Nashville might be known as a 10 year town, a place where it takes a decade or more to get noticed. But for River House Artists/Warner Music Nashville’s Austin Snell, the rules have never really applied.
You’re not supposed to fuse hard-rocking sonic aggression with the deep-feeling confessions of a country troubadour. You’re not supposed to just drift into Nashville with a battered old guitar and write a career-launching hit, either. But Snell has done both. And now, just one year into his Music City tenure, he’s well on his way to making “grunge country” as familiar a term as “honky tonk.”
After his gritty “Excuse the Mess” gathered 1 million streams in its first week of independent release, Snell has gone on to drop a handful of hard-core country rockers, with momentum building behind the sound. A quarter of a million TikTok followers over 36 million total streams. Big time playlist placements on Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and more. A rare SiriusXM Highway Find accolade – the same one bestowed on now-superstars like Maren Morris and Luke Combs. And distinction as just the second artist ever chosen for SiriusXM’s Artist Accelerator program.
It all points to that rare sort of star who has found his mark early – and there’s more on the way. But if you ask the humble hit maker, he’s no visionary genius. Just a guy who loves hard rock and country in equal measure, with a deep understanding of struggle … and a voice that sheds light in the dark.
“It seems to keep clicking, and I don't really know why,” the emerging star admits. But that modesty belies a wild ride.
A native of small town Dudley, Georgia, Snell grew up with a modern rock-loving father and a mother drawn to country radio – a fact reinforced by the family’s collection of four total CDs, ones by Nickelback, Three Doors Down, Creed and Alan Jackson. Traveling the South to race go-karts on weekends, Snell ended up internalizing every note of those records, and feeling at home whenever they were playing, no matter where he was at the time. But it wasn’t until joining the Air Force that music became a passion.
Nineteen years old, 1,000 miles from home and alone for the first time, he passed the long evenings with a cheap acoustic guitar, belting out the same tunes he grew up on with a few clumsy chords. But you can only pretend to be Chad Kroeger for so long. Already obsessed and unable to visit home due to COVID-19, Snell dove into writing songs like he heard on country radio – heartfelt, melodic, and filled with clever hooks. Then his mom did what mom’s do.
“I let my mom talk me into posting my stuff on Facebook for our friends,” he says with a chuckle. “People ended up liking it, so that's what I did in my free time. I would write songs and just post them, to see what people thought.”
Unsurprisingly, his audience soon grew, and the wild ride got wilder. After returning home and deciding he’d rather write songs than work a shift, Snell made up his mind to try Nashville. But after doctors found a benign tumor in his back, it was the spring of 2022 before he finally arrived.
At first, Snell just went with the flow, learning the ropes of Nashville’s well established co-writing scene. But at 24 years old, and only 5 years after first picking up a guitar, things were about to change.
“I moved with the plan of not putting anything out until I found something different, something nobody else was doing that felt authentic for me,” Snell explains. “I didn't know how long that was gonna take, but then we wrote ‘Excuse the Mess,’ and it just opened my world.”
Co-written with Presley Aaron and Christian Yancey, the low-down power ballad was the first track Snell wrote with a hard-rock edge – and it was definitely different. With distorted, dark-energy guitars, thundering drums and a wounded vocal at the end of its emotional rope, it mixed metal toughness with the gritty imagery of a classic country depression ballad, soaked in booze and strung out on love – and like all the best Nashville tunes, it was true. Feeling alone and overwhelmed during a rough patch in his Air Force days, Snell sent up a prayer and signed off with the eventual hook, “excuse the mess.”
“I don't express myself a whole lot, so these songs are kind of my way to do it,” he says. “I posted that one online the same day we wrote it, and by the next day, it had over 600,000 views.”
After that, the rising star released two more hard-charging, left-of-center anthems (an unexpected cover of Cassadee Pope’s “Wasting All These Tears” and “Get There First”), signed publishing and record deals, and has now begun the next chapter.
Tunes like “Send You the Bill” follow in the footsteps of “Excuse the Mess,” another shadowy example of soul crushing pain wrapped in a grungy exterior – like a brokenhearted cowboy ballad for the modern age. Likewise, “Cold” stands as a slow-burning rocker with an icy message to a former flame, a somber steel guitar adding some desolate country desperation. But it’s the heavy-hearted power ballad “Pray All the Way Home” where Snell solidifies his sound.
Co-written with Andrew Baylis, Michael Whitworth and Cam Walker, it’s a track about living fast and running hard – and knowing without doubt, your mistakes will catch up eventually. Mixing blacked-out rock aggression with inward facing, late-night country reflection – plus a bit of an electronic buzz – it points the way forward for one of Nashville’s most exciting new talents, proving some rules are really more like suggestions.
It’s only been a year so far. Imagine what 10 will bring.
“I grew up on both sides of this music, so I just hope people know it’s real to me,” Snell explains. “I think that's my main goal, to make my own sound and let everyone know I’m not trying to copy anybody else. I’m going to pave my own way.”