In the days leading up to the release of his self-titled debut full-length album, “Yellowstone” actor Luke Grimes didn’t know if he was a singer who acts or an actor who sings. He paused for a minute to think about it and said, “I’m an artist who creates.”

When Grimes recorded the 13-song project with Dave Cobb in Nashville last year, he was a temporarily out-of-work actor. The writers’ strike, which spanned 148 days, meant production on “Yellowstone” was halted, and Grimes had a large, unexpected chunk of uninterrupted time to write and record his album. He co-wrote 10 of the 13 songs. He had never co-written a song until he got to work on the project.

“I didn’t even know co-writing was a thing,” Grimes said, explaining that he believed he would have to write 12 or 13 songs for the project alone when he signed his record deal. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, how long is that going to take, and what am I going to say?'”

Grimes soon learned how Music Row worked and embraced the collaborative nature of country music. He started doing co-writes and immediately fell in love with the process. He approximates he’s spent five months out of the last two years in Nashville writing songs three to four days a week.

“That has been the coolest thing that’s happened to me in a long time, discovering that (songwriting) community,” Grimes said. “I honestly think if none of the other stuff worked out, if I could get a spot on Music Row and just write songs for the rest of my life, I’d be pretty happy.”

Grimes’ self-titled debut album is out now via Universal Music Group Nashville.

The actor, who plays Kayce Dutton on “Yellowstone,” said it doesn’t feel real that he has a major label recording deal and a full-length album because even though he’s been working on it a couple of years, it still seems like it came about “pretty fast.” He called the process “a joy” and just hopes the music connects with people so he can make another album.”

Grimes lives in Montana with his wife, Brazilian model Bianca Rodrigues Grimes. But his life hasn’t always been so glamorous. He grew up the son of a Pentecostal pastor in Dayton, Ohio. He played music in church, spent the summers of his youth at a church camp, and his parents mortgaged their home to send him to acting school in New York City.

By his mid-20s, Grimes had landed a role alongside Mischa Barton and Bruce Willis in “Assassination of a High School President.” A few years later, he worked with Liam Neeson in “Taken 2.” He portrayed United States Navy SEAL Marc Lee, who was killed in action in 2006, in “American Sniper” and Christian Grey’s brother, Elliot, in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise.

While building his acting career in Los Angeles, Grimes also played in an alt-country band in the area. His roommates were from Memphis, Tennessee, and the group even had a steel guitar player. After the band ended, he still carried his guitar with him and wrote songs for fun, but he never planned to make music professionally.

Then, Grimes’ father died. Everything changed.

“That’s when I decided, ‘You know what, life’s short. I can’t be so worried about what people think that I don’t do what I want to do,'” he said. “So, I just said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ I think Dad would be very proud.”

Now at 40 years old, Grimes feels like he’s starting over again as he jumps into the professional side of the music business.

“I’m not a spring chicken,” he said. “It’s weird to be brand new. I’ve been acting for 20 years, so to start at the very beginning kind of was a pretty vulnerable place to be.”

But Nashville’s music community never made him feel like a misfit. His first songwriting appointment was with industry veterans Rhett Akins and Lee Thomas Miller. Grimes walked in and apologized for being there. He told them he knew he didn’t deserve to write with such accomplished songwriters, asked them to go easy on him and told them he had no idea how co-writing appointments work.

“They’re like, ‘Oh, we do this every day. It’s no big deal,'” Grimes recalled. “They immediately calmed me down.”

Akins and Miller told Grimes it was great if they wrote something they loved, and if they didn’t, it was nice to have met. The actor was able to relax into the environment and get to work.

While the first song he co-wrote didn’t make it onto the album – the third song did. After thinking about it, Grimes discovered he co-wrote half the album on his first song-writing trip to Music City.

“I think it’s because I threw out all of my best ideas right away,” he said.

Grimes wrote “Ain’t Dead Yet” with Aaron Raitiere and said it’s the most fun song of the collection. “Oh Ohio,” the most personal song on the album, was born during a writing appointment with Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall. Ryan Adams’ song “Oh My Sweet Carolina” inspired the track because it was a melancholy song about home that Grimes loved. He described the song as a “breakup with home,” which he always knew had to happen.

“But it’s like a relationship,” he said. “There’s bad parts, but there’s parts that you love and that you miss. ‘Oh Ohio’ was sort of my breakup song with Ohio.”

Grimes’ first show as a singer was in front of a crowd of 11,000 people in Montana. A few days later, he played Stagecoach and then for 15,000 fans at the Under The Big Sky Festival in Whitefish, Montana.

“I had never played a coffee shop before that,” Grimes said. “I had never done a round. I had never gotten up in front of five people and played. I know how blessed I am to even have this opportunity and how hard people work for it.”

In one year, Grimes played his first show, headlined his first tour, performed at music festivals and recorded his first album.

“It felt like a fever dream,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the writers’ strike, I couldn’t have done half of that. This year won’t look like that. It was nice to build what we could when we could.”

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