The story of Charlie Worsham’s new EP, Sugarcane, starts in April of 2017. Due July 16 via Warner Music Nashville, the six-track collection brings the 35-year-old Mississippi native all the way back to the parking lot of his favorite venue, The Station Inn, after an album release party the label threw him for his sophomore LP, Beginning of Things.
“That same week, my day-to-day manager quit, I was fired from a publishing deal. And I’m kind of feeling in my gut that this was in some ways going to be a repeat of what I experienced on my first album, Rubberband, in terms of it not taking off commercially, and there being a disappointment there.” Worsham tells American Songwriter over the phone. “I think it was more of a heartbreak than a disappointment.”
Looking back over four years later he considers just how much has changed for him, and where these songs fill in the gaps. That fateful night, placing his career anxieties on the backburner, Worsham managed to make the most of his evening. He points to a pivotal moment walking out to his car that evening with his girlfriend at the time, Kristen—who is now his wife, and mother of their son, Gabriel.
“I probably had a belly full of Yazoo Pale Ale and was all amped up about the music release. John Oates and Vince Gill had shown up, and I was excited about that, and excited about where things were going with her. So I said, ‘I’ve got to tell you something, I love you,'” says Worsham. “And she’s all, ‘I love you, too.'”
A few beers in and wound up in the adrenaline of it all is where his third track “Half Drunk” was born. His lyrics, co-written with Jay Knowles, unfold like a letter to his wife to validate the use of those three little words came tumbling off my lips. In the chorus, he presses further into those feelings:
From day one you’ve been the one, baby / Just ’cause I went and said what I meant / Don’t mean I didn’t mean it a hundred percent.
“That really was a snapshot of picking up where I left off,” says Worsham. In a full-circle experience, they returned to the song’s breeding ground, The Station Inn, to shoot the music video.
A few weeks later, in a fluorescent-buzzing, stale beer-smelling, post-soundcheck after somewhere in Carolina on tour with Brandy Clark, another track, “For The Love” was born. Worsham was writing to get out of a deal he’d been fired from because he still owed them 10 copyrights.
“‘For The Love’ was me reminding myself why the hell I do this. It’s my theme song track from this particular batch, but I’ve been writing that song over and over from day one,” says Worsham. On his 2013 debut, his purpose statement was “Young To See.” And on Beginning of Things (2017), it was “Cut Your Groove.”
As a solo write, “For The Love”—along with the title track—embodies the elements of Worsham’s enduring songwriting status in Nashville. In addition to his own music, he’s a frequent collaborator with Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Kacey Musgraves, Marty Stuart, Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban to name a few. Worsham is also a multi-talented instrumentalist and earned a nomination for Specialty Instrument Player of the Year at the 55th ACM Awards. He has toured extensively across the world including numerous shows performing as part of Old Crow Medicine Show.
Produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town), Sugarcane is an “emotional homecoming” for Worsham. What began as personal reflections from a daily writing exercise, grew into something much more universal. With each song, the artist introduces another face of both his artistry and personal life. With poignant intentionality, he ruminates on what is gained from times of struggle and all the many ways to perceive the idea of success in one’s life.
“If you do have an emotional homecoming, that sounds sweet, but there’s going to be a little sadness in there. Maybe a little bit of anger, or anxiety along with the joys and thrills of what we would call ‘positive’ emotions,” says Worsham. “That’s such a bad way to think of emotions—’positive’ or ‘negative.’ They’re all very useful.”
“Fist Through This Town” captures the fear-induced anger that is part of the deal when becoming vulnerable. Crafted with frequent Church songwriters Jeremy Spillman and Travis Meadows, the hard-driven lyrics evoke a desperate fight to survive in a cut-throat industry.
“Each of these emotions was shaped differently. I’d gone from writing these emotions out to try to impress people, or prove myself to the world, to writing songs that were as much love letters as anything, because I was writing for one person,” says Worsham, about his wife. “If I got her to giggle, or think I was sexy, or whatever it was, I scored a point as a writer in my brain and heart. And it’s all the shift you need for that beam of light to hit the prism so that all the colors come through on the other side.”
It turns out that this shift in purpose yielded more universal songs. When his son, Gabriel, was born in April of this year, Worsham gained another subject to channel his songwriting towards. He quoted the personal lyrics in an Instagram post of his growing family.
The music video aids in passing on important life lessons to the next generation. Shot in one take, the film features cherished heirlooms like his father’s drums and a picture of Kristen in a Mr. Rogers shirt from when she was a kid.
With confidence found only from familial roots, Worsham sings, I believe in the power of good songs and good dogs / Cuz of my old man / I believe life’s what happens when we’re making other plans / And you, you make me believe in love.
Pre-order Charlie Worsham’s new album, Sugarcane, before its July 16 release.