Q&A with Mitch Rossell (Nov. 25 at The Mint Event Center)

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023) — The Mint Gaming Hall at Kentucky Downs winds down its 2023 concert series in the new The Mint Event Center with three outstanding performances: This Saturday (Nov. 25) with singer-songwriter Mitch Rossell, John Berry Christmas Show on Dec. 2 and Kentucky’s own iconic band Exile on Dec. 30. All shows begin at 8 p.m. Central, with the doors opening at 7 p.m.

Mitch Rossell opening for Garth Brooks at LSU’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge last year. Trevor George photo

Tickets can be purchased here.

Mitch Rossell was on NBC’s America’s Got Talent this year, making it to the semi-finals. The songs he performed — the autobiographical “Son” (about losing his father at age 10 in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, and then about having his own son) and “All I Need to See” (written shortly after he met his future wife, Whitney) — went to the top of the charts. Before that, he toured with Garth Brooks, who took “All I Need to See” to No. 1 in 2017. Playing his acoustic guitar, Rossell’s music ranges from soulful ballads to the foot-stopping “Hard Work Sucks” and the cheeky “Dive Bar,” the latter co-written with Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton and Bryan Kennedy.

Kentucky Downs and The Mint publicist Jennie Rees spoke with Rossell Wednesday morning. Below is the interview, edited for space and occasionally clarity.

From listening to your interviews, I heard no reference to either formal training or informal training, voice or guitar: Just one day while you were in college, you decided to learn the guitar?

“I had a buddy who did help me stop being so ‘heavy’ when I sang, because he could hear that if I kept doing what I was doing and playing a lot of shows that I probably was going to have problems losing my voice. So he taught me how to keep me from using my (vocal) chords the wrong way. But other than that, I never did church choir. I don’t know how to read music.”

Wait. How does that work when you’re a songwriter?

“To write a song, I just play by ear as far as guitar goes. I’d say most people in Nashville don’t know how to read like sheet music. It’s more just knowing the chords and what you want to hear and figuring out how to play it.”

Your dad gave you a guitar when you were little, but you never played it (and he wound up selling it). Then in college it became extremely important to you to learn to play the guitar to have this connection with him.

“He bought me a guitar when I was a kid. I would not learn it. I didn’t have the patience…. When he passed, I kind of made a vow to myself that I’d learn to play at some point. When I graduated high school (in Chattanooga), I was working two or three jobs through that summer before college. I put in my two-weeks notice to give me a two, three-week window before I left for school. I woke up one morning during that time and decided that would be the day.

“I called a buddy of mine, the only guitar player I knew. He was more a metal-guitar player; he had electric guitars. We went to a small music store in town and he helped me pick out a $250 guitar.”

So how did you get into songwriting?

“All through high school, I was always really good in English…. My graduating class (at Silverdale Baptist Academy in Chattanooga) was 13. We had a buddy who played guitar and he ended up taking his life in 10th grade. He was such a good dude. He was funny, good-looking guy, you’d never think something like that would happen. We were all dealing with it in our own ways and for some reason I started writing poetry about it. I’d never written poetry before, but I think that helped me, when I got a guitar, to naturally go into writing songs.”

Where did you go to college?

“Virginia Tech my freshman year and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I graduated from there. I started off in biology, thought I wanted to be an anesthesiologist. Apparently you have to be smart to do that, so I ended up going into business management.”

Who have been your major influencers in creating your own unique sound as a singer and songwriter?

“The two biggest ones were early Brad Paisley and Garth Brooks.”

Talk about the difference in satisfaction of recording a song you wrote and it going to top and writing a song that, say, a Garth Brooks performs and takes to No. 1?

“I’d say the satisfaction is about the same for me. With Garth Brooks specifically, he was my favorite artist. Still is. Now that I know him as well as I do, know how just unbelievable a dude he is, the character he has, it’s just an honor every time I’ve had a cut with him. For him to take to No. 1 my song that I wrote myself — the first single I had, the first cut I ever had, ‘Ask Me How I Know’ — was just surreal. I don’t think there’s anything that could ever top that.”

I’ve read different versions of how you hooked up with Garth Brooks: one just cold-calling by emailing him songs and one where you met in an airport bar.

“The first one is true. I think some people got confused. The first shows I’d opened for him, I’d explained to people that when Garth Brooks found me, I was playing in an airport bar at the time. That’s how I was making a living. I had nothing going.”

But you just out of the blue had sent him an email with some of your songs?

“Yeah. I had an email address that he’d sent out to all the publishers in Nashville when he came back out of retirement. I sent four songs. He didn’t know me from Adam. For whatever reason, he listened to them and really loved them. That’s what started it.”

How did you get on America’s Got Talent? Were you recruited or just signed up at a regional audition?

“They reached out and asked if we’d be willing to audition. Initially I thought it wasn’t the right fit for me. I’ve been asked to audition for all those shows at one point or another over the last 10 years. I think they’re great for the right person. Someone with a great, really unique voice I feel stands out on those shows. I don’t feel I’ve got some super unique voice. I’m an artist. I’m a writer. You have to have all of it for it to work for me. I’m not a good enough singer to just go up there and sing. But AGT gives more opportunity for original music. I just really wanted my songs to be heard.”

You made it to the semifinals but for simplicity’s sake we’ll say you got beat out by a dog, albeit a very talented dog. How was that, making the semis and then when you found out you were not making the finals?

“It was really cool. I never thought past that first song. So going to the semifinals was really an honor to be selected. Then going to the top three and not quite making it to the top two on the episode, I was just really grateful we got the opportunity to do the first song. Anything past that was just icing on the cake. I thought Lavender (Darcangelo) was really great, and I thought Adrian (Stoica) and (his border collie) Hurricane were really great, and they ended up winning the whole show. I wasn’t deflated or devastated. It was a cool opportunity. I learned a lot and got to meet some great people.”

What did being on AGT do for you?

“TV is the biggest platform we have in this industry. All the shows I do with Garth are huge opportunities to get in front of a lot of people. I gained a ton of new fans. You’re talking playing in front of ten to a hundred thousand with Garth crowds. TV, you’re talking four to seven million. It’s just a big, big pond you get to be in front of. I really learned a lot about television in terms of just being prepared and comfortable up there, because I wasn’t very comfortable with my set-up sound-wise. I didn’t want to make anybody’s job harder than it already is, so I didn’t speak up. You’ve got to be able to be confident and comfortable with what you’re hearing. It was a great learning experience for me. If I ever get the opportunity again, I’ll make sure I’m much more prepared as far as feeling good about the performance.”

Of the songs you’ll perform Saturday, were any others inspired by real life?

“Pretty much the whole set. That’s kind of the way I write. I like to write about real stuff. Doesn’t mean it’s all going to be serious stuff. There’s going to be a lot of fun stuff. We’ll be laughing, we’ll be crying. A little bit of everything.”

Do you have goals for 2024?

“I’ve always wanted to have a community of more die-hard fans who can help me pick records and hear new songs, things like that. The way I’ve always done it is you just pick a song you want to cut, put them on a record. Maybe you ask people close to you, but the people you’re creating them for don’t really get a say in what’s happening. So why would I not bring some of those folks in and say, ‘Hey, what’s y’all’s favorites of these?’ Let them hear new songs before everybody else in a private community. That’s definitely on the radar for 2024.”

The country music scene is so competitive, beyond talent and work ethic you have to be lucky to make it to the top. What motivates you?

“No. 1, I think I have really tried to get my focus away from being some big-hit artist. That used to be my dream. But as I get older, I’m trying to control what I can control and trust that God has a plan, and it’s not going to do me any good to force my plan down anyone’s throat and especially down His. At the end of the day, I just have to learn to trust Him and show up every day, do what I do, do what He gave me the gift to do, which is tell stories and relate to people on a real level.

“I don’t have Tim McGraw or Kenny Chesney’s fanbase. But the people who are big fans of mine are really big fans of mine. It’s because what I do is authentic and is real and it’s become a part of their lives. That has to be enough. Whatever comes above that is all icing on the cake. To be something that means that much to people musically, to be able to create that and be a part of that, that’s a gift. That’s something I cherish and it’s a blessing. If it’s meant to blow up and be huge, that’s great. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but that’s not my goal anymore.”

Q&A with Mitch Rossell (Nov. 25 at The Mint Event Center) - Kentucky Downs