, and always will be, his fans. "I'm as hands-on as I can be with them," he explains cheerfully. "They have to tell me to not be sometimes. All these people come up after shows and they're like, 'We're so sorry, we know you don't want to take pictures with us,' and I'm like, 'No, I really enjoy it.' I stay involved." Acknowledging the importance of the personal touch for himself and for his followers, Doleac has refined his fans' experience into something intimate and touching. "There's a thing we're doing. We call it ' 15 Minutes of Famous,'" he says, referring to the VIP tickets to his concerts (named after one of his songs). He explains, "We find a room, circle up the chairs, then whoever's there gets to ask me any questions they want. We hang for 15-20 minutes, and we just get to know them. We sign whatever they want, take pictures, then I do a 2-3 song performance just for them. So we leave [as] friends, almost, instead of just 'we got a picture together,' which is what most people do."
So as Adam Doleac wraps up his gigs in New York and heads back to Nashville, what's next for the pop-country firebrand? "We're going to be on the road a lot, pretty much booked up till October-November this year. So we don't know what our beds look like right now," he responds with typical matter-of-fact humor. "We're talking with labels and all that good stuff and seeing what kinda deals will happen there. And obviously moving onto terrestrial radio and really getting the reach and spreading out like that. That feels like the next step. Until then, we're just going to keep building, building, building all year." In conversation with Adam Doleac, you never get the sense that he is, or wants to be, alone on an island of creative genius. His approach is grounded, familial, and professional, and it gives him the air of a craftsman. That makes him exactly what Country needs right now.