If you’re looking to put money on who in Nashville is set for stardom in the next couple years, Big Machine’s Levi Hummon is a pretty solid bet. The 23-year-old artist and songwriter and Nashville native has been taking the town by storm, earning himself a publishing deal with the renowned Desmond Child, a label deal with Scott-Borchetta-helmed Big Machine’s Valory Music, and opening slots for Alabama, David Nail, and Dan & Shay – all within just two years. Hummon joins an incredible CMA Fest line-up this year, playing Nashville’s Hard Rock Cafe this Thursday, June 11.
Though Hummon grew up around music and would write songs, it wasn’t until he went away to college that it became more than a hobby. “I really got dumped my freshman year, and I was feeling it,” says Hummon, who at the time was studying painting at Eckerd College in Florida. Songwriting became a more serious emotional outlet. “I wrote like 12 songs in a span of six months. It took a long time. I sent the songs to my dad and was like, ‘I really feel like this is what I need to do.’ He basically said, ‘You have to come to Nashville if you want be a songwriter.’ So that weekend I filed transfer papers to Belmont University to come back home.”
“My dad’s a songwriter,” Hummon continues. “That was a resource for me was always like, how do you perform music, how do you make music – you song write, and you sing your own songs, and that’s kind of how it is.” Hummon’s father, Marcus Hummon, would know better than most, having written hits like Rascal Flatts’ Grammy-winning “Bless The Broken Road,” The Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away,” and Tim McGraw’s “One of Those Days.” Along with Nashville writer Andrew Dorff, Levi and his father also penned their song “Make It Love,” which was considered for an Oscar for its inclusion in the film Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro.
“I grew up thinking that country music was my dad’s thing,” Hummon says. “I was more into pop and a lot of rock growing up. As I’ve become more engaged in the genre and am living in Nashville, it’s the most relevant thing. I don’t really listen to anything except country now.” He cites Thomas Rhett, Keith Urban, Eric Church, and Brett Eldredge’s latest single “Lose My Mind” as current favorites, although he’s been loving the new Muse record and recently dipped back into an old favorite, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack. He’s also a big Bruno Mars fan, discussing the edgier songwriting style of songs like Mars’ “Gorilla.”
“I was a little bit rebellious growing up, and I was like, I want to get as far away from Nashville as possible,” Hummon says. “Now of course I’m living a block away from my parents. Actually, I love it. I can steal food out of the fridge, but at the same time I’m far enough that I can have my space.”
Returning to Nashville, Hummon transferred to Belmont’s songwriting program, but spent under six months there before Desmond Child signed him to a publishing deal. “He basically wrote the 80’s,” Hummon says of Child. It’s a fair assessment – Child’s songwriting credits include “Livin’ On A Prayer” and “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” – although that by no means contains it; recent cuts include Katy Perry’s hit “Waking Up In Vegas.” Upon signing with Child, Hummon left Belmont to pursue music full time. “I was like, ‘For real, I’m doing this,'” he says. “No holds barred.”
Hummon began writing as a kid, picking up guitar at around 12. “The first time I ever was given a guitar I learned how to play ‘House of the Rising Sun, and basically took those four chords and used that to write all my songs for like, two years,” he says. “I used to be able to not play my songs for anybody because I was so embarrassed,” he adds.
It’s a problem he’s long grown out of. Hummon played a few dates with his father as a band called The Hummons, opening for Alabama at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium and playing a few showcases at a smaller club in town, one of which was attended by Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta, best known for cultivating Taylor Swift.
“Basically, the first time I performed as a solo artist was in front of Scott,” Hummon says. Borchetta signed him to Valory a week and a half later.
Since, Hummon’s been working to hone his sound, finding a sonic brother in producer and writer Jimmy Robbins, the 25-year-old co-writer on Jake Owen’s “Beachin’,” Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert’s “We Were Us,” and Blake Shelton’s “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” as well as producing for artists like RaeLynn. “I’m stoked about the songs, I love every single thing we’ve written,” Hummon says.
“I personally come from an organic background of not folk-y, but more lyric based singer-songwriter stuff. I’m really pushing my stuff more on a pop country type edge so it’s been a really unique morphing of those two genres. I almost consider it like Mumford and Sons meets Avicii, meets country. It’s like, if you remember that song “Wake Me Up,” it’s those kinds of worlds mixing. Like the acoustic “Wake Me Up” is with Aloe Blacc and it’s just really soulful. Then Avicii took that song and made it a dance pop song. My stuff now is me as an organic kind of person and Jimmy’s more of that pop world so it’s the collaboration of both of those.”
Though “Make It Love” is currently Hummon’s only official release, he’s been playing the new material live, and will showcase some of it at his CMA Fest show this Thursday.
“My first performance was in a conference room, so I had to backtrack on finding out how to play live sets,” he says. “I signed with CAA, which is a booking agency, and they sent me to a pizza joint for my first thing. It was like Athens, Alabama. So I’m sitting in this pizza joint running my own PA and monitors. There were two people that didn’t even listen to me in the room. I realized I have to learn covers, ‘cuz I gotta be an entertainer as well. So the second time I went down there, there were like 20 people in the room, ‘cuz they heard from their friends that I was playing, and I played a bunch of covers, “Sweet Home Alabama,” like the basic stuff. I played a few more shows there, and by the last one I had like 150 people.”
Opening for Dan and Shay or David Nail, Hummon doesn’t play too many covers anymore. “People are kind of like, ‘Who’s this person?’ and then after the first songs you can kind of tell where you stand with the audience,” Hummon says. “So far, the new stuff’s just been killing it.”