Chris Janson is one of the very few new male country artists to successfully straddle the line separating mainstream “pop country” fans and those who proudly prefer more traditional fare. The musician, originally hailing from Missouri, was known around Nashville as an in-demand songwriter before finally making an impact with listeners with such songs as “Buy Me a Boat” and this year’s summer country jam, “Fix a Drink”.
Don’t let those party anthem-like titles fool you, though; this isn’t just another country singer exaggerating their accent and relaying imagined backstories involving girls on tailgates and never-ending pond parties. Janson isn’t afraid to have fun in his songs, but there’s just something about both the man and his words that make you believe him, and that kind of authenticity is hard to fake.
This authenticity has also made him a hot commodity on the concert circuit as well. Whether as a support act or headlining his own tour, Janson has quickly become known for his rambunctious stage presence, leading many to make comparisons to Jerry Lee Lewis. Instead of pounding a piano, however, Janson is more likely to pull out a harmonica for an impromptu solo; shockingly, its not terrible, which is more than I can say for most performers who carry a harmonica in their arsenal.
Janson is in town tonight as part of Sam Hunt’s “15 In a 30” summer tour. Janson is one of four spectacular acts that will be taking the stage at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek in Raleigh, alongside the aforementioned Hunt; hitmaker Maren Morris; and Ryan Follese. Parking lots open at 4:00pm; doors at 5:30pm; and Follese is set to take the stage at 6:55pm. Amazingly, there are still a handful of tickets available for tonight’s show, so don’t waste time going to either Ticketmaster or LiveNation.com and relieving the venue of that burden.
I had a chance to speak to Janson while he was out on the road earlier this month. The man was busy, but he made time to answer some questions I had about work ethic on the road; when that Grand Ole Opry invite was going to actually happen; and mistaking a #1 for a #2.
Isaac Weeks: First I wanted to congratulate you on “Fix a Drink” breaking into the Top 25 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. How night and day has the last year been, just in folks recognizing you on the street after having a solid year of radio hits under your belt?
Chris Janson: I’d say that it actually started in a big way…well, it was happening before “Buy Me a Boat”, but since “Buy Me a Boat”, it’s been happening in a big way. Over the past year its just gotten stronger; I’d say its at about a 90 – and I say this with humility, not braggy in any way – about a 95% chance somebody is gonna know me anywhere I go, which is a pretty awesome thing. That’s where you want to get with this career, established enough where people know you everywhere, and “Fix a Drink” has certainly helped lend a hand toward that as well. Singles are just part of the building blocks toward a solid career, and “Fix a Drink” breaking into the Top 25 – it’s actually my fastest rising single to date, even faster than “Boat” – I love it. It’s opening brand new doors, and it’s opening up even more doors for me.
To say that the past year has been eyeopening for me would be an understatement, because I haven’t even had time to close my eyes.
IW: How do you keep your energy up – and the high work ethic going – to tour and write songs, when you have four kids at home to go along with all of the other responsibilities you have as an artist?
CJ: Well, I bring the kids on the road with us. We still have to raise kids, so we raise them on the bus, so that tends to keep the energy levels up. On the road they like to do stuff too, so when they are out being kids, I get my fair share of rest. Anybody in any kind of lifestyle finds a way to make it work, so I just find ways to make it work. I find time to rest, time to play, and find time to work. Somehow it all just comes together nicely. I have no idea how it happens, but it does.
IW: I wanted to touch on “Buy Me a Boat” real quick. So the song got all the way to #2 on the charts…
CJ: It was #1!
IW: It made it to #1?
CJ: It was a platinum selling #1!
IW: Welp, I guess we’ll just skip this question, then. I saw online where it had stalled at #2, and I was going to ask you about the frustrations of being a singer with a #2…
CJ: I gotta figure out where that is getting misconstrued.
IW: Has it been brought up to you before?
CJ: Yeah, I’ve gotten that asked one time before. There’s two charts we follow: Billboard and Mediabase, and it hit Mediabase’s #1 fast. Oh yeah, you can Google it up and see pictures from the #1 celebration and everything
IW: Well, lets get back to keeping the energy level up. One thing that you known for – perhaps best known for – is how energetic your live show performances are. It seems like in a short period of time, you have became known as one of the best live acts in country music. Was that something, when first starting out, you went into knowing your live performances were one way that you could break yourself away from the crowd of new male country artists?
CJ: Not really, to be honest with ya. I grew up being a real ‘cut your own path’ kind of guy. I grew up performing, and its all that I’ve really ever known since I was a kid. I just have a natural knack for doing things my own way, and not following protocol, so I’ve just always done it like that.
I figure I’d just rather win doing it my way, and lose doing it my way. I don’t care. One way or another, I’m going to do it the way I want to do it. Writing my own songs, performing them the way I want to, and give it all I’ve got to be the best I can be. Just keep it honest and real.
IW: You’ve also gotten a lot of attention from your frequent appearances at the Grand Ole Opry. I would ask you when they are finally going to pull the trigger on making you a full-fledged member, but I’m guessing they wouldn’t tell you before the big announcement that usually comes with that anyway.
CJ: I wish I did know. I wish I could tell everybody!
IW: I actually caught a show on the radio a few weeks ago, and I forget now the exact number, but it was either your 200th or 250th appearance. I remember that it was a nice round number, so I couldn’t help but think at the time, “Oh man, are they going to do it tonight?!?”
CJ: Well, thank you for even thinking they would do that.
IW: Well, cutting to the chase, you are very deserving of the honor when it finally does come your way. I was wondering, though, about your approach to playing in front of different crowds. I’m willing to bet that the demographics at any stop on the Sam Hunt tour, and the demographics at a random show at the Grand Ole Opry, are pretty different. Do you have that in mind when you are thinking about what to do onstage at either one?
CJ: Oh, 100%! You know, the great thing for a guy like me, since I write my own songs I have a nice array to choose from. I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty eclectic guy for as far as that goes, and what I mean by that is, I can do all styles of country music – or music in general, really – so I can play to my audience. I’ve always had a firm belief in just playing for the audience that you are in front of at any given moment. You have to be yourself, and continue to stay in your own lane, and be consistent in what you are doing. However, sometimes audiences are going to be so polarizingly different from each other, that walking into it you may need to change a few things to be a little more relatable to some folks.
An Opry crowd is traditionally a ‘sit in the seat and clap when the song is done’ kind of thing, and part of the whole radio show aspect of it. However, when I get in there, it’s a whole different thing; folks are generally on their feet, getting rowdy and having fun. We generally make it a raucous time for our two or three songs. I change up my setlist every single night, whether its on the 15 In a 30 tour with Sam, or one of my own headlining tours. I read the audience, read the crowd. I think about what area of the United States we’re playing in, read into all those types of things, so I try to always use the right judgement.