Songwriting, like basketball, is a team sport for Danville native Ashley Gorley. He has co-written 32 No. 1 country hits, including songs recorded by Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan. He is a nominee for songwriter of the year at Sunday’s Academy of Country Music Awards. During a telephone interview, Gorley, 39, of Nashville talked about the craft of songwriting. This interview has been edited for length.
Q. You have tapped into whatever it takes to write a hit song. How do you do that?
A. People have asked me for the formula. If there was a formula, someone would have figured it out by now, you know? I love music. I’m amazed by melodies that can be memorable and that can move you, motivate you and energize you. Why can I do it? I’m not sure. I feel like I have a good vision for a type of song that, in my opinion, an artist should go for next. But there is no formula. If I think about it too long, then I’ll quit.
Q. How did you begin writing songs?
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A. I just started out being a fan of music and a fan of the individual songs. I really didn’t have posters up of bands I was a fan of or anything like that. I would just love a song and a certain way a song would sound. When I was 9, 10 or 11, I was checking out album credits and trying to see how these songs came about.
I used to make mix tapes where I would take an a cappella version of a song and try to put it with a different beat, to see if I could match up the music to another track or another rhythm and try to make a new recording to play at parties or school dances. I think through that, my ears started catching different chords that would go with different melodies, and that evolved into me trying to make my own instrumentals where I would play chords and melodies on keyboard and drum machines.
Once I figured out, hey, I don’t have to sing great or play great, I just have to come up with the song and teach it to a singer or teach it to a band, that’s where I really found my niche.
Q. Do you write lyrics and music?
A. Yes, lyrics and music. ... I can’t just sit and write a lyrical poem. It’s usually all there happening at the same time.
Q. Do you ever write songs on your own, or do you always collaborate?
A. I always collaborate now, but the loophole in that is that I’m always writing songs on my own and not finishing them because I don’t have the attention to do that. And because it’s not as fun. That’s really what it comes down to. ... It’s just not as much fun to do it by myself. Collaborating means I’ve come up with a little shred of something, maybe a verse or a verse-chorus. ... I really like teams of partners. I like being around people and collaborating in every way.
Q. Have you ever written a song that harks back to Danville or your growing up there?
A. I write a lot of hometown songs and a lot of songs about the feeling you get there. Maybe it’s not Danville specifically. There’s nothing where I’m name-dropping Burke’s Bakery (an iconic Danville business) or anything. “Don’t Forget to Remember Me,” the first hit I ever had with Carrie Underwood, that has a lot of the leaving-home, going-to-college type of emotions.
Q. Do you write on the guitar, a piano or something else?
A. Yes. (Laughs.) All of above. ... Sometimes I’ll write on the piano. Sometimes I’ll write on the guitar. I’ve written songs on a mandolin or an instrument I can’t even play well, just to mix it up, to create something different.
Q. Have you ever thought about recording an album?
A. No! Never. That’s not on my list of things to do at all.
Q. Because ... ?
A. Because that’s not what I like. I like making up the song and I like hearing an artist play it. I like going to a show and seeing the audience love it, but I don’t want to be up there and I don’t want to be singing.
Q. I understand you’re a big Kentucky fan.
A. Yes! I really relate basketball to music. It’s just a team effort. One day in the room, somebody’s on and you’ve got to give them the ball a little bit more. Maybe somebody’s on a great melodic streak or has the hit idea, and maybe I’m not doing much. But next time, maybe I’m on fire and I’m coming up with great stuff in that collaboration. A song is like a shot. You just have to keep doing it.
Q. So if you could write a song with a current or former UK basketball player, who would it be and what would it be about?
A. Oh, gosh. Right now (in the wake of Sunday’s 75-73 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament), it would be a heartbreak country song. For a minute, it was about to be with (UK guard De’Aaron) Fox, because I think he’s the best dribble-drive guy. Yeah, right now it would be a very sad old tear-in-my-beer country song. Usually it would be an upbeat dance record.
Academy of Country Music Awards
8 p.m. April 2 on WKYT-TV 27-1 (Spectrum Ch. 9)