Canadian country music artist Tebey is finally getting the spotlight he deserves. JEFF JOHNSON IMAGES / COURTESY
You know him, but you probably don’t know him.
Or rather, you know his work, but likely don’t know the man responsible.
And Tebey is aiming to change that.
“It’s been a really interesting last couple of years for me,” says the Canadian country musician born Tebey Ottoh.
“We’ve had some hits on the radio, we’ve had some Top 5 singles, blah, blah, blah, blah, but there’s still a lot of country fans out there that haven’t connected the dots. And that’s the hardest part as an artist is getting them to be like, ‘Oh, that song is Tebey’s song.’ I think touring this summer is really going to help.”
Touring, which will bring him to the Calgary Stampede and the Nashville North stage on Monday night, as well as releasing his new six-song EP Old School, should more than set the record straight on who he is and what he does.
Well, what he does when he does it, if that makes any sense.
You see, for the past decade or so, the Burlington-raised, Nashville-based artist has worn two different hats: that of country musician, and that of hit-penning songwriter of all genres.
A sample of the folks he’s supplied with their chart-toppers includes everyone from One Direction (They Don’t Know About Us and Loved You First from their Take Me Home album), Pixie Lott (All About Tonight) and Cher (Take It Like A Man) to Big and Rich (Radio), Doc Walker (Why) and many, many for Emerson Drive.
Along the way he’s also managed, as he notes, to get some of his own sung songs into the radio mix, such as Somewhere In the Country, Till It’s Gone and Wake Me Up, and earn himself back-to-back CCMA nominations for Rising Star.
“I kind of liken my career — it could be taken the wrong way — but someone like Dierks Bentley,” he says.
“(He’s) a massive country artist, but it took him a good eight, nine years of consistent songs on the radio and all of sudden he releases a song called Drunk on a Plane and everything just kind of goes boom and then he’s doing arenas and headlining massive shows. It’s just one of those things, you keep building it and building it slowly and fan by fan and eventually, hopefully, it just takes off.”
Actually, it appeared it was going to do that more than a decade-and-a-half ago. Tebey’s rising star is one that went through something of a delay. After winning some singing competitions at home, he was signed to a major label deal at the age of 16, relocated to Nasvhille, was being picked up for management by Bruce Allen and found himself working with famed producer Bob Rock.
He was set for fame, even scored a Top 50 single in the States with We Shook Hands (Man to Man).
“I had the world on a silver platter there for a minute and then it just didn’t work. I don’t know what happened, if we were ahead of our time, if the songs weren’t great, I really don’t know, but, yeah, I kind of came crashing back down to earth as a 20 year old,” the 32-year-old says of the lost label deal, which sent him temporarily back to Canada where he began writing for artists such as Rex Goudie and Shawn Desman.
“I kind of had to claw my way back over the last 10 years and I think it’s been good for me as a person and also just being able to appreciate what I’ve been able to do and any success I’ve had in the past and also moving forward — just be grateful and I think it’s all because of the path I’ve taken.”
He admits that it taught him a great number of lessons and says he has no regrets about how it all worked out, calling himself “super content” and thankful for the “wife and two beautiful kids” he now has, likely wouldn’t have if things had turned out differently.
Tebey also thinks he’s more mature and able to handle any success that might come his way now, and has enjoyed the past few years of defining himself, finding himself as a songwriter and an artist, and he’s hoping that Canadian country fans will connect with that.
Old School, which was released on Friday, certainly has a number of memorable tunes on it, including Lightweight, When the Buzz Wears Off, that aforementioned version of EDM artist Avicii’s tune Wake Me Up with Emerson Drive, and the upbeat, singalong-ready nostalgic title cut, that name-checks Walkmans, Snapple, Beverly Hills 90210, Nirvana, pay phones, Dr. Pepper and “kick(ing) on back in the Pontiac and smoking marijuana.”
And he admits he already has a number of songs at the ready that this nation’s radio-listeners might be familiar with when he hits the road in the fall for a major headlining run sponsored by Coors Banquet called the First Come, First Served Tour.
All of it sounds fantastic and all of it should push Tebey’s name to the front of country music fans in this country, but it also sounds like an awful lot of work, filled with endless bus journeys and long hours away from his family.
Wouldn’t it just be easier and better to be a man of one hat, the songwriter one, and sit back and watch the cheques roll in?
“No,” he says adamantly, passionately.
“Listen, I love writing songs for other people — don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome anytime I get a big cut like that. I mean, shoot, One Direction, I had two songs on that album, it sold seven million copies, I was able to buy another house with that.
“I’m very grateful, but nothing replaces being up on stage and having people sing your songs back to you as the artist. That’s why I do what I do.”
Tebey performs 10 p.m. Monday at Nashville North at the Calgary Stampede.