Now on album No. 4, the country singer and 'Nashville Star' winner reflects
on his steady rise
By Phyllis Stark Special to MSN Music
Finding a niche in country music can be a challenge for any artist. The
format tends to swing like a pendulum from traditional sounds toward pop country
in cycles that follow current trends. In the midst of that, Chris Young has found firm footing
essentially straddling that line with a sound that is rooted in tradition yet
He grew up listening to hard-core country acts like Keith Whitley and Randy Travis, and his considerable
vocal skills put Young in good company with those acts. At the recent ACM Honors
show in Nashville, Young was chosen to pay tribute to country legend George Jones, and wowed a crowd that
included Jones' widow, Nancy, with a medley of three of Jones' best-loved songs.
Yet Young, just 28, is as hip, handsome and — in recent years — hatless as any
of the current stars who fall into the more pop country category.
Young signed his record deal with RCA when he was barely out of his teens and
has enjoyed a slow but steady build since then that has included a run of five
No. 1 hits, a Grammy nomination for Best Male Vocal Performance and a growing
reputation as a live act worth watching. Yet the early days of his career were
lean. He once played a gig in a Borders bookstore with an audience of just three
people, two of whom were playing chess. The third was reading a book. When Young
announced at the end of his set that it was his last song, the book reader
These days, he's playing to much larger audiences as the middle act on Brad Paisley's current tour, which
runs through November, interspersed with some of his own headlining shows. His
fourth album, "A.M.," hit retail Sept. 17, fueled by the current hit "Aw Naw."
Young co-wrote six of the 11 tracks on the set, which includes more up-tempo
material than on his previous albums.
MSN Music: You're now eight years into your career. Is there a new
eight-year plan looking ahead?
Chris Young: In eight years, I would like to — this is so much pressure on
myself when I say this — but I would like to have played at least one stadium. I
think that gives me enough time to work up to that.
What can fans expect from "A.M."?
This record's going to be a little bit different from what I've done in the
past, and then there's some stuff that's still the same on there. I think I
managed to grow a little bit and experiment a little bit as an artist without
getting too far off base where it's going to freak fans out.
I'm an average country fan with $10 to spend. Your album is coming
out on the same day as new country albums from Justin Moore ("Off the Beaten Path")
and Billy Currington ("We Are Tonight").
Why should I buy yours?
Because I'm bigger than both of them [laughs]. It's funny, because I know
both of those guys, and me and Justin came out about the same time, so I'm
really good friends with him. So I can't not buy the other two records that are
coming out the same day mine is, because I like both of [them]. But just being
an artist, I would say buy mine first because this is a very different record
from what I've made in the past, so I think it's something people are going to
be interested in. There's more tempo on this record than I've ever put on a
record. The ballads and mid-tempo stuff that people expect from me are still
going to be there, but there's a different aspect to this production. I think
people are going to be interested to hear what that is.
You wrote more than half the songs on this album, but what qualities
does an outside song have to have to get to be a Chris Young cut?
No. 1, it has to be something I want to say. No. 2 is [I have to have] that
gut reaction of "Aw, crap, I wish I'd written that." If I wish I'd written it,
then it's good enough to go on my record.
After you had five consecutive No. 1s, has the pressure been on every
single since then to repeat the performance?
Yes and no. I had a top five with "I Can Take It From There," and I don't
think anybody was crying and talking about the end of the world because it
didn't go to No. 1. It got all the way to three. But, to a certain extent, I put
a lot of pressure on myself making music because you want it to be better than
what you did before. You want it to be something different, something that makes
people sit up and pay attention.
What are your thoughts about the direction country music is heading
in right now?
It's just evolving like it's always done. One of my favorite artists of all
time is Marty Robbins. At the time that Marty
Robbins came out, he was as pop as you could get. He had crossover pop hits.
There's room for everything in country, and there always has been. There's
always influences from other things, but, at the core, it's country music. I
think it's just growing. Right now you look at country artists having the
biggest-[selling] records all-genre, multiple artists from the format being able
to sell more records on their release week than any other genre of music. That's
good for everybody else in country.
As someone who started his career by winning a TV singing competition
["Nashville Star" in 2006], when you see a Cassadee Pope or a Danielle Bradbery
or a Tate Stevens or a Kree Harrison following that path, is there any advice
you'd give them?
I don't know if I'm really in a place to give anybody advice. But I'd say
from what I experienced, without trying to project onto them 'cause I don't know
what they've gone through, it's an opportunity. It's really all up to what you
do with the opportunity from that point forward. A lot of people are like, "Man,
if I could only get a record deal, then I'd be set." Once you have the record
deal and have that opportunity in front of you, then the work starts.
You had a cameo earlier this year on ABC's "Nashville." Did it spark
any acting ambitions in you?
I think I was there for six hours, and I was on the show for 30 seconds. It's
definitely hurry up and wait. [Acting is] not anything I would shy away from,
but I also don't know if I'm like "Oh my God, I have to go be in a movie right
Finally, based on the chatter in your online fan community, it seems
like your dimple has its own fan club.
I did not know that. I actually have two [dimples], one on each side, but
most of the time I'm photographed from that one side. The other one feels left
Veteran entertainment journalist Phyllis Stark has been reporting
extensively on the music industry for two decades. As a freelance writer, her
work appears regularly in numerous publications and sites. She previously was
Nashville bureau chief at Billboard magazine.