He has a powerful voice, a knack for writing emotional songs, and the ability to deliver them with complete conviction.
Tyler Braden is a secret talent hiding in plain sight in Nashville. But it’s easy to become a believer. Just listen.
On a song like “I Remember When,” a self-penned piece inspired by his real-life grandfather, Braden explores the perimeters of dementia. He sings with intensity about a man whose emotions are almost impenetrable, focused on a NASCAR race on the TV screen and a way-back memory of his now-deceased wife in her younger, rebel days. It’s a difficult topic, one that seems suited to a dirge-like ballad, but Braden crafted it as a midtempo celebration, avoiding the obvious sadness in his grandfather’s advancing age and diminishing skillset, reveling instead in the ebullient peak of his prior years.
“So many people will say they write stories or write songs from their hardships and things they’ve been through,” Braden notes matter-of-factly. “I’m lucky enough that I haven’t had that many hardships, but it’s just storytelling, you know. That’s what songwriting is.”
Braden may not have faced many trials personally, but he’s certainly seen hardship: As a working firefighter, he’s encountered his share of deaths, gunshot wounds and families who lost all their possessions in a blaze.
And Braden definitely knows how to tell a story in a way that grabs the listener. He grew up in the same Montgomery, Alabama, region where Hank Williams honed his artful expression, and was gifted with a vocal tone that combines the smoke of Luke Combs, the scratch of Steve Earle and the urgency of Kurt Cobain. Braden is modest – he wouldn’t begin to claim any of those comparisons – but their lineage is apparent in the powerful hooks that dominate his songwriting and in the raw passion he brings to a performance.
And make no mistake about it, that passion is required in every performance Braden gives. Even when he’s simply recording a lo-fi guitar-and-vocal reference for a song he’s just written, he infuses it with an unmistakable emotion. It’s music, he reasons, and it deserves nothing but his best.
“Even a work tape, I don’t have it in me to do a substandard recording just to be able to remember it,” he explains. “Writing anything is expression, and half-hearting it wouldn’t be a true expression.”
To date, Braden has mostly focused his efforts one track at a time, building a following for songs that lean on the rock side of modern country. “Little Red Wine,” his first significant release, rode a guitar-driven production and a forceful vocal performance to the lead position on two different Spotify playlists. “Leave Me Alone” showcased his powerhouse demeanor in a mystery-wrapped package that bears the influence of early-‘90s arena grunge.
As he works on his first full album, Braden has assembled a mix of from-the-gut performances, ranging from the ghostly, self-penned “Secret” to the sandy, regret-filled “Thank Me For That,” the latter authored by ace songwriter Shane Minor (“Beautiful Mess,” “Chillin’ It”). Braden’s recordings reveal an ever-present angst, an understated determination to find meaning in the chaos of life.
“I want music that’s gonna move your heart and move your body,” he says, “a little bit of both.”
Country has been a part of Braden’s musical background from the beginning. He grew up in Wetumpka, Alabama, 15 miles from the graveyard memorial to Hank Williams, the pioneering singer/songwriter who created such ever-lasting standards as “Honky Tonk Blues,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Williams’ legacy is ingrained in the area, and Braden became familiar with him through his grandfather, who was a huge fan.
Both of Braden’s parents sang country music publicly, and he even had an uncle who worked as an Elvis Presley impersonator. But the music that spoke most directly to Braden was country of the 1990s and 2000s – Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson, Keith Urban. As he learned to play guitar, those influences meshed with singer/songwriter types – John Mayer, breathy stylist Ron Pope, jaunty Colbie Caillat co-writer Jason Reeves – to build a musical undercurrent that leaned toward gritty subject matter and moody atmospherics.
It was only after graduating high school that Braden started putting those influences to work. His first outlet was Tempting Fate, a local rock band that changed its name to Adamant when it ran into trademark issues. Braden auditioned informally with Kid Rock’s “Only God Knows Why,” and the group played a small circuit of 10 venues or so in Alabama, covering heavy modern rock by the likes of Tool, Three Days Grace and Breaking Benjamin.
Country might have been put on the backburner in his public life, but privately, it remained front and center.
“When I got in my truck to go home, I was listening to country on the radio,” he says. “That has always been what I was really into.”
In the meantime, Braden found a paying gig as a first responder with the Montgomery Fire Department. Rookies’ commitment were tested with a grueling schedule of tedious jobs to fill, and it was in that period that he faced his first emergency response, as his unit picked up a gun-shot victim whose femur had been broken by a bullet.
“I was cleaning blood off the porch of this house while the guy was sitting there bleeding,” Braden says. “It was crazy. That’s the most blood I’d ever seen, and it was my very first call and I was absolutely exhausted already.”
Braden started playing solo country shows in the area, honing his writing chops and getting used to the spotlight. He became a Southeast finalist in a country talent competition, and part of the prize package included a recording session in Nashville, where the facility was essentially a basement studio at the home of the contest’s promoter. While in town, he played a date at the Blue Bar in Nashville, and the whole experience put Music City in Braden’s sights.
He took a practical approach; instead of just moving, he first found a job with the suburban Brentwood Fire Department, starting in the firehouse on July 11, 2016. He took it seriously – Braden didn’t even play a club date after his arrival until January 2017, when he took part in a weekly show, the Whiskey Jam – but he continued to write songs in his off hours, including an overhaul of “Little Red Wine.”
That song caught the attention of Triple 8 Management co-owner Bruce Kalmick, who was impressed enough to reach out to Braden.
“I remember pacing in my backyard, a nervous wreck talking to this guy in the music industry,” Braden says. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, just send me some more songs, you know. Send me some work tapes.’”
As always, Braden put real passion into those work tapes, and Kalmick connected him with manager Pete Olson. In turn, Olson paired him with record producer Randy Montana, who helped Braden find the dramatic core to his material, starting with “I Remember When.”
“Since I started in rock music, every time I’m writing a song or thinking about the production of the song, I’m picturing the live shows because I try to be pretty energetic on stage,” he says. “I said, ‘I want more grunge to it, a little heavier,’ and Randy said, ‘Man, the song’s gotta have somewhere to go.’ That’s been stuck in my head ever since. It was different from what I had in my mind, but he nailed it.”
As has Braden with the performance part of his work. The edgy end of his vocals is a direct result of those years belting over loud rock guitars in the clubs, and the sincerity in his phrasing comes from his country heritage and from that blue-collar experience in the firehouse, battling tragic blazes or answering a 911 double-homicide call.
Braden may not have lived out a lot of hardship, but he’s come face to face with it, and it’s turned him into a storyteller of real merit, whether it’s a song he’s written himself or one he’s picked up from fellow Nashvillians chasing the same road to glory that drove Hank Williams all those years ago.
“You write a lot of bad songs to get to the good ones,” Braden says. “But I’m not looking only for something that I wrote. I’m looking for something that expresses me in a real way.”
It’s why Braden captures such passion and intensity in those songs. Wherever they come from, their authenticity is palpable, building his audience on a daily basis. Nashville’s secret is coming into widespread view.