When Robert Counts went into a writing session with HARDY and Jake Mitchell, HARDY was still known as songwriter Michael Hardy, and all three men were still getting their start in country music. The result of that one co-write was “What Do I Know,” Robert’s current, and powerful single, which became the second most-added song at country radio when it was released in August, following Taylor Swift’s “betty.”
“We wrote it back in 2018, actually. It was a while ago,” Robert recalled to Everything Nash. “We didn’t know each other. It was just kind of, they were in my book [to write]. This was before he had become HARDY. He was just Michael. We showed up, and we were just meeting each other. I had that groove, that kind of ‘Country Boy Can Survive’ kind of feeling, and that title. It’s that colloquial ‘What do I know’ kind of thing.
“We just were talking about, ‘Is there any way to make that cool? Turn that into a song, and make that something that people want to sing out really loud at the concert,'” he recalled. “Michael Hardy did his thing, and it worked out. He’s great at figuring out how to turn a phrase several different ways … It started out being just a funny thing. We thought it would be kind of funny, and then we got done and we were like, ‘Man, this thing is freaking cool.'”
“What Do I Know” is one of five songs on Robert’s debut EP on Arista Nashville — a project that almost didn’t happen at all, since the Tennessee native was on track to become a doctor instead.
“I come from a family of just working people,” Robert explained. “My dad’s a builder, and my mom’s an accountant. They worked 50, 60 hour weeks. That was just what we did. And they liked it. I played guitar and wrote songs, and I sang in my church and stuff, and they thought that was neat. But growing up in Nashville, you see so many people try and fail. People move from all over to come do the music thing. We had friends that did it, and their kids tried to do it. My parents just didn’t want to put all their eggs in that basket, or didn’t want me to do that. So the music thing was really always just supposed to be a hobby.”
Robert studied Biochemistry at Lee University, with plans of being an orthopedic surgeon. while still playing music at local coffeeshops whenever he could. But after winning a songwriting competition, and securing a small publishing deal, Robert decided to take a year off and focus on music. It was a chance encounter with renowned producer and songwriter, Jimmy Ritchey, which sealed, at least for now, Robert’s fate as a musician instead of a physician.
“He liked my songs that I was writing, and liked my voice,” Robert said. “He was like, ‘Man, we ought to try to get you a deal, and see what we can do here.’ And I said, ‘Well, shoot, do you know anybody?’ That was part of our relationship anyway; he hooked me up with a lot of the people that he’d been writing with around town, big-time writers that were definitely out of the pool that I was currently swimming in. I was just writing songs and trying to get up a body of work, to go in and show a label.”
Jimmy took Robert to Jim Catino, Vice-President of A&R at Sony Music Nashville, and the rest is history.
“He just said, ‘Jim, you gotta hear this kid’s voice, and his songs. I think he’s awesome,'” Robert recounted. “I played him two or three songs, and they called [CEO] Randy Goodman in, in the middle of the meeting, which I was not expecting at all. I just thought I was going to pitch songs or just kind of pitch myself to an A&R guy. They called Randy in, and I played the songs all again. He fell in love with one of my songs called ‘Backseat Driver,’ and offered me a deal right on the spot. He didn’t want me to go anywhere else and pitch myself. I got lucky.”
For now, Robert is content to keep churning out more hits, with his aspirations in medicine on pause while his music career begins to soar.
“I fell in love with writing, and just kept doing it,” he reflected. “The med school dream just got pushed to the back burner. It’s still kind of simmering back there, but I don’t know if I’ll ever go back and do that. I I love what I’m doing right now.”
Find Robert’s music, including “What Do I Know,” by visiting his website.