It’s International Women’s Day when I first get on the phone with Del Schueler, which seems a little serendipitous. A first-semester Junior at Belmont University and a singer-songwriter on the rise in Nashville, Schueler radiates the kind of warmth you feel only around your closest girlfriends. “I want to be making music that inspires people to love others,” she says of her style, which is closest to the early Taylor Swift, with a twist of Kelsea Ballerini. “And to love themselves, too. I just want young girls to know they’re created beautifully.”
While Ballerini famously sang “I Hate Love Songs,” Ohio native Schueler fearlessly leans into the genre and all that comes with it. “I definitely think people look down on [songs about love] sometimes,” she says, “but I think the best songwriters are the ones who are authentic. No matter how that looks.”
Authenticity, it seems, is key to Schueler’s process. There’s a distinct lack of aggressive branding when she speaks about her songs, and it’s honestly refreshing. In place of a canned marketing pitch, she talks freely about her knack for “marrying” lyrics to melody, her musical chemistry with her family (with an excellent ‘80s music cover band origin story), and her “lucky” acceptance into the highly competitive Belmont songwriting program.
While I was initially surprised by her lack of a rehearsed personal pitch, I realized that was the exact point. Del Schueler is the real deal. The lyrics to her single “Scars on My Heart,” she says, were “so real in that moment, that each word I wrote was exactly parallel to what I was feeling.” She wasn’t writing lyrics. Instead, she says, “I was telling the story of what just happened to me.” Schueler, it seems, isn’t writing music to climb the ladder or get to L.A. – she’s writing a journal.
Inspired: You’ve said your family got you into music. Can you tell me a little bit about where you started out?
DS: So my family – we’re all definitely into music. My dad has been in an ‘80s cover band since before I was born, so I grew up going to festivals and dancing in front of his band [in Cincinnati]. And then when I got a little bit older, I started showing an interest in singing, so he was like, “Well why don’t you come up on stage and sing with me?” And my brothers and I would go on stage with him and just sing.
We sang “Come Sail Away” [by Styx] with him – that was like our family song. I just fell in love with being on stage, I just loved it. Then my oldest brother Drew went to Belmont so I went to go visit him, and I fell in love with the campus. At that point I was like, “I can’t believe you can go to school for music and actually have a career in doing what I love, which is writing and singing.” So I applied to Belmont, and was like, “I’m gonna go study music.” So that’s what I did.
Was that your first memory of “Yes, I want to do this?”
I knew I definitely wanted to do something in entertainment. My senior year I was actually looking at schools to be a TV broadcaster – I thought it would be so fun. But then senior year, I got a ukulele for Christmas, and I wrote this song – it’s actually never been released. But I showed it to my parents and they were like, “This is actually really good. You should consider this as a career.” They made me play it for my aunts and uncles. At first it seemed like a dream, but then it seemed kind of attainable because people were actually responding to it. And I thought, “maybe this is something I can actually pursue.”
So did those ‘80’s origins have any influence on your music? Because your music is sort of several different genres – a little pop, a little country, a little singer-songwriter.
I’m still working on finding my exact sound. It started off very singer-songwriter. I wrote my first couple on a ukulele. And after that, I started playing guitar. So it sounded very old-school Taylor Swift. After that I decided I was kind of into pop, so my brother – who’s my producer – does a lot more “pop” sounds. So he would take my songs and add a lot of pop elements, and I loved the way it sounds. The 80s rock definitely influenced my writing style, but I don’t write necessarily like that [laughs]. That’s what got me into music. It just moves you a certain way. It makes you want to dance.
Is that something you aim for in your own songwriting? What vibe do you want to give your audience?
The first couple songs I wrote were just super vulnerable. Straight stories that happened in my life. I was super open and honest and I wanted people to be able to relate to what happened to me, and have a song that didn’t hide any emotions. Just super clear “this is how I felt,” and even though it’s hard sometimes, this is exactly how it feels to go through a break-up or to be in a relationship that people don’t approve of. The next song I wrote was actually for a class assignment – “Kiss You at the Red Light,” which is my recent single. It was more of a fun, lighter mood because my other ones were a bit deeper. I try to go back-and-forth between [raw, emotional songs] and “let’s just have fun” songs that you want to bump in the car with your friends.
So what gets you inspired? What motivates you to stay up late, planning, creating, writing?
First off, my faith. I’m a Christian and I really enjoy just leaning into God and just knowing, if this is my purpose and my plan, that it motivates me to be the best I can be. Also, it’s International Women’s Day! I have really awesome friends at Belmont that support me, no matter what. They work hard at whatever they do, and a lot of them aren’t in music. But they work hard to better the world – they just want to help other people. That inspires me because I want to write music that inspires people, too – music that connects people and helps them know they’re not alone. If I can help people cope with what they went through, or even just relate my songs, that would mean the world to me.
Do you get a lot of feedback like that?
Well last night this woman came up to me after my show, and she was like “my husband and I are staying in this hotel, we just came down to get a drink and watch a band,” (and I sang a song called “Always on My Mind”) and she was like, “my mom had passed away in August, and I loved hearing that. She’s always on my mind. I know that’s not exactly what it’s about, but that song really connected with me. I loved hearing it.” I was just blown away by that. That’s why I do what I do, because you never know who it can touch. Things like that inspire me. That literally brought tears to my eyes, and I thought, “I have to keep writing and doing what I’m doing because it clearly affects people.” That’s the best part.
Especially in the singer-songwriter genre where the content is vulnerable and expressing big emotions, people can be really critical and quick to call things cheesy. Do you identify with any of that?
While there may be a lot of girls writing break-up songs, if it’s true and authentic to what you are going through and it parallels with your life, no one can say it’s not good or true or real. Because that’s literally what I went through. And you can’t take that away from me. Not everyone has to like my music, but as long as I can write what’s true to me then I know that it’s good enough for me. For the rest of time, people are always going to get their hearts broken and they’re always going to be falling in love. So it’s a universal emotion that will always be around. The love songs and the break-up songs will always keep coming out because it’s always happening.
So nowadays, when everyone is singing and everyone wants to be a songwriter, how do you differentiate yourself?
Especially being in Nashville, everyone wants to be somebody, which is awesome. I think my writing is unique because I’m a storyteller, and I’m really good at explaining situations that I went through personally. I think that, with my brother as my producer, we do a really good job at communicating that together. And even just being a songwriting major, I’m really lucky that I’ve got that. A lot of people want to be in the industry, but I’m going to have a degree that says “I’ve learned how to write songs.” Even Belmont itself is very cool – it’s very respected in Nashville and I’m making so many connections here.
That’s got be a serious edge in the industry. Especially now, when every artist seems to have an army of songwriters helping them develop a certain image.
I feel like in 2019 a lot of artists are into the whole “sex appeal” and being scandalous thing – and don’t get me wrong, I listen to that music – but it’s not really who I am. That’s just not me, and I don’t think it ever will be. I think a lot of artists will use looks and songs that aren’t necessarily true to who they are because it might sell well, and I try to be as authentic and true to myself as I can. I mean if that’s your thing, go for it! It’s just not really my thing.
As far as making music that matters, what matters to you at the moment?
One of the things I love the most about Nashville versus, like, being in L.A., is people say the “Nashville way” is building each other up together – rising together – rather than stepping on each other to get to the top, which is so important to me. Being at Belmont, there are so many people around me who want to do the same thing as me. And I’ve been stepped on before, and people have looked down on me or used me to get ahead, and I just don’t want to do that. I want to rise with them, and help them out. What matters is loving each other, accepting each other, and just being a kind person. In today’s world there are so many different sides people take, and so much back-and-forth. If we can all agree on the same simple fact that we’re all human beings and we make mistakes, we can just love each other and accept each other for our faults and flaws. We all have them.
While Schueler claims to have faults like the rest of us, it’s safe to say she’s having an especially good year. Her latest single “One Thing Right” was released in March, and her full EP is out now on her website. With her infectious energy and genuine passion for songwriting, it’s clear she isn’t about to take a break. “That project has been going on for a while,” she says of her brand new EP, “so I’m excited to get those songs out and close that door. And then start on a new one!”