Nashville Hit-Maker Chris Young Honed His Skills in an Arlington Honky-Tonk
In 2005, country music hit singer and songwriter Chris Young was fronting the house band at Cowboy's Dancehall in Arlington. But by the spring of 2006, it seemed as though the No. 1 smash hits would be just around the corner for the Tennessee-born and raised crooner after he easily took home the prize on the fourth season of the now long-gone television series Nashville Star. After wowing celebrity judges and millions of country fans with his near-perfect baritone, greater stardom didn't come as easily or as quickly as many had predicted, and especially not as soon as Young had hoped it would.
Fast forward to 2009, and that had changed. Beginning with the almost-too-country-for-country-radio megahit "Gettin' You Home," Young belted out five consecutive No. 1 singles as 2010 rolled into 2011. On top of that, he picked up a couple of ACM awards.
Some might consider 2012 a down year for Young, what with his only releasing a couple of singles that dented the charts, but those tunes came from his record Neon, which stands as arguably his best album. On the heels of his return to the Top Five of the Billboard chart, with the Gold-selling trendy party anthem "Aw Naw," and the release of A.M., Young's newest album, we spoke with Young over the phone about manscaping, the art of picking songs instead of writing them and his time in North Texas.
This past sumer, you suffered through an infection casused from an in-grown hair in your leg. Would a bit of manscaping have prevented all that grief?
It's hard to explain, because it wasn't caused by anything I did. That was really the scariest part of the whole thing. I mean, it was an ingrown hair that I got out of my leg. It wasn't a big deal and it didn't look strange, but as the little cut I made existed, some bacteria found its way in there and it decided to get bad as I was on a plane to Denver. Completely random, and I do not recommend it. Septic shock isn't a lot of fun.
So, manscaping may have caused the infection instead of preventing it?
No. No manscaping, here. At all.
The song "Text Me Texas" from your latest album features some modern techie lingo with a really nice, traditional country arrangement. Was that combination intentional?
That's a song I found when I was writing with a couple of guys, and I asked them if either of them had something I would dig for the new record. That song was the first thing they played for me and I loved it. I don't even think the song is super traditional as much as it's very bare and open. There's not a lot on the track to get in the way of the song just being what it is. I do like the juxtaposition of the under-produced song and the technology reference. I'm glad I got to this one before anyone else did because people have asked me about writing it, because they assumed it was one of mine. Anytime you get that reaction, it means it's something you should cut as an artist.
Who were the guys you were writing with when you first heard the song?
Well, there were three guys that wrote it, actually. Shane MacAnally [Mineral Wells native and Kacey Musgraves co-writer], Rhett Akins and Josh Osborne.
Often, fans and critics can get pretty snobby about their opinion that artists should write their own material. You only wrote a few songs for this album, but there's got to be an art to picking the right songs to cut, isn't there?
This is the least I've written on any of my albums because I found so many great outside songs. For me, when I'm picking a song to cut, I just go with my gut. If I hear a song and say to myself, "Man, I wish I had written that song!" then as an artist, I feel like that means I need to cut it. If you end up cutting a song that doesn't sound like something you would say, it won't sound the way it needs to. The aspect of picking a song that isn't yours and making it yours is really important, I think.
You led the House Band at Cowboy's Dancehall in Arlington before you were on television. Is that a humbling experience aspiring artists should go through before they go to Nashville to hit it big?
I actually don't look at my time there as a humbling experience. I loved that gig. It was a chance for me to learn in a big room. I've gone back there already and played as an artist. Sure, before being in the house band, I had the gigs where I brought my own P.A. and played for four hours, then tore down and loaded my truck by myself for maybe $100. I definitely think people should go through that and play those kinds of gigs. It was all a great learning experience for me.
There were a few years betwen winning Nashville Star and landing your first number one hit. What kinds of doubts did you battle during that time period?
If I hadn't have had "Gettin' You Home," I wouldn't have even been a one-hit wonder since nothing of mine had been past No. 37 on the charts prior to that song. Before I did Nashville Star, I had some interest from certain labels, but nothing had panned out. So I did the show, and it's how I got my record deal, which I'm grateful for. Once you are on a show like that, you can't rewind time and do things differently, so it's all been kind of weird, but I'm really happy with how my career has turned out. The label kept me around as I went from winning a reality show to not having any success with my first four singles. You don't hear about that happening too often. People talk a lot about the nasty side of the record labels, but I've been one of the really lucky people. While I wouldn't take anything back, there have definitely been a couple of times where I thought, "Crap, I'm going to get dropped!"
You, of course, did start having hit songs, but there was a gap between major hits for you, until "Aw Naw" went Gold recently. Will you now always have the pressure of making hits on you when you release a new album?
Yeah, I think so. I didn't really risk a sophomore slump until my third record since my first one didn't do so well. Anytime you put an album out, there's going to be nerves, though. No matter what you've done or how well you've done in the past, each project has to stand on its own and be special. I put pressure on myself, too. But for me, now, this is my fourth record and I'm really happy with it, and the fans seem to like it too, since the first single did so well. I like to think I thrive on that kind of pressure.
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