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 – scheduled for release in Fall 2012 – 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 28-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 icon Shawn Desman and UK R&B/soul songstress, Pixie Lott. 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 this 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 Wilkinsons, Beverly Mahood and Gill Grand – four times as a teenager. By age 16, Tebey had signed a development deal with Nashville-based, 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 singles 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, Tara Oram,
Jason Blaine, Shane Yellowbird and Doc Walker. Tebey has also worked with A-List production teams and
both country and pop songwriting heavyweights like The Runners, Steve Mac, Andrew Frampton, Rivers
Rutherford, Neil Thrasher and fellow Canadian Gordie Sampson. Additionally, he’s had hits in multiple
genres worldwide, including his co-write with Teairra Mari, ‘Cause A Scene’ (featuring U.S. Hip hop
sensation FLO RIDA) and, most recently, 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 British Single of the Year.
As grateful as he is for his success, Tebey has 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.”
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, this record is well worth the wait. “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
Recorded at The Drive Shed Studios in Toronto in 2011 and co-produced by Tebey and Jason Barry, the
album features the kind of songs many other artists would likely love to record for their own records, but
the immediacy Tebey brings to them would be truly hard to match. Whether he’s letting loose on a fun up
tempo guitar driven song like current single ‘I’m In The Mood’, or a sorrowful ballad like ‘If I Didn’t Know
Better’, co-written with Tommy Lee James (Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Martina Mcbride), Tebey’s songs
speak for themselves. Then again, they always have. Those he’s recorded here, however, written with his
own voice in mind, do so more candidly and passionately than ever before.