Newcomer Stephen Paul stays true to his roots with the release of his debut EP, Louisiana Heat, a six-song project released on April 28. Paul began writing in his hometown of Monroe, Louisiana, and made the move to Nashville in 2014. An electrician by day, he has managed to play music on nights and weekends while also creating Louisiana Heat.
On release week, the EP peaked at an impressive number 16 on the Billboard country album charts – Paul has no record label, no promotions. Just the support of his day one fans.
A lifelong Tim McGraw fan, Paul values the 90s and early 2000s era of country music. Those same down-to-earth principles can be heard in Louisiana Heat, as representing that style was a goal of his when he began putting the record together in January.
“I just wanted to represent that in my style of music,” Paul said. “The biggest thing for me was having fun and making music people enjoy, but also have meaningful lyrics that actually represent where I’m from. I didn’t grow up in some big, fancy town, but there’s a lot more to these small towns than outsiders might see passing through.”
Here’s an in-depth look at the songs found on Louisiana Heat.
Secondhand Smoke (Stephen Paul, Dustin Herring, Jarrett Hartness)
“Secondhand Smoke” started with a simple melody, but took off once Paul sat down with co-writers Dustin Herring and Jarrett Hartness. Although he says it’s not a true story, it’s about that young love who got away and the memories that remain.
“It only burns so long, some things just can’t drag on / You can put it down but you just can’t put it out / Every now and then, that craving starts creeping in.”
“I met Dustin and Jarrett within the first month or two when I moved here, and they’ve been two of my best friends,” Paul said. “My big thing when writing and recording this album is I wanted my friends to be a part of it. At the end of the day, whether I make it or not, I can look back and say we wrote some kickass songs.”
Hittin’ Home (Paul, Carissa Leigh, Dakota and Will)
Paul brings things up a notch with “Hittin’ Home,” a track that brings listeners back to driving the familiar roads leading to your hometown. It’s one people can instantly connect with – a theme found throughout the album – with illustrations of “rusty ole’ tractors” and high school football games.
“Headin’ home where my roots are grounded / Where my lost is found and I can mend my soul / Headin’ home gonna hug my momma / Gonna ditch all the drama for a fishin’ pole.”
“Literally the night before we sat down to write, this title “Hittin’ Home” hit me in the middle night,” he said. “I woke up, wrote it down and fell back asleep. Once I told them they were like, ‘Yes, we’re writing that.’”
“I get to go home maybe two times a year, if I’m lucky, so when you’re going home all of these memories hit you hard. It became a cool, reminiscing song.”
More Than It Seems (Paul, Ben Stoll, Jeff Hodge)
If you grew up in a small town, this will bring instant nostalgia.
The storytelling of Paul shines bright in “More Than It Seems” as he paints a picture of life in northern Louisiana. There’s little white churches, unpaved roads and rusted water towers – things town foreigners wouldn’t find attractive – but there’s more to be found as Paul takes pride in his city.
“I absolutely love where I grew up,” he said. “You have the same restaurants, same people but there’s such a beauty to it. You learn to appreciate all the little things in life, because that’s really all you have.
“Lyrically, it’s one of my favorites, just because of the imagery behind it. Every line tells you a little something different about the town I grew up in.”
“Around here, a firm hand shake, hasn’t fell out of style / Mrs. Judy’s cobbler brings folks, from miles and miles / A place that’s proud to bleed, the red, white and blue.”
Rusty Rifles (Paul, Herring, Hodge)
The songwriting displayed on “Rusty Rifles” is top-notch, with co-writer Dustin Herring creating the line, “Dusty Bibles and rusty rifles.” Paul instantly fell in love with it, turning it into a song with a classic country track.
It’s another example of Paul remembering where he came from as a child: “Hold ‘em close, know ‘em both / Front to back, stock to scope…There’s no excuse, what’s the use? / In dusty Bibles, and rusty rifles.”
“Growing up in the south, my dad gave me two things – a Bible and a rifle – which taught me how to be responsible and how to be a man,” Paul said. “There’s a lot more that those two things can teach you than anything else in this world can.”
Louisiana Heat (Paul, Leigh, Jason Nix)
Paul brings the fire with the title track “Louisiana Heat,” an up-tempo beat you’d find at Mardi Gras. While bringing out his personality here, Paul also demonstrates his ability to simply branch out from his traditional style and produce a fun song to play in front of a crowd.
In addition, he again mixes in Louisiana culture to give it that authentic vibe, including gumbo, pecan pie and even the famous Tony Chachere’s seasoning.
“I write a bunch of ballads, but I want the next step to be doing live shows and I needed a fun song people can dance to,” he explained. I wanted to represent who I am, where I’m from, and kind of form that image where I’m proud to be from Louisiana. That’s why I made it the title track. It’s definitely an exciting song and I can’t wait to play it live.”
Gettin’ Gone (Paul, Kelby Costner, Curt Collins)
Paul closes the EP with “Gettin’ Gone,” a somber song about heart break. The singer opens up here about real-life struggles of his past, showing his passion behind the subject matter.
“I haven’t always been this kind of guy, it ain’t something that I’m proud of / When you’ve used up, drug through the mud you learn to survive / Maybe that’s why I’ve gotten good at gettin’ gone.”
“It’s definitely my most vulnerable song on the record, and one that’s relatable,” Paul said. “I’ve gone through this and I think a lot of people have, when you throw yourself out there and you get your heart broken. It’s always been one of my favorite songs, and definitely an emotional song, for sure.”
Stephen would like to thank all of his co-writers and God, plus his friends and family for their support since day one. He’d also like to thank his producer Tone and everyone who played on the record. Go download Louisiana Heat or listen on Spotify.