Ask Coeur d’Alene singer-songwriter Colby Acuff to describe his style of music on his new album, and his response is “mountain country” – then Alabama’s classic hit “Mountain Music” springs to mind. Y’know, “Oh, play me some mountain music, like grandma and grandpa used to play.”
It would be 15 years before Acuff is born when “Mountain Music,” one of Alabama’s biggest songs, would ascend the music charts, but Acuff, 24, considers himself to be old-fashioned and a “Dying Breed.” And while everything is titled Colby Acuff, Acuff often refers to his career as a “we” – “with my band, my producer, my manager, everybody.”
Independent artist Acuff, who was born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, said he played his first bar when he was 12 and plays the piano, drums, guitar (“It’s my favorite because I’ve spent the most time with it”) and mandolin.
The University of Idaho graduate, who still very much enjoys playing in Moscow and counts Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Tyler Childers and Luke Combs among his influences and favorites, answered questions in a rare in-person interview during the pandemic over dinner at Rusty Moose in Airway Heights in late February.
It’s been a little more than a year since we last talked and you released your first album, “Life of a Rolling Stone.” What’s been going on in your pandemic year in Idaho leading up to your sophomore album?
After our first album was released, we had really good public reception starting from nothing, basically. We were able to plan our first tour. Toward the end of the first tour throughout Montana and after finishing planning our second tour, we had to cancel everything with the start of the pandemic.
Everything came to a standstill, obviously. We didn’t necessary give up on what we were trying to do, but we had to stop because there was nothing we could do. I returned to Orvis Northwest Outfitters and my job as a fly-fishing guide on the Columbia River. I went full time, and that pretty much took up all of my time. I also was selling real estate at the time, so I stayed busy.
Then Idaho opened up again in late June, I believe, so we started playing outside shows here and there in the summer. I started writing again and compiled the second album. Come fall, we got everything together and wanted to start our work, but then my producer in Boise got COVID.
When it rains, it pours, Colby.
Right?! So, we were waylaid by a couple weeks. We were back in Boise in mid-December and took five days to record a 10-song album. The project is titled “If I Were the Devil.” I’m super excited to see how this album does in 12 months because this one is way more mature than our first album that was more Americana.
How is it more mature than your debut album?
It has a lot of the same feelings, and it’s still my style, but there is more. There are drums, and I learned how to play mandolin for the album. We still have three guys who created the album, but “If I Were the Devil” uses five instruments, and it’s a different sound. The pandemic also has afforded us opportunities with people who quit their jobs and had free time to work with us.
You said you were happy with the way your debut album performed?
Yes, absolutely, in the number of plays we received from listeners right out the gate. It’s been really good, and I feel like we’ve arrived with this second album. We’re now in the up-and-coming.
When this album was released last Friday (Feb. 19), we were on the lists of numerous new music pages for country music on Instagram. We have a fan base nationally now, too, which is super cool.
What did you purposely change up in your sophomore album?
With the first album, we really had no expectations. We just released it and went on tour and said, “Let’s just see what the hell happens. Who knows? We’ll just try it.” The pandemic put us in fifth gear. We said that when we come back, we need to be 100% and be somebody, get involved and get our name out.
The biggest difference in the albums is that our first album was very much acoustic-based. It gave us a great base and sound and our own style. The second album is still our style but next level. There is more to it. You can hear and feel that this is our time, this is our album, and this is who I am.
Do you have plans to tour?
Yes, we do. This spring and summer, we’ll play anywhere we possibly can in the area. I was just talking with a promoter in Nashville and asked him if we should come over there to play. He said anybody who is going to get a gig will be in Idaho, Wyoming, Texas and Montana, so stay where you are because that is where live music is going on right now.
We do hope to go on a bigger tour in the fall if the opportunity is available. We do have plans, and I can’t wait to share them.
What are some of your favorite songs on your new album?
My favorite song on the new album is “Dying Breed” and another one titled “Tip Jar.” I wrote both of those songs. The album title song “If I Were the Devil” is our most popular song right now. I designed the album cover of a buffalo, and that’s the “Dying Breed” aspect.
I sometimes feel like I’m a dying breed. I’m old-fashioned, but I realize that I’m not the only one, and the song is to relate to other people like me. “Tip Jar” I wrote five days before we went down to Boise to record, and it’s a reflection song of all the ups and downs of music and this career and how I take nothing for granted.
What has been the biggest struggle for you in the pandemic?
The biggest struggle was I couldn’t go forward. I definitely don’t want to say that I had to go backward because I had the most fun summer of all time. I got a free pass to do something else that I love – to live on the river all day and go fishing at night. It was super fun, I never looked back, and I had no second thoughts about it.
I didn’t have to worry about music because music wasn’t an option. But it was a struggle because I couldn’t take a step forward in that career. I learned a lot, how to adapt and figure out another way.
What are your immediate plans now that album No. 2 is completed?
I want to go out and seek adventures and maybe be gone half the year, but I would like a home base like a Nashville or Boise where I could record. I like Texas, too. We road trip to Boise all the time. I’m gone most of the time. I live out of a duffel bag whether I’m on the road or the river.
What do you hope to accomplish this year?
I just want to take steps forward. This business is so hard. One thing I’ve learned during this time of COVID is there is no room for negativity, there is no room for insecurity. Expectations can be your worst enemy. Every day is an opportunity for a step forward.
At the end of the year, at least we can say we took 365 steps forward.