Chris Young is in complete control. As the RCA Records Nashville recording artist prepares to release his fifth album, due this Fall, Young has taken over responsibility for conceiving, writing, producing and recording the highly anticipated, I’m Comin’ Over.
Looking for a new approach on an album he knew was extremely important, Young hedged his bet by personally writing a check and quietly cutting six songs. When he played the music for surprised Sony Music Nashville executives, there was one simple response: “Keep going.” Young, a native of nearby Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and a fixture on the scene since his teens, could easily have approached his latest album on auto-pilot. After all, few have had the kind of run he has. This is his fifth major-label album by the age of 30 – a feat rarely accomplished in modern country music. He’s ratcheted up six No. 1 singles, seven Gold and Platinum certifications, and been nominated for the industry’s most prestigious awards – Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association and The Grammys – taking home a handful of notable trophies, including the American Country Countdown Awards’ Breakthrough Artist of the Year and Single of the Year, and the Country Music Association’s Triple Play Award, given to songwriters who have co-authored three or more chart-topping hits in a year.
Prior to that clandestine recording session that would set the tone for the project, fate stepped in as Young wrestled with the direction of this new album. His longtime friend Josh Hoge suggested he jump in on a co-write with mutual friend Corey Crowder. It was a casual suggestion, not a put-together session dreamed up in a publisher’s building on Music Row. And that invitation changed everything for Young.
“It was just very honest and natural and we really, really hit it off,” Young said. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do sonically for this record and what I wanted to say. And it’s an important record. Turning 30. I've been doing this for 10 years and you always try to make a statement with each and every record. But this is my fifth record, and after 10 years I better have something important to say.”
Young wrote 9 of the 11 songs, including the title track first single, co-produced the album with Crowder and shepherded each track from demo through final mastering. He knows the LP “inside out, backwards and forwards.”
“It just feels different,” Young said. “There was a lot that changed. The studio band we used was different. This is the first time I've co-produced. Half the songs on the record were written by me, Corey and Josh. That was kind of the nucleus of this record, and that was really different for me. Nothing changed for the sake of change. It changed because it was the right way to go.” Four of the album’s tracks emerged from the trio’s first seven sessions. Young kept the group coming back to the writer’s room and exciting things continued to happen. Two early tracks proved to be special. “I’m Comin’ Over” became a guidepost for Young and Crowder. Technically, the song is a ballad, but there’s nothing slow and steady about it.
“’I'm Comin’ Over’ honestly is such a sonic bridge for me,” Young said. “It's a bridge between what I sounded like on the last record and what we've done on this one. It's not like I went out and just completely blew up everything I was doing, but there's obviously a lot more loops. There's a lot more stuff that we created in pre-production and brought into the studio along with the musicians. I think that this song is a really good introduction to what you’ll hear on the rest of this record. There's R&B elements that we brought into some of the songs, and you definitely hear that on top of the second verse. It's really simple. It's really short, just a tiny, little moment, but it's definitely stuff that we wouldn't have done in the past.”
“As Chris, Josh and I began writing together, the sonic direction seemed to organically take shape,” shared co-producer and co-writer, Corey Crowder. “We all come from different spaces in the music world and our personalities, working styles and strengths really compliment each other.”
You begin to see the producer in Young emerge with a confident strut on the album’s next track, “Heartbeat.” The song is all elevated heart rate, supplied by a thumping heartbeat pulsing just under the instrumentals.
“Chris and I make a really good team,” Crowder said. “We trust each other’s ears and it really makes the combination work well.”
Young the producer wraps Young the singer’s perfectly mellow traditional country baritone in a more modern context. Many of the songs are bright and bold and aimed for the arena rafters as he moves into the touring headliner’s role, kicking off October 22 with his “I’m Comin’ Over Tour,” featuring openers Eric Paslay and Clare Dunn. “Heartbeat,” for instance will drop right into his live set. And songs like “Sunshine Overtime” and the anthemic “Underdog” are strong arena candidates with their bright colors and racing tempos.
While good times are a heavy presence on the album, Young doesn’t completely leave behind the nuanced emotion of his previous work. “I Know A Guy” and “Sober Saturday Night,” which features Vince Gill on guitar and harmony vocals, help Young round out I’m Comin’ Over with a song for every mood.
“There's a great history of sad songs in country music and I think that a lot of people have lived that,” Young said. “They've had that night where it's like, ‘Man, I'm so depressed, I don't even want to leave my house. I'm just going to sit here. I don't even want to try to drink myself out of being depressed,’ and it's powerful. But I think there are touch points - I think that's really what this record is. Hopefully everybody relates to each one of these songs and they have their own experiences.”
Young formed his appreciation for the history of country music listening and watching closely genre ambassadors like Gill, who is best known as a Grammy Award-winning singer and guitarist. But he’s also emerged a powerful producer, and Young would like to see his career follow a similar path. He knew this from the second he saw Gill in concert as a child, sitting in the grass at Nashville’s old Starwood Amphitheater, watching the legend perform solo acoustic for a crowd of thousands held at rapt attention.
“I got to sit in his studio and hang out with Vince Gill all day, and it's just such a weird, cool fullcircle thing for me,” Young said. “He’s absolutely someone that I put on a pedestal as a vocalist and a person. It’s like, ‘Oh, my God, I want to be known as an artist who is that good.’”
Young exudes a combination of pride and nervous energy as he talks about rolling out I’m Comin’ Over, first, for family and friends, and now for critics and the public. It’s the most personal album Young has recorded, full of accessible moments that grow out of small things like a look, a touch or a broken bond. And for the first time he’s responsible for almost every hook, solo and lyric, right from the start.
Like Gill, Young takes a personal moment or emotion and elevates it with a universal resonance. When he sings of a day at the beach or the lake, it’s because he’s relaying an experience from his own life, not some anonymous songwriter’s. And when you feel his heartbreak, that’s really his heart breaking.
“It’s no secret I’ve fallen in love before,” Young said. “And I’ve fallen out of love. And I’ve definitely had love fall out on me - that makes for several records worth of music right there. Then, when you combine some of the other stuff that we wrote on this record, it gives it a lot of variety, too. I think that’s important. I could just as easily sit down and write an entire an album of love songs, but I think you have to have the love songs and you have to have the stuff you’re
going to play when it’s summer and 100 degrees and everybody’s in T-shirts at a festival. It’s a balancing act. You have to have all the colors on the palette and make them work together.”