Anyone listening to the music of Rhett Uhland for the first time would swear that the sometimes rocking and bluesy, sometimes raspy and mournful, sometimes country crooning voice belonged to a man who’d spent years on the road in smoke filled bars, performing and perfecting his craft. So, it tends to come as a shock to find that talent coming from a young man—eighteen years young, to be specific—who’s just starting out in the music industry. But if first impressions mean anything, Rhett may very well have quite a future ahead of him.
“I’m telling you, man. [Rhett’s] got a very unique voice,” says studio producer Jay Vernali of Nashville Recording Studio Jay’s Place. “It’s not like anybody else’s. It’s cool.” Vernali, who’s worked with artists such as Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, recently made the comments at the close of several days spent with Rhett and a back-up studio band, recording and producing four of Rhett’s original songs.
This isn’t Rhett’s first trip to Nashville. Last August, the singer/songwriter made his debut at The Bluebird Cafe, a famous venue known for providing career moments in the lives of country greats like Taylor Swift and Keith Urban. During that same trip, he also landed a spot at Bobby’s Idle Hour, an equally renowned neighborhood bar that features both music veterans and emerging talent.
“I don’t usually get nervous,” Rhett says. “But the first time I played at those places, it was pretty scary. I guess the audience really liked it, but…” He chuckles a bit self-deprecating and adds, “They might have just done that because they pitied me.”
It’s understandable that Rhett would be nervous playing in such legendary places. Born into a family that’s been farming the high plains of Kiowa County in Southeastern Colorado for four generations, Rhett grew up living what he calls “a traditional life”, attending small town schools and participating in small town sports, school dances and church. And, when he wasn’t in school or playing sports, he was working the family farm. “I figured I’d always be farming,” he says. “Like all the Uhlands.”
But the music was always there.
Monica Uhland, Rhett’s mother and an accomplished singer herself, recalls one Christmas when Rhett was about 2 years old, and best friend and cousin, Tori, was about 3 or 4. Tori had gotten a little drum set. Rhett had gotten a wrestling Tigger, no surprise given that the Uhland men are famous for statewide championships in wrestling. “But,” as Monica says, “he kept going back over to play with the drums instead.”
Rhett agrees. “I sang with my mom in church when I was little,” he says. “And then I played with a band when I was thirteen or fourteen.” He chuckles in his typical understated way. “We thought we were pretty good.” Then, high school hit. “I didn’t have a whole lot of time in high school,” he recalls. “I was always busy. School and sports and farming…things like that.”
However, it was also during high school that Rhett began writing his own songs. The first, Always Coming Home about growing up in a small town, was written when he was around fifteen years old. The experience ignited a fire in Rhett to create his own music, and it’s a fire that grew stronger with each new song he wrote.
“I couldn’t help it, really,” he says, still unaccustomed to talking about something that, for so long, was private. “It would just come to me, I guess…some thought or something I was feeling. But I never played anywhere. I didn’t have much of a desire to share with other people what I played on my own. My music was just…my music.”
His cousin, Tori, a graphic designer and CSU communications major who designed Rhett’s logo and is promoting his music, is much less bashful. “Rhett’s a storyteller, and he chooses great stories to tell,” she says. “People love that. People listen to him--it’s so powerful. His music really shows who he is, and I think that’s amazing. It takes a lot of guts to write a song from your heart and then get up on stage and sing it in front of everyone you know.”
His cousin’s enthusiasm is just a sample of how the entire Uhland family feels. That’s a subject Rhett talks about with uncharacteristic ease. “I can’t thank my family enough for everything they’ve done,” he says, his voice warm with emotion. “My grandma—who says she’s my biggest fan and even does my set lists. My mom. My cousin, Tori. Everybody, really, has worked so hard and done so much to help me. They even let me quit farming last summer when I had a gig in town to play.” His deep, rich voice grows quiet. “I really hope this pays off—for my family, most of all.”
The more Rhett speaks about this journey he’s on, the more a picture emerges of the young man behind the music. And it’s a picture that most people with small town roots will recognize.
Far from seeing himself as others see him—a young, enormously and uniquely talented, up-and-coming country music singer/songwriter—Rhett is, and probably always will be….Rhett. Polite. Reluctant to speak of himself too highly or too much. Loyal to his family. Proud of his roots and upbringing. As quick to share the credit as he is to give thanks. Always, always grounded in where he came from and where he’s going. Mature enough to realize that, although music is the true passion of his life, it’s no guarantee, and, for that reason, he’ll continue to stay in college and study Agriculture Communications at West Texas A and M while pursuing what he wants most when, and as best as, he can.
As put by one of the many local fans who has known him for his entire life, “Rhett’s an old soul. He’s been that way since the day he was born.”
Yet, uncomfortable though Rhett may be speaking of himself and his music, once he’s on stage, another person emerges. And that person—that storyteller, that musician, that performer—grabs an audience with his voice and his lyrics, and he doesn’t let go. Whether it’s at a street dance where his music has couples two-stepping for as long as he keeps that music coming or a Veteran’s Day dinner where his song “Freedom” has even the most stoic with tears in their eyes, Rhett is one of those natural talents who’s so good that he doesn’t even know it. And when he sings, the music just comes out of him, full of heart and soul and wisdom well beyond his years.
And now, this very big talent from a very small town in the middle of the Colorado wheat fields has just taken a very big step in his journey. With four of his songs recorded, mixed and produced and four more slated for production around the end of the year, Rhett Uhland is about to put out his first record sometime in early spring.
Tori, who’s with Rhett every step of the way, sees this accomplishment in a somewhat historical light. “When we were probably between the ages of 7 and 10,” she says, “Rhett was writing songs, and I was drawing pictures to put on his album covers. It’s funny. Fast forward about 11 years, and here we are...Rhett is writing songs and singing them, and I’m on my computer designing album covers for him. But it’s not pretend anymore.”
And Rhett’s take on things? Maybe that’s best answered in a line from that first song he wrote.
No matter what this crazy life throws, And no matter how long the road…I’m always coming home.