CMA Fest Interview: Chris Janson – Country Music’s Fastest Rising Star

CMA Fest Interview: Chris Janson – Country Music’s Fastest Rising Star


In my time shuffling in and out of small venues, wandering around music festivals, and allowing myself to search out new music, it’s not often that I come across an artist who gives me that feeling. The one where I am speechless, searching for words to describe what I just heard, or the performance that I witnessed on stage and exactly the emotions it incited within me. It’s not often I hear a song and get that distinct impression that it’s one of those songs. You know the ones, the ones that are going to shoot up the charts and make a career out of an unknown artist or band. That’s exactly what happen when I heard “Better I Don’t” by Chris Janson. I knew the song was going to blow-up, and while it just recently cracked the top 40, I don’t think that’s where it’s going to stay. It’s just going to keep rising.

Then there’s seeing him on stage. His electric energy, intense love for what he’s doing on stage, and dedication to his audience set him apart from his peers. There’s undeniable passion and authenticity in everything he does when he’s standing in the spotlight. He has no shame about where he’s come from, what he’s been through, or where he’s going. In fact, he wants you to hear those stories and know that they’re true, he injects his personality effortlessly into everything he does. Needles to say, I wasn’t surprised to find the same to be true when I met him in person. For an artist on the verge of mega-stardom, he is quietly humble, unabashedly honest, and truly grateful for the life that he’s been given. Ladies and gentleman, Chris Janson personifies country music, and I can’t wait for you to meet him.

Chris Janson playing his CMA Fest Fan Club Party at the Whiskey Bent.

Is this your first CMA Fest?

Actually, this is my third. But it’s the first one I’ve really done a lot of stuff for. It’s going really good.

Did you have an expectations coming into this years CMA Fest?

You know, I didn’t really have any expectations I just figured I’d do what I could do. Be a part of it anyway I can. The highlight of my whole week is going to be the Opry on Saturday at the Ryman for CMA Fest. It’s a really big honor to be playing, so I’m excited about that. It’ll be my eight time playing, but it’s always an incredible experience.

What’s the most exciting part of CMA Fest for you?

Everyone is going to say the fans, but I am too. It’s a little different for a guy like me because I really pay attention to faces. So I’ve seen a lot of the same faces out there, the people that have continually had my back through the ups and downs, so I always get… I don’t know about excited, but I get humbled. It’s a humbling thing for me. I’m just thankful, thankful for everyone that hears the music.

CMA Fest is a big kick off to the summer, what were some of your favorite activities in the summer growing up?

I really enjoyed working in the summer, to be honest with you, as a kid I had a job when I was eight years old. I’ve been making my own money since I was a kid. I enjoyed working on the farm, bailing hay, picking up hay in the field. You know, a couple bucks an hour as a kid, you’re loaded! I enjoyed mowing the lawn, hanging out with my friends, going fishing. Just a country kid.

Did you go to any music events as a kid? Any festivals that your remember?

I went to one concert as a kid. My parents took me to one concert. But, you know what, I never really wanted to go. I’ll be honest with you I’m still not a concert goer. I don’t buy tickets to go to a concert. And, admittedly so, it has to be real special and I have to really want to go. Now, it’s because of scheduling. I have kids and a wife, and my schedule is jam packed, I’m at my own shows so I don’t have time to go. The roles would probably be reversed if I had more time now. But as a kid, my mom and dad worked for everything that they had, and me too. And we lived such a backwood country lifestyle, we lived in a small, small rural town in Southern Missouri. So they took me to one concert, it was Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ top. And five years ago, I played the same arena with Lynyrd Skynyrd that I saw my first concert at as a kid. It was badass.

We saw you on Freemont Street in Vegas and we were blown away by your energy and charisma.

Thank you so much! That means a lot to me.

You say you didn’t go to concerts much growing up, so who were some of your biggest influences as far as performing and stage presence?

You know… Jerry Lee Lewis. But I’m going to be completely frank with you. I’m not really influenced by anyone as far as stage goes. When I get on stage it’s a different place for me, I’m tuned in with you and the crowd a little bit, but I’m more tuned in to what’s happening on stage. And whatever happens to reflect on people is what happens. That’s the honest truth about it. I get so into the music up there that I’m lost in the moment. If I were match up to anyone, like on youtube if I were to go on there today, I’d say it would be Guns N’ Roses and Jerry Lee Lewis. They’d make me click to watch.

What do you want people to take away from your shows when they walk away at the end of the night?

I guess this is the reason I don’t go to a lot of concerts as an adult. I want to be entertained, I don’t feel like there’s a lot of entertainers out there anymore, and if they are they’re kind of on their way out. I want to entertain people, I want to get them jacked, and I want them to leave thinking “Holy Shit, I would buy a ticket to see that again.”  That’s the bottom line. If you can’t do that, I don’t understand the reason to play.

You’ve already toured with iconic artists, but if you could share the stage with anyone else you haven’t already, who would it be?

Thankfully. What I’d really like to do is an acoustic tour with Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. I’ve done a bit of touring with Haggard where he’s full band and I’m acoustic. But I’d like to do a songwriters series kind of thing. That would be such an honor for me.

We also saw your harmonica skills in Vegas. Why did you pick that up? What made you start playing? And how did you learn?

Interesting story. I was in tootsies my first year in town, where I was playing guitar and singing, and you’re playing out of a tip jar when you’re down there. You’re splitting your tips with the band about four or five ways. So, I wasn’t making enough just playing the guitar and singing, and I thought “what else can I bring to the table?” I went down to Cracker Barrel that night and bought a harmonica and just learned.

So you taught yourself?

Yeah, I went back that night for a gig. I just started playing it in the key it was in, blues harping it, and just did it by ear. True story, no other reason than I was hungry and needed to triple the tips. They definitely doubled and tripled after that.

Your single,  “Better I Don’t” is doing so well. I heard it before I went to Vegas and dragged all my friends to the show because of it. You write for other artists, including Tim McGraw on “Truck Yeah,” so how do you approach writing for yourself compared to writing for other artists?

That’s a great question. It’s totally, TOTALLY different. When I’m writing for myself I have a very small crew of co-writers that I want to do that with. A lot of times I want to do it by myself. My favorite co-writer is my wife, my best friend, she wrote “Better I Don’t” with me. James Otto also wrote “When I’m Holding Her” another cut off my album, a ballad about my wife and kids, one of my favorites on the record. When I’m writing with the mindset of trying to get a cut on someone, be it a “Truck Yeah” or Justin Moore or whoever may cut my song, I really just try and write with an open, universal mindset. I don’t try and tailor make it for anyone. I’m a tailor made kind of guy. My music is tailor made for me. There are not a lot of other people that would do it, and I think that’s what puts artists aside from one another. I try and get in open mindset and I try and co-write them. That’s how “Truck Yeah” happen, everybody just had their own little piece of that song. That’s the only way I can really describe it.

That’s perfect! So you’re writing for your album right now. What can we expect off of that?

You will hear a lot of harmonica, when it’s appropriate, placed throughout the album. One really extremely great ballad, I’m just going to say it’s a good song, it’s called “holding her.” I’m just really proud of it, I wrote it with James Otto. The rest of it, in one word, they can take away some truth. It’s just real stories written down on there.

You said your family really inspires you. What else inspires your music?

Jesus. The will to work. As much as it is fun to have this career, it’s also my career and I don’t need to forget that, it’s my job. If I was building fences or bailing hay, training horses still, it’s the will to work, the will to make money, the will to make a living. I have a family, it all comes back to that.

Do we have a release date yet?

We don’t have a release date yet but it will probably be a little later this year. We’re finishing it in the next two weeks… I don’t even know what I’m going to call it yet, but I’m gonna call it something. I might just call it “Something.”

What are your plans for the rest of the summer? Any touring?

I have an unbelievably crammed tour schedule, in a good way, I’m so thankful. I’m going to be all over the United States. Rocking the party!

We’re based in California. Any plans to head out west any time soon?

Yeah! I was actually just out there last weekend. But will tell you everything you need to know!

Last question. Have you ever really gotten on stage in nothing but your boots?

Yeaah, oh yeah. Several times. The first time was on the Hank Jr. tour in West Virgina. There’s a band called the Davidson Brothers band who can attest to that!




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