A few weeks ago, I turned on the radio and heard a song that I immediately knew would be my soundtrack this summer. The song stars, “Why don’t you drink? It’s probably better I don’t. I can promise you, I’ve drank my weight in booze. I’ve been known to get on stage in nothing by my boots.” I was hooked. The song is fun, and he has an incredible voice. Then I realized he was the guy playing harmonica on the hit single “Beer” thanks to Lee Brice. Oh, and he wrote the Tim McGraw single “Truck Yeah”. This guy is young, passionate, and above everything, humble. We sat, talked about his single, his debut album, and his time spent at Tootsies in Nashville. For the record, everything he talks about in “Better I Don’t”, is true. This guy has a huge future ahead of him, and it is my pleasure to introduce you to Chris Janson.
Really digging your new single “Better I Don’t”. Tell me a little bit more about that track. Songs like that have to start with a story!
It’s a true story. Really, it came from my co-writers pumping me the idea. I wrote it with my wife Kelly and a lady named Pat Bunch, a legendary songwriter in Nashville. They convinced me to tell a story about my past. So that’s what I did. The song came out naturally.
In the song you talk about not drinking. You are a country musician. You have to drink! What are you drinking on stage?
Now I am just drinking water. I used to tie one on for fun. Since I got married and had kids, I stopped doing that. You have to quit that stuff at some point. Now I am a water guy. I used to be a big Mountain Dew junkie. 26 days sober of Mountain Dew as of today. To be honest with you, it was rotting my teeth. It was very unhealthy, and my body was telling me I had to quit. I quit cold turkey.
Have you ever been on stage in nothing but your boots?
Oh, yeah. I am telling you, every word of that song is true. The first time I was on stage like that was in West Virginia. I was on tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank Williams, Jr. at the time, and was on stage in a mink coat and boots. I did it the other day at a radio show.
You worked with your wife on the lyrics for “Better I Don’t”. Did she help you write anything else on the album? Was it fun working with her?
No, that’s the only song that we have on there together. But I am really glad it’s the first single off the project. It’s a blessing. I wrote the rest of the album with my buddies. It’s come together really nicely.
You don’t see a harmonica very often. That is your staple. You also play the guitar. What are some of your first memories of the harmonica? How did you get started playing that instrument?
Good question. It’s real simple. I was playing at Tootsies World Famous Orchid Lounge in Downtown Nashville my first year in town, and I had a steady gig going there. I was making OK tips on guitar, but I figured I needed to up my ante. Living out of a tip jar was all you get down there. I literally bought a harmonica and learned “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, and was off to the races from there. I started playing it more and more, sometimes playing it like a wild man and my tips started doubling and tripling. It was working, so I just stuck with it.
Speaking of that album, you are working with Keith Stegall on that. How did you guys connect?
He’s amazing. We met… actually, our wives are friends and it was a mutual friendship connection. We met and instantly became buddies and had a lot in common. One thing led to another, and he started helping me paint a bigger picture with the record. It was a natural progression. We met because our families were friends.
What was it like touring with Hank Williams, Jr.? There are probably a lot of stories that go along with a tour like that.
There’s not as many as you would think. I will just say this. It was unbelievably awesome. Hank is a great guy, and always treated me well. Touring like that is day in, day out, and at that time in my life I was just trying to make it. It was a stepping-stone. That tour was awesome, and he’s a fun guy to open for. What an honor. Doesn’t get any cooler than that in my book.
Tell me about your experience working with Bigger Picture Group.
It’s been great. The promo staff is great, and Keith is great. Everyone is just easy going, and I like it a lot. It felt right, and it was the right move to make. I try to go with what feels right in my heart, and Bigger Picture felt like the right home for me. I feel like they got me, they get me, and it’s good.
Let’s go back to the harmonica for a second. You are also a studio harmonica player. What other tracks/albums have you appeared on?
My coolest credit to date is Lee Brice’s new album Hard To Love. I played a song on it called “Beer”. Cool story; I was standing by my truck in a parking lot talking to my wife. I see Lee across the parking lot, and he yells at me. “Janson, can you come play on my record?” I got the harmonica out, went across the street to the studio, and laid it down. Just like that. Boom.
It’s a great record to be on. I love Lee. He’s a great friend, and a good dude all around.
I see a tattoo on your arm. What does that say?
That says, “He who has the Son has life.” It’s out of the book of John in the Bible. That is one of my favorite Bible verses. I try to live by that, keep it close to my heart, and I figured it was a very fitting tattoo.
You spend a lot of time at Tootsies Orchid Lounge. Did you usually play the same set, or do you switch it up every day?
That is a perfect question, man. I would switch it up every single day, every single set during the day. It was always different. That is where I got my wide range of songs. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of skill building, and I would just practice, practice every single day. I was playing four shows a day, four hours each, 365 days the first year I was in town.
Is there a lot of competition in Nashville?
It’s unbelievable. It’s a pool of talent. It’s dog eat dog, just like any other job. You have to fight to win. It’s hard to win, but you take it day by day. I take it day by day and see where it leads. I try not to pay attention to the competition. I just do my thing, because I am me and that is all I can do.
You are playing the Grand Ole Opry House in a couple of weeks. Have you played there before? What does that venue mean to you as a country musician?
This is my first time getting asked to play the Opry. I am so humbled and thankful. This is a milestone of my career/life that I have wanted to do. Words can’t describe how awesome the feeling is. I am so incredibly thankful and blessed I am just humbled by the situation.
(UPDATE: Chris played the Grand Ole Opry on Friday, February 15th, 2013. I asked him on Twitter if words can explain the experience. He replied, “Simply this: A blessing.”)
He’s pretty great live. He’s a nice guy, too. What was it like working with/writing for Tim McGraw?
Unbelievable. Awesome. Again, I use the word blessing a lot. I am blessed and thankful for everything that has happened. “Truck Yeah” was my first top 10 record, my first gold record. It was a huge blessing for my family. It was a random occurrence cutting that. You never know until you know. Then we hear it was going to be the first single, it happened, and it was unbelievable. Again, words can’t describe that feeling. There is nothing like it.
When will the debut album be ready? Is there a tour to promote the release?
We don’t have a tour planned yet, but I am playing dates all summer and fall. I am playing a lot of big festivals. We don’t have a release date yet. I am just going to take things day by day, and I never want to put the cart before the horse. I never want to speak too soon.
Besides finishing the album and all these tour dates, what’s next? You are just getting started. What’s next for Chris Janson?
I will continue doing radio promotion on the new single, and the dates to follow this summer time.
In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
I appreciate everyone that has been behind me since I got here, and will forever be grateful for that. I am thankful for my team and my wife. It’s a team effort, and I truly appreciate it.
Chris Janson – Better I Don’t
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Photo Credit: Kristin Barlowe