Interview: Chris Young

lisa pikaard enjoys saving water by drinking beer, especially with Chris Young…

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With so many country artists flitting on and off Top 20 charts and pop radio, it is almost as though a new genre of music, a pop country mash-up, has begun to take over both music genres leaving little room on the charts for true, Southern soulful singers. Chris Young, however, has been determined to not let that stop him and it hasn’t. He has truly carved out a place for himself and has become a mainstay in country music with his deep, rich baritone voice that easily evokes emotions from you that you didn’t even know you had.

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Chris Young may be a tall, ruggedly handsome, dare I say sexy man, who looks like he can build a house, fix the truck, and do all the things that a manly man should be able to do… but then he opens his mouth and a voice pours forth from him that is both pure and beautiful, almost angelic. It is a voice that is easy to imagine ringing loudly in a church. His passion is palpable in each and every one of his songs.

Although I have dwelled on emotion, do not be mistaken; Young has some fun lighthearted tunes that you can’t help but smile when you hear like “You” and “Lost” and some fun country songs like “Save Water, Drink Beer.” By his third studio album, Neon, Young seems to have truly hit his stride in both his vocals and his songwriting and the music world has rightfully taken notice.

As successful as Chris Young has been, he will not forget where he comes from. He is a down to earth, almost shy kind of family guy who has an incredible drive and works extremely hard. Pop-Break was lucky enough to have had an opportunity to speak with Young while he’s on the road headlining his own tour which will be passing through New York on February 15, a tour date I will most certainly be at.

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Pop-Break: First up, I would like to say congrats on the success of Neon and all of your albums. How did it feel to hit the mark of five consecutive number one singles, four of which you cowrote?

Chris Young: That was a huge, huge thing for me. I got started off on a different path (laughs)…my first three singles, two of the first record, one off the second, all failed. I got a chance at a fourth single and that is something that never happens anymore. It’s usually if your singles fail, your album doesn’t even get released. But RCA believed in me. I just wanted something that went above #37 on the charts, so when I hit #1 it was unbelievable.

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PB: With the initial failures — what was RCA telling you? What advice did they give you from not packing it in?

CY: I was given advice from the get-go from the top all the way down. They all believed in me and stuck with me. I did get the indication that if my fourth single didn’t do well, that’d be it for me. Thank God it did.

CY: Did you think it was going to be a risk to re-release “Voices” since a re-release only chart-topped once in the past 25 years until that song?

PB: Absolutely it was a risk. It’s a testament to my label. Like you said, this hasn’t happened in 25 years and it’ll probably be that long before it happens again. It’s not something that’s common. We just felt that song didn’t get a fair shot, so with all the hits, we figured let’s keep this craziness going [and re-release it].

PB: You have certainly had an interesting journey, you went from Nashville Star to a Grammy nod. Did you ever see that coming?

CY: It’s been a very long road. I’m lucky to have a lot of people to bounce ideas off of. I grew up outside of Nashville and am surrounded by a lot of great musicians. But here’s the thing, having a record deal doesn’t mean you can relax.

PB: Do you have any advice for people vying to be on reality music competitions these days?

CY: Here’s the thing…you gotta look at these things as a step forward. It’s worked for some people; it hasn’t for others. You gotta make the most of it.

PB: From the most recent album, Neon, obviously there are some songs that you’re very connected to personally, “Old Love Feels New,” and “Flashlight,” both were inspired by your family, correct?

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CY: Yes (laughs) in different ways. “Old Love Feels New” is a snapshot of my grandparents. It feels like they’ve been together forever. “Flashlight” is about being under the hood of a car and working on it with my dad. It was written from the male perspective. But the thing is I get a lot of women come up to me and tell me that the song reminds them of their relationship with their dad. That’s just one of those things that you don’t expect as a songwriter.

PB: How have you managed to maintain such a close relationship with your family with all of your touring and how important is that relationship to you?

CY: It would be weird not have it. When I come off the road, I go right home. If it’s a Sunday I go out with my Dad to the lake, go fishing. Home is just a great, fun environment. My mom, dad, step-brother and sister, we’re all really close.

PB: Speaking of touring, how is this most recent tour going?

CY: Great. We got to a lucky point where we could start headlining on our last year. It’s both fun and nerve-racking. You’re selling the tickets. I like it because you’re in control, but the downside is if it doesn’t sell, it’s on you. You can’t say “Oh well, I was just a part of the tour, not the headliner.” This is the next step. The response from fans has been great though.

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PB: I hear that you have a pre-show ritual of ironing your clothes. Is that true? What other pre-show rituals do you have?

CY: Everybody has their own thing for whatever reason. Ironing is probably partly because I’m the type of guy who grabs everything, throw it in his bag, zips it up and heads out. Then I look at the clothes and say “I can’t got out on stage looking like this.” I would look like I rolled out of bed onstage. Otherwise, with the band we do a shot before we head on stage.

PB: Booze of choice?

CY: Usually Jack Daniels.

PB: No Jameson? That stuff will put some hair on your chest.

CY: Have you ever had a Pickle Back shot? It’s pickle juice and Jameson.

PB: No, but I have heard of it though. Does it lessen the strength of the shot?

CY: No, it actually complements the taste a lot. You should give it a try.

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PB: So you just released “I Can Take it From There” and it’s doing wonderful. What’s next? Are we looking at another single from Neon, more touring, or some new tunes?

CY: Definitely more touring. We’re going to announce a summer tour soon. It’s going to be a really cool, big summer for us. “I Can Take It From Here” is the new single from this record. Expect some new stuff this year.

CY: On a different note, you used to always rock the cowboy hat and got pestered about it on Nashville Star, praised about it by fans, but now you seem to appear a lot without it. What’s the deal with the hat?

PB: I think the hat has been retired (laughs) for two years or so. People always said without the hat was the better way to go. I didn’t know what the big deal was. But it must mean something since people still ask about it. I loved it, it served its purpose.

PB: Did people think it was an antiquated thing…kinda like you were Conway Twitty in those random Family Guy clips?

CY: Oh man I love that! I don’t know how they figure out when to use it, but they always know to keep it on for a little too long to make it uncomfortable. Seth MacFarlane is a genius.

PB: So you liked Ted, then?

CY: I loved it. The scene where Flash Gordon’s at the party, then the neighbor comes in with the duck and Ted and the duck fight…oh man.

PB: Back to music, with all of your hit songs, if someone has never heard of you before, which would make me sad, which of those songs, or any of your songs, should they check out first?

CY: I’d go with my biggest single, “Tomorrow” off Neon. It’s one of my favorite songs off of Neon. I feel that if you didn’t like that song after listening to it you probably wouldn’t like any of my music.

PB: Going along the same lines — there are so many country musicians out there right now. What do you think makes you stand out from all of them?

CY: To a certain extent — songwriting. Not everyone writes their own music — they’re country ‘artists.’ Writing is an important of who I am. And definitely the live show too. It’s been getting bigger and better, we’ve added a lot more to it. Being on the road with other musicians and watching their shows I’ve learned what I want to add to my [headlining] shows from lighting to staging. And I guess I’ve always wanted to be known as a great singer. I took vocal lessons when I was younger, learned how to sing in different languages. Not that would help me as a singer, but it helped develop a strong base. I want people, when they walk out of a concert to say, “Ok he sounded exactly like he did on his record!’

Chris Young will be performing February 15th at The Best Buy Theater in New York City. To purchase tickets click this link.

additional reporting by bill bodkin

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