Speaking volumes with singer, songwriter Chris Janson
Chris Janson is on a commercial high right now with a top 5 album and top 5 single in the Country charts, both called “Buy Me A Boat.” At the same time, Janson insists that he wasn’t trying to follow trends in the country sound.
“I try not to fit in anywhere and just see where everything lands,” Janson said. “My sound, I like to call it a contemporary twist on a traditional sound. And, I know that there are other’s out there flying that flag, too.”
That modern-but-not-too-modern sound has led to some busy times for Janson. During the interview, he said he was calling “technically from home” in Nashville last week, although he was due to go back out on the road, including his show on April 1 at Silver Legacy.
And that busyness is not just from playing headline shows as well as recent tours with Blake Shelton and Toby Keith. Janson’s also a songwriter with hits by others under his belt, including Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” and LoCash’s “I Love This Life.”
“I write all kinds of songs, country music and even pop music,” Janson said. “It doesn’t really matter to me. Songs are songs are songs, and songs speak volumes. “
Janson said that the recent success with his own music – led by a No. 2 country single called “Buy Me A Boat” – has boosted his own songwriting morale. “It’s pretty awesome to wear two hats, an artist hat and a songwriter hat,” he added. “If something is lagging at one moment, then the other will pick up steam and vice versa. It’s always gone back and forth, and I like it that way.”
The dash between songwriter and performer started in 2009, when Janson co-wrote two songs for singer Holly Williams. A year later, he released his first single, “Til A Woman Comes Along,” but it was on an independent label that was later swallowed up by Columbia Records. For the next few years, Janson continued to write with songs performed by artists such as Hank Williams Jr., with whom he also toured.
Two more EPs were released by Janson in 2013 and 2014, respectively, including one for Columbia Records, but, by the time 2015 rolled out, Janson was without a record label. He said those years taught him an important lesson about how he approaches music now.
“I tried to force stuff in the past, and it’s just like with any job you’d have – it just doesn’t work that way,” Janson said.
So, Janson wrote “Buy Me A Boat” and released it on his own. Several key radio stations started to play it, and then Warner Brothers Nashville scooped him up to release it officially.
“We’re really in a good place right now, and I really like it finally landed with the right people,” Janson said. “It’s like dating: you just go through a bunch of different kind of relationships. You may think you are wasting your time, but really it’s all just building blocks to where you get to. We went through a couple of those and found the route, which is just writing the songs I write and singing what I sing.”
And those songs he sings are all over the country map, from ballads to rockers and every stripe in between. Big productions and more minimal tunes sit side by side on the “Boat” album, an unusual move especially for an artist that is essentially making his debut.
Janson said the diversity was both a natural evolution and something that was desired by him and his producers for the album. “We would just always say, ‘Let’s write and sing what we feel.’ And that’s what we did. It’s a good collection of songs, all different yet in the same vein, but not all sounding the same. We took an egg from each basket, so to speak, and made our own basket. We wanted something for everybody, and I think that’s pretty true.”
And, perhaps surprisingly, there wasn’t any resistance from his new label. “None whatsoever,” he confirmed. “They just let the artist be what they are. What they’ve done is a rare thing, and I’m really grateful for that.”
Now, Janson has been taking those songs – and even those early songs that didn’t do as well commercially – to audiences at his shows. Several reviewers have referred to Janson’s live show as “wild” or compared it to a rock arena show instead of something you’d find at the Grand Old Opry. Janson believes that “wild” is a good description of what happens onstage at his shows.
“I usually just let the music speak, and if it gets wild, then that happens sometimes,” Janson said. “I go strictly off the feeling of what’s right in the very moment, and I feed a lot off the audience. In general, there’s a lot of audience participation and singing along and that really gets me fired up.
“I can see where someone would think it would get wild. It is a very high-energy show, a rollercoaster.”
A common feature of Janson’s show is also his rock/blues harmonica playing, not exactly a common instrument in country music anymore, let alone rock or pop. His use of the instrument stems from his earliest days of performing.
“I started it back when I was first starting out and just playing for tips and stuff and in honky-tonk bars,” Janson said. “Once I learned it, the tips doubled and tripled and quadrupled. People thought it was original and really liked it. It was really simple, man, just a Cracker Barrel harmonica and I just kept going with it.”
As for the future, Janson said he thinks it will be the “same old, same old,” but he clearly said that with a smile in his voice. “Just more playing and writing, and at some point I need to think about record No. 2,” he said. “I’ve got songs stacked up in a catalog, but I want to get some fresh perspective and see what comes out of that.”
Catch him at Silver Legacy Resort Casino Friday, April 1.