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Five years ago, most people in Nashville would have looked at Michael “MT” Tyler and thought, “Why isn’t this kid in school today?”  After all, he was just a teenager, guitar in hand, wandering up Music Row like a tourist hoping to glimpse some superstar on the way to a writing session.

What these onlookers didn’t know was that Tyler was actually on his way to a co-write himself. He was just 13 when he made his first major industry connection, with powerhouse producer Michael Knox. Just a few years later he would earn several notches on his songwriter belt, including Jason Aldean’s “Laid Back” and Dierks Bentley’s Platinum-selling, chart-busting smash, “Somewhere On A Beach.”

None of this would have surprised the folks who knew MT back home in Thayer, Missouri, population 2,000. They’d first noted his precocious talent in fifth grade. They saw how he’d learned the practical value of hard work from his father, whether felling trees or roofing houses.

From his mother’s side of the family he received the gift of music as well as insight into its practical side through her work managing local acts. As a kid, his granddad and uncle would drop by to jam with family and friends. His older brother Ryan showed MT the guitar basics.

Of course, lots of kids try to emulate hotshot guitar players or singers. And true, MT did start playing in bands when he was in junior high. But something less glamorous drew him to Nashville.

“I never wanted to be a lead guitarist,” said MT.  “But I always knew that there’d come a point when I’d want to be a solo artist.”

That epiphany came in sixth grade. Up until then he’d been a complete rock ‘n’ roller, but then one day his uncle played a compilation CD while they were driving around in his old Jeep.

“It was Johnny Cash, Alabama, Mel McDaniel and all these other great singers,” MT recalls. “I could feel even then how relatable country music was.  These songs were about real life.”

So he studied the craft. Where his friends were watching their favorite singers on CMT, MT would memorize the names of the writers credited with each song. “I dreamed about seeing my name up there too,” he says.

And he started writing. After several errant efforts, he came up with a song that felt pretty good, which he titled ’Best Part Of Me.’ Though he was just 12 years old or so, he knew that the logical next step to take would be to send it to Michael Knox, whose name he’d seen on album credits as Aldean’s producer. Against all odds, Knox invited him out to Nashville for a meeting.

They crossed paths at Tootsies, the fabled honky-tonk in Downtown Nashville. The young artist took the stage, sang an entire set of Aldean songs and closed with several of his own. Impressed, Knox advised him to go back to Missouri and send him at least one new song every month. This went on, with Knox mentoring and MT learning, until they agreed it was time to relocate full-time to Music City. MT was 17.

Since then he’s won acceptance as one of country music’s best new artists to watch. But that’s just the beginning of this story. With 317, his debut album for Reviver Records, he steps forward as a singer and performer.

How did he know he was ready? “I stopped thinking about what Jason or Dierks would do with a song I wrote,” he answers. “I started thinking about what I would say – and I wanted to perform.  I learned to relax onstage and to be authentic.  I learned from guys like Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Keith Urban and knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

The variety and depth of the songs on 317 are undeniable. He stirs small-town memories over a thundering backbeat on “Here’s To The Nights,” rambles amusingly through the absence of memories of how he was “Crazy Last Night,” simmers steamy passions on “Long Drive Home,” paints vivid pictures of red skies over red clay in “Songs About Missouri,” achieves a level of reflection rare for writers double his age on the wistful “Interstate,” plants the first seeds of lifelong love on “Hey Mama” and on his first single, “They Can’t See,” opens the door toward romance with an unforgettable opening line: “These stained-glass eyes are always praying for me.”

Word is spreading rapidly about MT. Having learned the ropes of the business early, he’s already mapped out clear goals for the years to come. But still being young even after coming so far, he knows that music is more about feeling than anything else.

“Music is my whole life,” he insists. “And having people love your music is more important than anything else. That’s what keeps me going. I mean, I’m not gonna sit at a desk somewhere. There is no Plan B. This is what I was born to do.”