Tyler Rich proves country won’t ever be the same

The Yuba City native returns with a new sound and sound advice for facing change

The Northern California singer comes back home.

The Northern California singer comes back home.

Photo courtesy of tyler rich

Catch Tyler Rich at 8 p.m. Friday, November 18, and Saturday, November 19, at Goldfield Trading Post, 1630 J Street. Tickets are $10. More at http://tylerrichmusic.com.

Our country is at a crossroads right now. So is country music. In this maelstrom, you’d be forgiven for not caring about the latter. But that is a mistake.

Country singer Tyler Rich has a motto for tackling uncertainty: If the situation looks dire, go forward and give it all your energy anyway.

The Yuba City native found his motto at one painfully unglamorous performance in rural Oregon. His agent booked a gig that sounds like every musician’s nightmare: playing for campers eating breakfast at a backwoods music festival.

“We had just driven nine hours from my grandma’s house in California,” Rich says. “In our minds, it was going to be torture.”

In a ballsy move, Rich hit the stage with his most energetic and format-busting set.

Following the show, he expected a painful obligatory meet-and-greet. Instead, an hour-long line greeted the band. At the end, one septuagenarian Vietnam vet waited ominously, wearing a jacket decorated with military badges and a scowl.

“He looked pissed off the entire time,” Rich says. “Then he shook my hand and explained to me why it was one of his favorite shows ever. He said he hadn’t seen that much energy at a country show maybe ever.

“Now I go out and play like there are a thousand people in the crowd,” Rich says.

Rich is part of the emerging, next generation country wave, which, bolstered by the success of chart-toppers like Sam Hunt and Dustin Lynch, is launching country music into a new phase: fewer acoustic riffs and dusty boots, more amplification and beats. This is not backwoods breakfast fodder.

“Real, old-school country will never die,” Rich says. “But evolution is going to continue. I plan to stretch the boundaries. Nothing sucks more than falling into a bracket of what you can and can’t sound like.”

The new tracks from Rich’s upcoming, yet-to-be-named album promise country music 2.0, with more in-your-face energy and post-production than we’ve heard from the California native since he moved to Nashville last year. His sophomore album, due out next spring, will be a decided break from last summer’s Valerie, which was nearly all acoustic.

The change is a natural byproduct of Rich’s move to Nashville and the relative fame that came with that.

“Three years living in L.A. and I never got to play an actual show, just background music for cash,” Rich says.

One trip to Nashville convinced him to move and just weeks later he drove east, parked the moving van in downtown Nashville and went straight to a neon-lit country bar.

It’s been uphill on the charts since then. Rich hit No. 5 on the iTunes country charts and No. 39 on the Top 40. Now, Rich has a media manager, a tour with Dustin Lynch under his belt and is in talks with producers for his next album.

“I got to finally play L.A.,” he says. “The first time back, I did three shows in two days and they all sold out.”

When Rich plays Sacramento this weekend, it’s a prodigal return of sorts. “[Sacramento] was in a growing phase when I left,” he says. And so was he: “I left before pursuing anything as a solo artist.”

Debuting his new country sound is a risky attempt to win both stalwart genre denizens and metal converts. Inevitably, there will be scowls. Rich promises to live by his motto and play like it’s the Country Music Awards anyway.