Justin Adams once figured that the football gridiron would serve as his path to success. But somewhere during his college tenure at Northern Iowa University, where he played college football, that script got flipped. “Music kind of took over,” says Adams, who’s now a Nashville-based singer/songwriter. “I had played in bands in high school and I started writing songs later on in college. That was always second nature to me. I moved to Nashville in 2010 and I’ve been writing and performing since that time.”
A couple years back, Adams released a self-titled EP which clocked in at No. 4 on the iTunes Country Albums chart. Now, he’s following that up with a new EP, “Horizon,” featuring the lead single, the summery anthem “How It Rolls.” The “Horizon” EP is set for release on May 11, while the single is available now.
Adams co-wrote four of the EP’s eight selections, though he did not have a hand in penning “How It Rolls.” Instead, that tune came from ace writers Brad Tursi of Old Dominion and Eric Arjes. The feel-good song reminded Adams of carefree summers in his hometown outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “I could relate to it in a personal way,” he says. “It’s one of those songs that just hit me immediately after they played it for me. I loved the melody and the feel of the song.”
Since moving to the Music City, Adams has absorbed plenty of lessons in melody and lyrics from veteran writers like Casey Beathard, Mark Nesler and Rivers Rutherford. Nesler and Beathard, Adams notes, have been particularly helpful and encouraging mentors. With Beathard, he also enjoys a unique football connection. Beathard’s dad Bob was a successful NFL general manager while his son C.J. spent the past year as a backup quarterback, and sometimes starter, for the San Francisco 49ers.
“Just to be in a room with [Beathard] is amazing,” Adams says. “He’s just a good human being and it’s fun being together with him. It’s great that all of those guys would take time to write with me. They are always willing to help out. Everybody thinks that they’re pretty good when they get to Nashville, but then you watch these writers and you realize that you have to really get your game on. I ask a lot of questions and try to learn as much as I can.”
Adams continues to make strides as a songwriter, as he co-wrote the current single by Granger Smith, “You’re in It.” To help kick off the “Horizon” release, Adams performed a songwriters round in Nashville with Nesler, Trent Willmon and Clint Daniels, and headlined two other venues during the release week. With Willmon, Adams wrote “Fly” for the new EP, while Nesler also has a cut on “Horizon,” co-writing “Don’t Hold It Against Me” with two other writers.
It’s hardly surprising that Adams credits his football experience for developing his strong work ethic and stick-to-it attitude. “I did find that helpful,” Adams says. “I think the competitive drive is the same in football or music. When you’re playing sports, especially football at the college level, you learn things like time management and being goal-oriented. You realize how important it is to be part of a team.” He adds earnestly, “I wouldn’t trade that time in college for anything. I’m thankful to have that experience.”
Though football remains in the rear view, Adams hasn’t abandoned sports altogether. When time allows, he likes to hit any one of the abundant golf courses that dot the Nashville landscape, often with his fellow writers.
He even conjures up a sports reference as he reflects on his new life as a budding artist. “When I first moved here, I really felt like a rookie,” Adams laughs. “I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t know anybody in Nashville and that was hard for a while. It’s a crazy business,” he adds, “but we stayed with it. And now, I’m having the time of my life.”