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Chris Young is inside Loud Recording Studio belting out a summer song called “Lighters In The Air,” despite the brisk, late October weather in Nashville. The upbeat track is one of 11 songs he’s expecting to put on his fourth album and he’s touching up a few words.
The flirtatious song is about bumping into a beautiful girl on the deck at the Flora-Bama bar and, yes, falling in love. A casual listener could decipher the lyric about “the Georgia hat that you had on,” but Young is bantering with producer James Stroud about how to make “hat” and “had” stand apart.
This isn’t the sort of elaborate studio you might see on TV. No colorful rugs, no flickering candles. But there are signs of comfort in the form of Young’s grandparents toting homemade dessert.
“Last time we were recording, my grandmother brought James a pie. She thinks if she skipped an album where she didn’t bring him a pie at some point, it might be bad, like bad juju on the record,” Young says with a laugh.
Young’s album Neon, from 2011, buzzed with the singles “Tomorrow” and “You.” And his 2009 project, The Man I Want To Be, brought forth “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song),” “The Man I Want To Be” and “Voices.” Remarkably, he racked up those hits – all No. 1 singles at country radio – consecutively. All five tracks reached gold certification, with “Tomorrow” ultimately hitting platinum.
Young co-wrote four of those five songs, the exception being “The Man I Want to Be.” After moderate airplay for Neon’s title track, “I Can Take It From There” (which he co-wrote) returned him to the Top 10 on Billboard’s country airplay chart.
During the October session, Young tells American Songwriter he is about two-thirds of the way done with the new album.
“I feel like my songwriting on this record moved a little different and we wanted this record to be a little bit different than what we’ve done before,” he says. “James and I talked about it before we made the Man I Want To Be record. We said, ‘We’re going to make this one first and establish a style, not vary too much to the next record, then really play around on the one after that.’”
Asked how this new record will be different, Young replies, “A lot more tempo. I know this adage gets used a lot by artists so I can only say it because it’s how I feel – this is more like what we do in our live show. So there still are some ballads that fit the framework of what I did with ‘Tomorrow.’ There are some mid-tempo things that fit, like ‘I Can Take It From There,’ but overall we haven’t released as many true up-tempo songs as I end up playing live. I think that’s naturally where my songwriting went.”
Plus he’s broadening his scope sonically.
“We’re doing a lot more with guitars, we’re doing some loop stuff, some vocal and doubling effects on this record,” he adds. “Feeling like I had a batch of songs that I was excited about early in the process took a lot of the pressure off. I’d be a little more nervous about doing all that if we didn’t have the songs.”
But do other songwriters have a shot when pitching him songs? “Oh absolutely,” he replies. “I don’t know that I’ll ever cut an album that doesn’t have at least one outside song on it. Maybe if I’m doing it to prove a point or if I’m doing a concept record at some point, but there are too many writers in Nashville for me to not go find other songs.”
A native of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Young paid his dues as a demo singer. In 2006, he won the TV competition Nashville Star and landed a record deal with RCA. However, the singles on his self-titled debut album stalled. “Voices,” which honors his traditional country influences, didn’t do much as the lead single from The Man I Want To Be. Essentially with one last chance, Young started his lucky streak with “Gettin’ You Home,” which earned a Grammy nomination.
(Interestingly, “Voices” climbed to No. 1 on its second attempt, becoming the first reissued country single to do so since Randy Travis’ “On The Other Hand” 25 years earlier.)
Drawing on that celebratory tone, Young co-wrote “Lighters In The Air” with Monty Criswell and Shane Minor.