Rather than measure the success of a song in terms of chart positions or sales, Tebey Ottoh tends to focus on how deeply the sentiments it expresses resonate with listeners and how easily they can find their own lives, loves and struggles reflected in the story it tells. While that’s important in any genre, nowhere is it more so than in country music. “If you can see the story as it happens, and see yourself in it, I think that’s what makes a good country song.”
That being the case, Tebey’s debut record – “The Wait” was a resounding success the moment he stepped out of the studio with songs like ‘Resurrected Heart’ and lead single, ‘All About Us’ in hand; songs that don’t just tell stories, but draw listeners right into the thick of them from the very first line. They are songs he’s written specifically with his own voice in mind over the past four years, many of which dwell heavily on the importance never losing sight of your dreams for an instant and on renewing your passion for life every chance you get – and with good reason. Like the characters he brings to life in the song ‘Freedom’, by stepping out as a singer in his own right for the first time in eight years, Tebey is realizing one of his own dreams and starting a new chapter in his own story as an artist that’s been left unwritten for far too long.
It’s fair to say the 29 year-old, Nashville based singer/songwriter has told some fine stories over his career – in a variety of genres and with artists including country superstars Big and Rich, Canadian pop star Shawn Desman, and international boy band phenom One Direction. But with this record, he very much wanted to showcase his own signature sound, an energetic brand of cutting edge, contemporary country with deep overtones of R&B, Soul and rock and roll that proves, without a doubt, his talents as a performer are just as highly developed as his songwriting chops.
“I really wanted to be true to myself making my own record. I didn’t want to feel like it had to fit into a certain box,” Tebey says. “I’m definitely a country singer, but I grew up listening to everything and I like to write in all genres, so I wanted to push the envelope some and make a record that fell on the far contemporary side of country.”
While his ample talents as a multi-genre songwriter make him well-suited to do so, more than anything, his desire to is rooted a love of performance he’s nurtured since first taking the stage at the Burlington, Ontario, church he attended with his family as a child. “That was the first place I actually got up the courage to get up and sing, but I never had any doubts about working in music. I always felt it’s what I was meant to do.”
Soon enough, he proved he had both the courage and the vocal chops to do so, winning the Canadian Open Country Singing Contest – the same competition that helped launch the careers of – The Wilkinson’s (now known as The Small Town Pistols), CMT Canada personality Beverly Mahood and Gill Grand – four times as a teenager. By age 15, Tebey had signed a development deal with MCA Records and moved to Nashville with his father to hone his craft as a country singer and songwriter. Less than a year later, he landed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music, a record deal with RCA Nashville, high-powered management in the person of Canadian industry heavyweight Bruce Allen, and soon found himself living his dream to the fullest, working on what was intended to be his debut record with producer Bob Rock.
On the strength of his 2002 single, ‘We Shook Hands (Man to Man)’, Tebey’s obvious potential was recognized domestically with a Canadian Radio Music Award nomination for Best New Male Country Artist, a CMT special documenting his development as an artist and a segment on CBC Radio’s ‘Sounds Like Canada’. But while that first single broke the Top 40 US Billboard Country Singles Chart and peaked at #3 in Canada, it just wasn’t enough for RCA. “If the first single doesn’t go Top 20 in the U.S., often there’s no second chance,” Tebey says, “so they decided not to release the album.”
At that point, many fledgling artists might have packed it in. Instead, Tebey picked himself up, moved back to Toronto and did whatever he could to stay in business, turning what some might have considered an irreversible loss into a promising career as a songwriter. He soon found success with #1 songs like ‘Run’, recorded by 2006 Canadian Idol runner up, Rex Goudie, for his certified Platinum-selling Sony debut Under The Lights, and ‘Let’s Go’, co-written with Shawn Desman, but it was actually a call from one of his former, Nashville based co-writers that enabled Tebey, once again, to extend his reach internationally. “It literally came out of nowhere. John Rich of Big & Rich just called me up and said, ‘Hey man, we just cut a song you and I wrote’.” The track, entitled ‘Radio’ was released on Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace, and set the stage for both a worldwide co-publishing deal with Ole Media Management and Tebey’s return to Nashville, for good, in 2007.
Since, his songs have been recorded by the likes of Canadian country artists Emerson Drive, Doc Walker, Jason Blaine, Chad Brownlee, and Aaron Pritchett among others. Tebey has also seen his songs recorded outside the country genre, by pop acts like One Direction, FLO RIDA, Shawn Desman and The Veronicas. Recently, he scored his first #1 single in the UK, ‘All About Tonight’, which was performed by Pixie Lott, and garnered a nomination at the 2012 BRIT Awards for Single of the Year. Tebey also has two songs on the current One Direction album “Take Me Home”, which has sold in excess of 6 million copies worldwide.
As grateful as he is for his songwriting success, Tebey never abandoned his original dream of stepping out and taking centre stage himself. “In order to be a successful songwriter you really have to focus on it, so I literally put my recording career on the back burner.” It was a necessary compromise, he says: “It just so happened that circumstances took me away from being an artist and made me focus on my songwriting in order to make a living.”
Tebey’s debut album, and aptly titled “The Wait”, was released in December of 2012. It spurned three singles, including the hit runaway hit “Somewhere In The Country”, which peaked at #11 on the Canadian Country Airplay Charts. In March of 2013, Tebey released “Till It’s Gone”, the first single from his sophomore album “Two”, which is expected in stores this fall. “Till It’s Gone”, co-written by Tommy Lee James (Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Martina McBride), has since gone on to spend an incredible three weeks in the Top 10, and become his second consecutive hit.
With a couple of hit singles under his belt, in the spring of 2013, Tebey embarked on the CMT Hitlist Tour as the opening act for Emerson Drive and Doc Walker. “It was an amazing experience. Both Doc (Walker) and Emerson Drive have recorded my songs in the past. So it was very nice of them to return the favor and let me open a bunch of shows for them on this tour. We even got to play a couple arenas.”
Although it’s been some time coming, for those who like their country with a fuse of pop rock and a little soul for good measure, Tebey’s music is definitely for them. “These are songs I just felt were right for what I wanted to do, and when I realized that, it brought me back to the studio. I have this strong hankering to get up and play, and this is just the beginning. My job going forward is to show people I’m here to stay as an artist as well as a songwriter. I see no reason why I can’t be fully committed to both. I’m in this for the long haul.”