When you think of the music genre that’s most military-amenable, you may think country music, simply because there are so many country songs that depict military themes. But the next step may not be leaping to think about songs that reflect wartime and post-combat trauma. That’s one of the reasons a new partnership between the Big Machine Label Group and the veterans’ organization CreatiVets is so wholly unique: It’s fostering the creation of songs about PTSD and other subjects that those coming off the battlefield often don’t even discuss with their loved ones, let alone in song. And the co-writers of these compositions are veterans who are being enlisted to take emotions they might consider unspeakable and make them singable instead.
In July, Big Machine, the home of artists including Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line, and CreatiVets teamed up to release a full album, “Veteran Songs.” Going forward, they’re looking toward releasing about one new track a month, and Veterans Day 2020 will bring two numbers freshly co-written with veterans participating in the program: “Picture in a Frame,” sung from a female veteran’s perspective, and “Helpless,” performed by the duo Love and Theft.
Big Machine president and CEO Scott Borchetta says, beyond having Brantley Gilbert in the initial round of performers, artists including Aaron Lewis and Justin Moore will be participating soon.
“I co-founded CreatiVets back in 2013 because of my own experiences,” says executive director Richard Casper. “My Humvee was blown up four separate times in Iraq, which led to a traumatic brain injury. I didn’t do songwriting or art or anything beforehand, but songwriting ended up saving my life.”
Casper points out that “in the veteran space,” there are 20 suicides a day. Aiming to ameliorate this tragic statistic, “CreatiVets will fly veterans from anywhere in the country to Nashville to write with pro songwriters about their experiences of war. A lot of these writing sessions take place backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, where nobody else gets to write. Because you’re going to have veterans like me, who did not want to tell their story and be vulnerable. But if I say, ‘Hey, here’s a free trip to Nashville, writing with the No. 1 writer, backstage at the Opry,’ nobody’s going to turn that down.”
Casper emphasizes that “we’re not looking for ‘Proud to Be an American,’” though patriotic songs are not discouraged, either.
“If something bad happened to you and you want the world to know, we’re putting it in that song, trying to get them to heal through this process,” Casper continues. “Those same veterans who said, ‘Hey, I can’t tell my wife this, but I did X or Z in Iraq,’ after they have their song after four hours of writing, the first person they email the work tape to is their wife, like, ‘Babe, listen to this song I just wrote.’”
Borchetta says he’s bringing in Big Machine artists as performers because “it needs the celebrity aspect to cut through the noise. I really feel that as soon as this gets out among veterans, it’s going to be a movement. We have really good songs, and we’re looking for that one that takes off and gets tens of millions of streams. That’s going to happen.”
He’s looking for a raw — not rah-rah — way to focus attention on those who’ve “put their life on the line and believe in what the core values of our country is about — how can you not support that? You know, how can we do more for these human beings who’ve gone through a real-life hell?”