The studio was dark, with just a sliver of light coming through a window on the far wall. A faint glow from an iPhone screen helped light up the airtight room. We were just starting to discuss new music as the power went out. Chris Young was apologizing when he rejoined the interview from his cell phone. “Sorry about that. Looks like blasting on Music Row has knocked the power out on a few blocks,” Young concedes when we are finally connected again. The vibe could easily have been tense or awkward, but instead, it was just a bump in the road. This major country star called back, holding his phone up within a dark room just to finish our chat.
That is what we have come to expect from Chris Young. He’s a fine example of a grateful, humble and hardworking artist. He’s been at this career since he was a teenager, playing stages in his hometown of Murfreesboro and around Nashville, learning show by show how to capture a crowd. Those lessons have served him well - earning him 12 no.1s, five billion streams, a slew of country music awards and a Grammy nomination across his career. Not bad for a kid from Rutherford County, Tennessee.
Young is the first to admit his career didn't skyrocket out of the gate - it was a rocky start, to say the least. “My career started with a no.37-charting single, a no.52 and another no.37 - in that order. If you had asked me if I ever thought I’d be celebrating my 12th no.1, I’d have no words” he recently shared on social media.
“I hated the number 37 for a while. The funny thing is, ‘Gettin' you Home’ – my fourth-charting single - went to no.1 and stayed there for 37 weeks. We now throw a mini-party every time a single gets past No.37”.
Let’s just say he’s had a lot of parties since then.
Young's new album, Famous Friends, has been in the making for some time. Finally released this past week (8/6), the original date was scheduled for 2019, but Young says the delay actually made the album even better.
“There were new songs that got added after the fact. ‘Raised on Country’, ‘Drowning’, ‘Famous Friends’, ‘Town Ain’t Big Enough’ with Lauren Alaina, all those were done - they were ready to go.” Young explains, “But like I said, there's stuff that was written and came into my space that didn't exist before then. So, this is what this album was supposed to be – a record of its own timing. ’Famous Friends’, suddenly went to no.1 for a couple of weeks and then we got to drop the whole album straight after. It's almost like we planned it, man. I love it.”
Young may not have planned everything to seamlessly come together as it has, but it also wasn’t sheer luck. The work happening behind the scenes is paying off. From playing small local shows like Uncle Dave Macon Days Festival in Murfreesboro as a teenager, to opening for Garth Brooks at Nissan stadium, Young has never been afraid of work. He says he was writing through the pandemic, even when conditions were less than ideal.
“Mitchell and I actually wrote that song together when it iced over in Nashville at the beginning of this year. It was like day three or day four, where it wasn't all ice anymore - it was pretty much just snow. You could drive on it. We had the conversation via text message; ‘Do you want to write today? Do you want to reschedule? What do you want to do?’ We were both in our own heads with a fear of missing out. ‘What if we're supposed to write something cool today? We gotta show up!’ You gotta go to work. We ended up writing this song. About a week went by and I said "I think we should turn this into a duet. Do you have any interest in doing that?’ He said, ‘Yes, absolutely. Let's go.’”
Young and Tenpenny recently shot the video for ‘At The End of a Bar’ in downtown Nashville. They put out the call to friends and fans to come and join them for the video shoot on July 5th, just one day after 350,000 packed the streets for Nashville’s fireworks celebration. Like throwing a big birthday party, Young says he wasn’t sure if anyone would show. Thankfully, when the cameras rolled, he walked out to a massive crowd.
“I will say, when we were shooting in the afternoon, I thought ‘Okay, cool. There are maybe a thousand people out here’. We went away to shoot other scenes, then came back out to run the song and there were over 15,000 people. It was just nuts. I knew people would show up, but I didn't know they were going to show up like that! So, it was so awesome, it looks so cool.”
Young says he has been adding some of the new material into his live shows, but he did not want to play the new songs until the album was released. He doesn’t like testing his new material out on the road.
“I don’t play new stuff, not until the album's out. Now if I don't play ‘Famous Friends’, people would probably throw things at the stage. I don't really test stuff early, mainly because the first time I want people to hear a song, I want them to hear what we did on the record. Then we'll play that live. If you're going to spend that much time making something, you want the very first time people hear it to be that version from the album.”
Perhaps that's why his friends IRL - who are mentioned in ‘Famous Friends’- didn’t know they were getting a shout out. The song mentions his buddy Sheriff Jason, the rumor around Music Row being that the sheriff had no idea he was written into the song. That was until he heard it on the radio and promptly texted Young with choice words. All in good fun, of course.
“That is true. I lied in the lyrics as well. Jason would pull me over, give me a ticket and think it was hilarious.” Young laughs, “So I told most people that I was naming them in the song – I even had to explain to somebody the other day when they asked, ‘These are all real people?’ that they were! There is only one person that I name whose job isn’t real - Randy Goodman from my label. That’s just like a little funny inside joke for us”.
It’s that connection to his real-life friends, his inside jokes and the fact that he still celebrates getting past #37 on the charts that make us relate to and connect with Chris Young, no matter his level of fame and success. He is still the kid from Rutherford County, and we love him for that.
Young’s eighth studio album, Famous Friends, is out now via Sony Music Entertainment – read Holler’s review of the record here and listen below.
Young’s Famous Friends Tour, with special guests Mitchell Tenpenny and Callista Clark, starts up on Oct. 21st in Little Rock, Arkansas - Find tickets here.
Photography by Matthew Berinato and Jeff Johnson - courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment.