"My mom’s approval is the biggest test; Mama has to love you if it’s going to work out.” 

By Jorie Nicole McDonald
Riley Green
Riley Green Interview
| Credit: Getty Images / Daniel Knighton

You’d be hard-pressed to turn on country radio and not hear Riley Green’s tune, “I Wish Grandpas Never Died.” It’s a heartfelt ode to Southern culture, to both of his late grandfathers, and to the city of Birmingham, where Southern Living recently met the country music artist for a chat before a live show–one of his first since the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions.

“I would imagine the entertainment industry has been hit as hard as anybody by this pandemic,” he said. “I didn’t even have internet at my house in Jacksonville, Alabama, before the quarantine, so I’ve had to learn a lot about technology over the last few months to stay connected with fans. I’ve really missed being face-to-face with people.”

Starting a new YouTube series is one of the ways Green has remained close with fans in the last few months. “It’s called the Golden Saw Series,” he explained, with obvious excitement for the project. “Golden Saw” was the name that he and his great-grandfather gave to a family home they converted into a music hall fifteen years ago. “He’d invite people over to watch me and a bunch of local musicians play country music when I was about 12, and it became a weekly habit. It’s such a memorable place for me; I wanted to give it new life with this YouTube series and get the next generation involved.”

But even inspiring new projects can’t distract Green from his songwriting. “When people ask me what my favorite song is, I always tell them ‘the last one I wrote,’ he said—and he’s not exaggerating much. He recently released a new EP titled If It Wasn’t For Trucks, featuring five new tracks fans are now buzzing about.

“I was really excited to release ‘Better Than Me,’ which is a song I wrote about everything going on in the world right now,” Green said. “And the fact that Randy Owen sang on it with me makes it really special.”

The prolific writer is aiming to release a full record by the first of next year, though he’s the first to admit that he doesn’t give much weight to deadlines and goal setting. “I was never very goal oriented, which is probably why my college career didn’t work out,” laughed Green. “But I’ve had so many accomplishments over the last two years that I never thought would happen.”

Those unplanned accomplishments include a #1 song, gold record, platinum record, Grand Ole Opry debut, a tour with Jason Aldean and Brad Paisley, and the ACM New Male Artist of the Year award. “It’s pretty crazy to think about all the stuff that’s happened—things that were never a thought in my mind,” Green said. “So I think I’m going to stick with that program. I’m not going to worry about goals. I’m going to write songs that people can relate to and keep being myself.”

As much as he enjoys writing and performing his music, his close friends would argue there’s something Green is even more passionate about. “From the time I was a kid I always loved hunting and fishing,” the artist said. “There’s something about being out in the woods that just gets me. There are moments—like watching the sun come up in the middle of a swamp in Arkansas—I struggle to imagine how anybody wouldn’t enjoy that.” 

Green has recently channeled his love of the outdoors into a digital series called Realtree Road Trips, where he and his friends travel America’s dirt roads, highways, and byways sharing all aspects of the hunting experience. “Playing country music is a great way to make a living, but it can be very stressful,” he explains. “Being outdoors is the best way I know how to relax—away from crowds and cell service. It feels good to disconnect sometimes.”

Nothing keeps this country star more grounded than a visit home to North Alabama. “I still have a house in Jacksonville where I’m from, even though I have every reason in the world to move to Nashville,” said Green. “Every corner of that small town is a memory for me, so I think I’ll end up living there forever. It’s where I’m from and it’s who I am.”

Green’s close-knit family still live in Jacksonville. “I recently wrote a song called, ‘That’s What I’ve Been Told,’ and it has a line in it that says ‘never love a girl your mama don’t,’” Green says with characteristic humor. “That’s a pretty realistic line for me. My mom’s approval is the biggest test; Mama has to love you if it’s going to work out.” 

Besides Mama’s blessing, Green says there’s another pathway to his heart, and that’s biscuits and gravy: “My grandmother Nancy and my Grandmother Jean used to take turns making it for me on Fridays before football games when I was in high school. My Grandmother Nancy made the best biscuits, and my Grandmother Jean made the best gravy.  I always struggled to tell them that. But one year for my birthday I got them to combine forces—that was a special day.”