Bailey Zimmerman 'Religiously' searches for love and stardom in country's mainstream

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If streaming data continues to trend as it has in the past 18 months, soon, all emerging stars will, like 23-year-old Bailey Zimmerman, have a strong lineage to country music in their mainstream pop-aimed development.

The only tradition that will remain from Hank Williams to the crooner who is clad in hole-ridden skinny jeans, a new diamond-encrusted gold logo chain, a Justin Bieber T-shirt and a Whiskey Jam concert series trucker cap while speaking with The Tennessean at Warner Music's Nashville offices on Music Row is an ear-warming, harmonizing tenor.

Zimmerman is fond of playing catch with his beloved Labrador retriever Marley Mae, but he's not fond of two other things many would consider key to being a top-tier country music artist: boot-cut jeans and cowboy boots.

"Nothing against either of them, but my legs don't look right in either of them," Zimmerman deadpans.

Five years have elapsed since the Louisville, Illinois, native almost married a high school sweetheart. It's only been three since he penned his first successful song. And only one month has elapsed since he drank a beer from a Nike Air Force One sneaker onstage in Sydney while opening on a nearly yearlong tour with Morgan Wallen, HARDY and ERNEST.

Bailey Zimmerman performs onstage at the 2023 Stagecoach Festival in Indio, California.
Bailey Zimmerman performs onstage at the 2023 Stagecoach Festival in Indio, California.

Given his age and how swiftly his life has evolved, it's equally as challenging for him to fall out of young love as it is to learn to craft No. 1 singles.

Given that his recent back-to-back country radio chart-toppers, "Fall in Love" and "Rock and a Hard Place," pale in comparison to the number of times his heart's been broken, Zimmerman has so much learning still left to accomplish about his art, career and life in general.

"Religiously," his 16-track debut album out on May 12, is a snap-shot look into Zimmerman's mindset amid his seemingly overnight evolution.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was looking to work alongside his greatest inspiration, his "genius" brother John, a metal fabricating entrepreneur.

The first time Zimmerman attempted to sing online was in October 2020. He and John were preparing to partner on a truck-lifting business so Zimmerman could quit his job on a natural gas pipeline.

As Zimmerman waited for his brother to deliver parts for their new business, he absentmindedly began singing Black Stone Cherry's 2011 rock single "Stay" on TikTok.

Within hours, his unbeknownst "talent" was discovered by a longtime friend, Warner Chappell Nashville-signed songwriter Gavin Lucas.

Less than two years later, Zimmerman was himself signed to Warner Music Nashville, and "Fall in Love" was in the midst of a 26-week run on Billboard's Country Airplay charts.

When asked about what keeps him grounded about another career highlight, touring with ERNEST, HARDY and Wallen, his answer is fascinating.

Bailey Zimmerman arrives for the CMT Awards on April 2 in Austin, Texas. His debut album, "Religiously," is out on May 12.
Bailey Zimmerman arrives for the CMT Awards on April 2 in Austin, Texas. His debut album, "Religiously," is out on May 12.

"I'm just trying to write songs that explain how cheating, lying, one-night stands and how texting and social media direct messaging can evolve a relationship from like to love to hooking up in under an hour sometimes," Zimmerman says.

On album track "Forget About You," he sings:

"We were 19, chasing the lightning / We were Colorado high didn’t get a goodbye / Just a note on the fridge / And them words that ya said / Still stuck in my head like glue / I can forgive, yeah I forgive / But I can’t forget about you,"

The era of "boyfriend country," where 40-year-old men sing sensitive homages to the joys of suburban family life, does not apply to artists half their age.

He's also the son of a mother who recently re-married. Couple that with the modern era and an endearing frailty is revealed. Dig deeper into how that crosses into his understanding of hookup culture and it demonstrates more of who Zimmerman is at his core.

"We can't value dating or relationships [as we once did] anymore because cellphones and social media have [accelerated] everything," he says. "One day you're in love with someone, and the next day, you or your partner is scrolling on social media and you've been replaced."

Zimmerman, unlike so many other young men who are content with "a woman in every bed" replacing "a chicken in every pot" as a campaign promise-turned-lifestyle pledge, has primarily written an album that positions him as the world's foremost lothario, entirely capable of achieving seemingly impossible — and trust-driven — youthful love connections.

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To continue the metaphor of a campaigning politician, he notes that the album's title track highlights that he's never cheated and "always sticks it out, through thick and thin."

He then lists other song titles on his album, like "Fall in Love" and "Pain Won't Last."

He makes a convincing argument for his honesty.

Bailey Zimmerman's Warner-released debut album "Religiously" includes 16 tracks.
Bailey Zimmerman's Warner-released debut album "Religiously" includes 16 tracks.

However, Zimmerman's also the same person who cuts himself off when he makes another strongly worded statement.

"I don't know how to write songs."

Zimmerman's credited with writing 11 of the album's 16 songs.

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The burgeoning country star is perhaps honest to a fault.

He may yet tell a lie to adjust another political campaign promise from yesteryear.

However, it's a small one he's quickly rectifying.

There are over two dozen credited songwriters on "Religiously," which highlights that for what Zimmerman may not have known as a neophyte songwriter upon his breakout TikTok-led popularity, he's learning quickly.

For the 2021-released "Never Comin' Home," he describes writing the song in a process where verse preceded chorus, with a solo to follow, coupled with a bridge.

When breaking down the 2023 album track "Is This Really Over?" (a collaboration with seasoned song-crafters ERNEST, Chandler Walters, Mark Holman, Rhys Rutherford and Cody Lohden) he describes sitting with Waters and Lohden at Big Loud's 16th Avenue S offices and while starting to pen something attached to a steel guitar lick Waters had been strumming, encountering Rutherford, the son of Nashville Songwriter Hall of Famer Rivers Rutherford. Rhys is an aspiring artist who just happened to be stopping by.

The trio then saw Grammy-nominated songwriter Holman, who came by after a writing session was canceled. Then, finally, ERNEST — the only Big Loud-signed artist of the lot hanging out in Big Loud's offices — appeared at the front door. Putting one, plus one, plus one, plus one more together, he offered, "Fellas, can I help write this song?"

Bailey Zimmerman aims to continue his surprising post-COVID country music stardom with his debut album "Religiously"
Bailey Zimmerman aims to continue his surprising post-COVID country music stardom with his debut album "Religiously"

The song was crafted within 15 minutes.

Indeed, in Music City, a village is raising a rising star who a decade ago was only a child.

Zimmerman's album is awash in guitar chords that lend themselves well to country music's youthful balladeer traditions.

"Hearing 40,000 people rock out to my honest emotions and sometimes cry when they sing them back to me is insane," says the performer.

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Impressively, within three years, his new-to-songwriting tracks have joined songs like Wallen's "Sand in My Boots," HARDY's "Give Heaven Some Hell" and ERNEST's "Unhang the Moon" as some of mainstream country's most emotionally powerful tracks.

Zimmerman is eager to become the vaunted smaller stage and massive stadium headliner that Wallen, HARDY and ERNEST will all be by 2023's close.

"I have stopped second-guessing my future because I feel confident about myself and the humbling blessings I've received," he says. "I'm doing what makes me happiest and so many people love that."

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Rising star Bailey Zimmerman releases 'Religiously,' his debut album