When singer/songwriter CJ Solar was just seven years old, he looked up and suddenly took notice of the guitar that had always hung on the wall in his father’s bedroom.
“I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” the Baton Rouge native tells American Songwriter in an interview occurring just days before the Friday (May 1) release of his much-awaited EP Coming My Way. “But I had no patience for learning theory or anything like that. I simply wanted to play songs.”
Two years later, at just nine years of age, he started learning how to play those songs on his guitar thanks to a man by the name of Stan, a man that passed away just days ago.
“The world lost one of the kindest hearts I’ve ever known this past weekend,” Solar wrote in an Instagram message on Tuesday (April 28) alongside a pic of him and his dear teacher. “I started taking guitar lessons from Stan when I was about 9 years old and when I got a little older, we played countless duo gigs together all around Baton Rouge. He taught me everything I know about guitar and a lot about life. Gonna miss you a lot Stan the man.”
This unfortunate news is just another piece of a peculiar puzzle that seems to be all happening at the same time for Solar. Indeed, it’s a time that finds the country and the entire world attempting to center themselves in a topsy turvy world that has been rocked by the spread of the coronavirus.
Heck, even Solar can’t explain it away.
“I got a moped just before all of this happened, so I’ve been riding it all around Nashville trying to figure this all out in my mind,” admits Solar, who has been quarantining with his girlfriend in recent weeks, along with his drummer who lives in the duplex next door to him. “I mean, it’s a lot.”
And then, there is his EP.
“I’m just glad to be putting something out,” says Solar, who is known best for co-writing songs such as Jason Aldean’s “I Don’t Drink Anymore,” Jameson Rodger’s “Some Girls” and Morgan Wallen’s #1 single “Up Down.”. “I have fans and people who have been asking for this EP for a long time, but yeah, its so weird putting music out at this time. I wish this wasn’t going on.”
But it is, and much like how Solar has tackled every obstacle in his way thus far, he’s tackling this with the belief that music heals. Having grown up on a high dosage of Clearance Clearwater Revival, Solar’s EP is filled with a mix of Southern rock and gritty honesty that any listener can hear within each and every measure of each and every song.
“I’ve always loved songs that had a passion in the vocal delivery and a range in the melody and the emotion they bring forward,” says Solar of his new EP, which follows the success of his previous EPs Get Away with It and Hard One to Turn Down. “I love playing party songs live, but I love the range of emotions that come in some of the sadder songs. I love belting those ones out.”
Having written all six songs on his new EP alongside Nashville powerhouses such as Smith Ahnquist, Brent Anderson, Jordan Brooker, Jacob Davis, Bob DiPiero, Mark Fuhrer, Jason Gantt, Michael Hardy, Neil Medley and Jake Mitchell, Solar has found somewhat of a haven within his songwriting throughout his entire life.
“I was pretty young when I realized that I not only wanted to play the guitar and play songs, but I wanted to find out who was writing all those frickin’ songs,” Solar recalls, laughing at the childhood memory. “I wrote my first song at 12 years old, and it was terrible. But songwriting itself is something that I have certainly clung to all of these years.”
In fact, one of the first songs Solar ever wrote professionally (“Rain”) finds itself on his new EP, which also includes “Coming my Way,” “Better Memory,” “Wild Hair,” “She’ll Run” and his latest radio single “Watered Down Whiskey.”
“It’s definitely one of the most country things I have ever done,” says Solar, who wrote “Watered Down Whiskey” alongside Charlie Berry. “Its truly a power ballad. It just one of those songs with a great melody and a great lyric and great production, all wrapped up in one song. That’s my goal. To put out songs that bring all of these aspects together.”
For now, Solar is counting down the days until life goes back to some sort of normal, even if it a new normal, because frankly, he hasn’t had a whole lot of luck with writing virtually.
“I mean, Zoom writes work, but it’s hard because it just doesn’t give me the same feeling,” he says. “I’m used to being in a room with an acoustic guitar and vibing with each other and taking a break to eat lunch with everybody.”
And whatever you do, don’t ask him to write a sad song right now.
“It’s such a heavy time that I don’t want to write heavy songs right now,” he says quietly. “I don’t want to write a bunch of sad stuff and I certainly don’t want to sit in my room by myself all day and think of sad stuff. I’m trying to write as much up-tempo and fun stuff as I can.”
He pauses for a moment.
“I don’t know…it’s a hard balance…. but its life.”