(CSC) 1. Thanks for the visit. Please tell our readers about your self-titled debut album!
This is my debut record on Atlantic Records. It has 12 songs on it that I wrote. It is something Iíve been working on my entire life and it was a fun record to make. Iíve made a couple records before, but this was my first high stakes record.
(CSC) 2. Youíve pretty much defied the traditional concept of creating a record according to industry standards by playing every single instrument including backing all the vocals yourself. With that said, how did you manage to prioritize this album from a creative standpoint?
That is a great question. We obviously modeled me playing all the instruments and a make it yourself type of album after the way I used to do all my demos. For a long time, that was how I had to work. There was no one else around, I was writing and the only way demos were going to get done is if I did them. I was a bit of a gear geek and I knew a couple instruments. It took a long time to sort of adopt the process, but it became the way I work and the only way I really know how to work.
So, we had this crazy idea to the record this way and we wanted Dan Huff to be involved; Iím a huge fan of his! He was interested in the product as well. What was really interesting was that we came up with the idea to do the record that way, the way I have always done it. I was nervous because Iím used to working that way by myself, but those were with demos, not a record. Now we were on a serious scale and all the real ingredients were coming together. I donít think we ever really figured it out. I think that is why it took so long, 6 months, but obviously it took that long because I was playing everything. I feel like there were a couple times we were chasing our tails creatively for that reason, it was hard to balance it all; thinking creatively, playing, and all this good stuff but what I knew through playing everything and through doing the process, not only is it something Iím used to, itís the way I work. I knew it was going to be the most honest process.
I knew that if there were pro-studio musicians on the other end of the glass, there was no way I could co-produce a record sitting next to Dan Huff. There is no way I would have voiced my opinion, I would have been quiet. I would not have been as outspoken as I was making it myself. I really didnít have to speak, I just had to play. It came out sort of with whatever I had in my mind when I wrote it. It was another way of translating what I was thinking when I wrote songs. It was another outlet. Every instrument was an outlet, not just vocalizing. I didnít just have to get in a vocal booth and let you know that this song was coming from the heart, but every instrument allowed me to do that, so I knew it was going to be an honest process. We just took our time. We spent three weeks alone on Storm Warning, and we still hadnít figured out the process. It was Danís first time making a record that way and it was my first time making a record with anyone else in the room. I wish I could tell you that I figured it out; I wish I could tell you I know the secrets. (Laughs) I canít wait for the next record so I can figure it out even more. I really hope we get to do it again on the next record, because I think it was a worthy investment of time.
(CSC) 3. What inspires your songwriting and did you have a difficult time narrowing down the selection of songs in the process?
Narrowing down the songs was very difficult. I was looking at my phone the other day on the plane and we had 60 songs for consideration, and that wasnít all of them. There were a couple songs that I just booted out because I knew that we had something like it already and I guess I liked it better. We had at least 60, and then narrowed it down from 30 to 20, and then 12. The writing process is a very honest process for me. I feel like it has to be. Yes, Iíve walked into a room saying Iím going to write this song with this group with these lyrics and this melody, but Iím just not attached to it and I feel no one else will be either. I feel that even though you can sit down and write the perfect song, you can really scientifically try to figure out what your market wants to hear, you can try to put out an equation to it but there is no way to do that and actually the way I want it to connect, the way I wanted my songs to mean something to someone. So I knew that Iíd have to walk into the room every day and write about whatever was going on.
There were days when I didnít have anything to write about and thatís where we get songs like ďRainy Season,Ē I spent the whole day trying to write another song and Rainy Season just came out of the last hour and a half of the session. We stayed late, we stayed really late actually. You just have to be honest! ďWantedĒ is what I call a 30 minute song, and by that I mean there was not any sort of drawn out process, whatever came to mind, and whatever musically came to mind, thatís what happened. The song literally almost wrote itself and thatís what my favorite songs do. The record is full of those types of 30 minute songs and Iím really, really proud of that.
(CSC) 4. What goals would you like to achieve as you emerge into the business as a new artist?
I wish I had a list. I want to get to a point where I am headlining arenas every night. I want that many people to connect with something that I have done; that would be a dream come true. The show tonight (HOB Chicago; November 2011) was emotional. If you were here the last time we played, there were a total of 400 people in that room. It still felt pretty large. Then when they opened the curtains tonight, it was like I recognize that room, I know that stage, I have been there, itís almost like a second home, and I am a regular here. But when the curtains opened tonight it was emotional. That showed me that someone is listening and someone likes what I am doing. It was the best feeling in the world. I was not expecting the balcony and the main floor to be full like it was. The place was packed. It was phenomenal!!!
(CSC) 5. Starting in January 2012, youíll be hitting the road with Rascal Flatts and Sara Evans, what are you looking forward to most about that tour and any plans to join the Flatts onstage for a duet?
I wish they would let me. I am hoping to, yea. The coolest show I ever saw as a high school student was a Rascal Flatts concert. It was the first time they came on tour with all these video screens that floated around the stage, right before the Me and My Gang record, which by the way is one of my favorite records of all time. That show was one of those shows I left going, ďOh my gosh, if I could make my show half as cool as that I will be in good shape.Ē
I have already heard what they are working on for this next tour and it is going to be pretty wicked. I am stoked to be on the tour with them and Iím hoping that they let me play in their show and that they may need an extra guitar player on stage. I will be glad to do it. I am looking forward to that tour.
My set list is going to be a condensed set. When it gets show condensed I have to balance the time really carefully. We can do a certain amount of songs, but I am going to cut it back so that on one or two of the songs at the end we can expand on the songs and be creative and go into a band mode and just jam. I really feel like that is an important thing about the show, not to just make a set list or even a show that flows. It has to have some creative moments that change every night. I am looking forward to sitting down with the guys and arranging the show. We have a set list in mind. I am looking forward to dissecting it and figuring out what is going to work and what's not. I got to run into the guys (Rascal Flatts) at the CMA Awards and was like, ďOh my God, thank you,Ē I was freaking out. I have never met Sara Evans before so I'm looking forward to that also; she seems like a really nice individual.
(CSC) 6. Having moved to Nashville just three years ago, what do you recall from the series of events that lead to your record deal?
I moved to Nashville three years ago. Before signing the record deal, you are sort of sitting there thinking what am I doing in this town?? There are a million other people here like me doing what I do. What is going to get me the advantage? How is this going to work to my advantage? After signing I was like, wow, that was quick.
It took a year to sign my publishing deal and another year to sign my record deal. I will say this, all the people that are around me right now were around me when I got to town. Everyone was on board from the get go. I can't believe I can honestly say that. To have a team with our tightness and to have known them from the start even before the beginning of negotiating a record deal, before we even started negotiating the record deal, I was working with this team. They would tell me, ďThis is going to happen. We are going to make this happen. We are going to be right there by you.Ē
I never had to doubt myself for a moment because of them. I should have sat at home and thought this was never going to happen. But it's because of my family and them alone believing in me saying just wait and see. It was the weirdest thing looking back on the process watching the whole negotiations. I am so glad I had them or I would have gone nuts otherwise; even three years seems like forever.
(CSC) 7. What do you find to be the greatest challenge that you have faced so far in your career?
Trying to find myself, trying to figure out who I am; I am 20. I feel like most people at my age are going to college. I feel like we can all sort of say, well Iíve never been to college but I feel the most universal truth is that when you get to college you start to try to figure yourself out. I feel like I am at that age where naturally that should happen but I also felt the pressures of trying to figure that out before the record even started being made.
There was a struggle of do I want to say this, am I this guy, am I this music, am I going to write these kind of lyrics, this kind of production, what kind of crowd. I was trying to figure it out for so long. I wasn't obsessing over it, but in little details I was trying to figure out what to do, through little creative details I was trying to figure out myself. As opposed to just saying you don't have to figure out anything, you just have to do something. I didn't have to sit down and figure out a guitar solo. I had to turn on the amp, turn on the mic and push a red button and start playing. Good or bad that was me, but from whatever happens it stems from you.
I think the biggest challenge was figuring out that the secret to everything in life is to be completely honest with yourself, I love a quote Steve Jobs had, "You never work a day in your life if you love what you do." That is brilliant. First you have to figure out what you love to do. You can only figure that out by being real. You can't say, ďWell I can like that. Yea, that's a lot of money, I can like this job.Ē You have to love what you do. You have to love who you are and what you are doing it for. You have to be real. That is the one thing I have learned if I can say I have learned anything so far.
Every question I ask myself always comes back to my instinct, right or wrong. You have got to be yourself. That is the only way you will ever be happy and satisfied. That is the only way anybody is going to connect and get to know you; if you are honest through songwriting, through playing, through production, and through the show. I started this summer with a script of things that I wanted to say while I was onstage. About two gigs into it I said forget it. I want to say what I want to say. I want to walk out there and if Iím freaking out I am going to let them know that I am freaking out; that this crowd is amazing. Things like that just have to happen. You have to be yourself!!
(CSC) 8. Who and what inspired you and your great love for country music?
That is a long list. (Laughs) A lot of people, when I started studying music it was Flatts, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley all those acts that had just came out, even Dierks Bentley. Then I started studying Ronnie Milsap, before that it was Brooks and Dunn, and Garth Brooks; obviously Taylor Swift, because I have studied her songwriting. I love all kinds of music. I listen to everything. I just got the new Coldplay record; it has not come off of repeat for three weeks. The songs I identify with, the lyrical things I love are always country music. That is why I consider it my home; it is very relatable and personable. That is the kind of music I wanted to write. It was always specifically country music and artists. I have never seen Coldplay live in concert but I love ďHurts Like Heaven,Ē that is probably my favorite track on their new record.
(CSC) 9. Growing up in a small town, how has your southern heritage defined who you are today?
I grew up in a small town called Breaux, Louisiana. It has defined me in just foundational ways. The way I was raised, morals, priorities, relationships, how you treat people, appreciation, and the work hard, play hard method. All the people I grew up around were just good hearted people. I hope to God Iíve caught a little bit of that from them. I look back at the opportunities I was given and the people I got to meet, the people I know and the people who I call my friends. I hope I am half as good as them as I go through this life and this process. I hope I keep remembering the things that they have told me and the things they have taught me.
(CSC) 10. What did you learn musically from the early days of performing in front of a live audience at the Cajun restaurant?
Mulate's is where I played the most. I sat in a lot there; I didnít play my stuff with my band there. I don't know that I really learned anything other than that was my chance to play. That is where I fell in love with performing. Sitting in and getting to play in front of people. That is where I was like, ďOh yea, I want to do this for the rest of my life.Ē I was too young to know any different that thatís not typically acceptable; I believed it from then on and I am grateful I did. It was ingrained in me that was what I wanted to do from that point on; it was fun.
(CSC) 11. Where do you see yourself in the next three to five years?
I would really love to see myself headlining arenas; to me that means so many different things. It means I am several albums down the road, several singles, and hopefully several songs that somebody likes; something that means something to somebody.
Tonight this girl came up and said the song, ďFaith,Ē got her through 20 surgeries this year. You tear up when you hear stuff like that. That is why I write music. I had a girl write me a letter one time that said her favorite song was ďSomebody's Heartbreak.Ē It was very reversed to what the song was supposed to mean, it was one of those, ďWow thank youĒ moments; it hit home and left a tear in my eye. I am honored that is the song you like and gravitate towards. That is my goal. I want to make music for the rest of my life. I want to do this.
As far as meeting the fans, I hope I can do it. My favorite artists are the ones who took the time instead of just a picture and bye. My favorites are the ones who felt like they cared, and I care. It goes back to the fact that I want people to connect to my music; for my music to mean something to them. For every person I can say hello to and say thank you to. I feel like that is what I want. I want them to know me. I want to know them in the same way. I have so much to thank these people for. That is the least that I can do; to try to fit 600 people in a line going out the door before 5 o'clock when the next band rolls in. That is my goal.
I almost passed out earlier because I hadn't eaten all day. I am not sure how I will be able to handle things like that in the future. (Laughs) but I love those people. I am thankful for them. I want to meet as many of them as possible. I want to thank them personally. I want to shake their hand and I want to take a picture. If that is valuable to them then I want to give it to them. Anything I can do to thank them.
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