With a rich, distinctive voice and a knack for writing powerful songs with catchy melodies, singer/songwriter Austin Merrill is proving to be one of country music’s brightest rising stars. His unique sound is both traditional and modern, a seamless blend with mass appeal that feels just as much at home on stage as it does on the farm. With Grammy-award winning producer Mark Bright at the helm, listeners can expect his debut EP, Whiskey & Water, this spring. Together, they have crafted an impressive 5-track project that embraces Austin’s 90’s country upbringing while showcasing his contemporary songwriting and Bright’s musical vision that will effortlessly transition to the ears of today’s Country listener.
Austin hails from Bend, Oregon, a ski town with mountains to the West and desert to the East. “My favorite song growing up was Alabama’s ‘Mountain Music’,”says Austin. “As a kid I didn’t realize the world was any bigger than the mountains outside my front door. As far as I knew, Randy Owen was singing that song just for me.” The outdoor mecca’s distinct way of life had a lasting impact on the budding artist. Country music was family music for Austin, and the influences of his favorite childhood artists, such as Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, and Shenandoah, can still be heard in the music he writes and sings today.
Music played an essential role from an early age for the Oregon native, helping forge a strong sense of individuality and creativity. Austin explains: “I come from a family of entrepreneurs and risk-takers. I find the desire to create something unique, to build something from the ground up with your own hands to be very inspiring. My father has shown me what hard work and determination look like, and I am very grateful for that.” His parents may have lacked musical ability, but they were more than happy to foster an environment that allowed Austin to reach his potential.
While a fruitful Country music career is now on the horizon, Austin first came to town as an award-winning upright bassist and accomplished sax player. These initial dreams lead him to study at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but the draw of singing and songwriting proved strong, and Austin found his greatest passion in his voice and guitar. “I didn’t start playing guitar and writing songs until my freshman year of college, but once I discovered songwriting, and with it vocal performance, it took my musical passion to another level. It’s hard to say exactly what sparked my interest in songwriting. Maybe it was being in Music City, surrounded by so many great writers. Maybe it was just because the sax was too loud to practice in my dorm room, and the bass was too big. Whatever it was, I am grateful for it.”
After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Austin answered another lifelong calling that he could no longer ignore: he joined the U.S. Army and is currently commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Tennessee Army National Guard. Being an officer in the Army has taught him countless life lessons and given Austin the chance to serve the common good while pursuing a burgeoning music career.“Military service certainly gives you a new perspective on things, not just in music, but in life,” states Austin. “Artists and creative types can have a hard time with rules and discipline, myself included, but I have always felt a desire to serve this great country and I decided over four years ago to make that sacrifice. It was difficult, and there were many times I wanted to quit. But I persevered like I was raised to do.”
The journey has just begun for Austin who is very excited for the release of his upcoming debut project with Mark Bright. He explains: “The man is a legend in this town, and for good reason. His vision and his guidance have taken my songs and transformed them into something beyond what I could have ever imagined.” While the future is sure to be bright for the promising young talent, Austin is making sure not to take a second of it for granted. “The opportunity to perform and have an emotional impact on someone through song, especially an original song, is an unbelievable experience and blessing,”says Austin, and the songs he creates show how skillful a storyteller he has become. Whiskey & Wateris set for release on April 26th everywhere music is sold.