Country singer-songwriter Johnny Gates may be gearing up for the release of his self-titled debut solo EP, but make no mistake about it: the rocker-turned-country artist isn’t new to the game. Since starting his former band, alt-rock group Runaway Saints, Gates has been consistently putting out music — and a run on season 12 of The Voice propelled his growing solo success.
You could say Gates is living the dream — music has always been his goal, after all. Except for, of course, the time when he wanted to be an athlete instead.
“The high school I went to, it’s just known for sports. It’s the only reason I even went there,” he says. “I got there, and didn’t make the team. It was rough, but then that’s when I kind of discovered music.”
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It was around that time Gates started listening to artists like Bob Dylan, Saves the Day, and the Get Up Kids, whom he says helped inspire the music that landed Runaway Saints a record deal almost immediately after moving to Nashville from Rhode Island. Though looking back, Gates says the lightning speed at which the band struck up a deal was just as much a curse as it was a blessing.
“When we moved to Nashville, we got a deal pretty quick. Probably too quick,” he explains. “It happened within a couple months, which was awesome for us, but we didn’t really get that experience in Nashville slugging it out and having to win people over.”
He first felt the industry’s sting when the band took a hiatus, and he found himself struggling as a label-less solo artist in LA. But, in a second stroke of beginner’s luck, that’s when an opportunity to audition for The Voice arose.
“I was always kind of skeptical of reality shows. I was just like, ‘that’s not the right way to do it,’” he says. “But times get hard in LA.”
Gates decided to take the opportunity, and later became one of season twelve’s top 24 contestants before eventually being eliminated. But since then, his solo career only intensified: soon after his run on the show, he signed with a management company, then a record company, and got to work writing material that would, in part, become the new EP.
And between perfecting his craft and making new friends on the show (he recently attended the wedding of another contestant from his season), The Voice also gave the musician something else — the platform to shed his Runaway Saints-accredited punk rock image, and test the waters as a country artist publicly.
“Country doesn’t have to be just down south,” the Providence native says. “I’ve always liked the artists that have kind of toed the line [between country and other genres].”
And that’s exactly what Johnny Gates does. Gates’ voice carries no detectable country twang, and the EP could just as seamlessly fall under the country-pop or -rock categories as it could traditional country. Certain songs, like recent single Hell Outta Here, have won over die-hard country fans with their soft-rock melodies, while earworms like Dive Bar, Gates’ personal favorite from the 4-track EP, serve up acoustic vibes accompanied by R&B-esque back beats.
Dive Bar, Gates says, also sort of paved the way for the other songs on the EP to be written.
“So [my buddy and I] started working together, and Dive Bar was one of the first songs we did. I feel like it helped to find the sound of where I wanted the project to go,” he says. “It’s gotten a good reaction so far.”
His next order of business? Getting up on stage in front of the people who love his music the most. Gates will play songs from the EP at a handful of festivals this fall and then plans to head out on tour.
“It’ll be my first tour tour as a solo artist,” he reveals. “It sounds gruelling, but I used to tour so much with the band, and I definitely miss the road.”
And while his longer term goals as a solo musician include a single on country radio and becoming a headlining act, Gates has some pretty exciting plans for the next few months as well.
“So I think the EP’s gonna come out, we’ll do a couple singles this fall, and then go back to LA for a couple weeks to write for the next EP,” he says. “As long as I can continue to just do that, I think I’m a lifer in this. Just keepin’ it going, you know?”
Johnny Gates comes out August 30.