By Sarah Guinn
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Grant Landis is shy initially, standing with his left arm across his back to clutch the right.
But that shyness fades quickly as he picks up a guitar. Sitting in the living room of his Joplin home, he strums intermittently on the guitar, his hands just big enough to jump from chord to chord.
At only 13 years old, Landis has already recorded tracks in Nashville with music producers who say they see a promising path ahead of him in the music industry.
This week Landis is scheduled to meet members of Shel, a band from Fort Collins, Colo., who will produce a video for his song "In This Moment With You."
The music industry is arguably among the most difficult to break into. Thousands of hopefuls chase their dreams of stardom, creating intense competition. But when country music recording artist and music producer Rich McCready, a Seneca native, heard Landis' voice, he knew it was something special.
Landis started singing at church and later performed at a school talent show where he began to discover his talent. In the past year, he has started learning guitar chords and getting a feel for melodies and music.
"It's all coming together now," said his father, Mike Landis.
While browsing the Internet earlier this year, Grant Landis found out that producers of the popular TV series "The X Factor" were holding auditions in Kansas City. The show requires contestants to be at least 12 years old, so he decided to take a shot at it.
His parents thought about it and agreed to let him audition, marking another step into the music world for Grant.
Landis made it through several singing rounds during the summer auditions but didn't make it through the TV rounds, his father said. His family brought him back to Joplin, and he continued to pursue his dream, with the help of McCready.
"I hear so many singers," McCready said. "Producers hear a lot of singers who can sing but don't have a great studio voice. When I heard Grant, as a producer, there was a certain quality there -- this is raw talent."
McCready passed along Landis' name to award-winning Nashville songwriter Brian Maher, who wrote "Mary's Song (Oh My My)" for Taylor Swift's debut album. Soon after, Maher made a trip to Seneca to meet Landis and to write songs. The trip resulted in three songs, which Landis later traveled to Nashville to record.
"I hadn't been more impressed since (working) with Taylor Swift," Maher said. "He sang like a pro, without any experience."
In regards to Landis' young age, Maher knows that he is still a kid who enjoys having fun. But in the studio, he is all business, Maher said.
He describes Landis' demeanor as initially coy, but one that "has an effect on you once you get to know him."
Landis said it was a "fun experience" writing and working with Maher. The fact that Maher has penned a a No. 1 country song -- Justin Moore's "Small Town USA" -- only added to the thrill for Landis.
Landis makes jokes when asked what he thinks about the possibility of big changes being ahead of him.
"I've always wanted to live in a mansion," he said, still strumming his guitar. "It'd be weird going from regular school to having a tutor and not going to Walmart without getting noticed."
Prayers from parents
The Nashville trip left Landis' parents doing a lot of soul searching and praying that this was the right direction for their son.
"Just because we're scared, as his mom and dad, doesn't mean we can't (allow him to) pursue that dream," said Mike Landis.
Mike Landis described his son's musicianship as a "God-given talent." He said the path his son is wandering down is something he is figuring out on his own, because there are no other musicians in the family.
As for the future, Landis' raw talent will only get better as he gets older, McCready said.
"It's really good when you run into situations like this," McCready said. "It doesn't happen every day when someone walks up to your studio and blows you away."
Maher agrees. He said Landis' is a rarity compared with other singers his age. He also said he believes the teen has a "chance to be a superstar."
As he brushed his brown, side-swept bangs aside, Landis said he enjoys his drama class at South Middle School, and that he and his classmates have a scary movie in the works right now.
"He's a great kid, great student," Mike Landis said. "We just think he is way ahead of the curve. There's a lot of people chasing music and ... everything in life is a crap shoot, but you have to pursue it or else you never know."