When Chris Janson headlines Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium in February, he will be performing at a musically sacred place located a few blocks away from his first home in town.
Janson first arrived in Nashville from Missouri in 2005 to pursue music professionally without a plan, barely any money and no parents’ credit card to bail him out in the event he had a financial emergency. All Janson carried with him was a dream and a backpack full of homemade CDs he burned in his garage as he made his way to the place with the brightest lights in town — Lower Broadway.
He parked his Monte Carlo behind what is now Honky Tonk Central, and he had arrived. The backseat of his ride would be his home for the next three weeks while he went from honky-tonk to honky-tonk like a door-to-door salesman to see if any gigs were available.
“I would knock on doors and ask people if I could get onstage and play, and nobody would let me onstage,” Janson told CMT.com. “I got a boot on my car within the first hour of being in Nashville and just slept in the backseat and busked up and down the street until I got a gig.”
He finally landed a regular gig playing Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
“It was four sets a day at four hours a piece so by the time you do the turnaround, there’s not really time for anything else,” he said. “You’ve got to find a place to shower and eat sometimes. There was a time after that when Tyler Farr and I kind of oddly shared the same apartment in and out. He was playing bars, too. People always make jokes about Ramen noodle diets but that was basically it — that and the kids’ meal at Cracker Barrel.”
Four years later, he appeared as a guest artist on Holly Williams’ 2009 album Here With Me. But It wouldn’t be until 2013 when Janson would score his first hit as a songwriter behind Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah.” Others have recorded his music including LOCASH, Randy Houser, Justin Moore, Frankie Ballard, Parmalee and more. In 2015, Janson released “Buy Me a Boat,” the song that would land him a new record deal with Warner Music Nashville. The release of his full-length debut of the same title followed in the fall of that year.
“If you took away my musical abilities and my songwriting, I would probably be a miserable human to be around,” Janson admitted. “I don’t know what else I would do because it’s the only thing that has ever paid my bills in a big way. And we have been so blessed by music.”
There is no question that music is what Janson was born to do. Anyone who has seen him live knows he is a master at working a crowd. And it’s his tenacity and spirit that make him an artist to believe in for generations to come. His No. 1 goal going into creating his sophomore album Everybody was to make music he feels confident performing live from start to finish. For this chapter in his career, Janson stuck to what he does best – write material that speaks to the blue collar experience that is equal parts soul-baring and just plain fun. Most of the music was recorded live on the spot without much fixing on the back end.
The title track was loosely inspired by a television show Janson normally wouldn’t be caught dead watching. While waiting for songwriters Casey Beathard and Tom Douglas to arrive at his house for a writing appointment, Keeping Up with the Kardashians just happened to be on.
“I’m flipping through the channels,” he said, “and I just thought, ‘What do people see in this? How are these people that famous? What have they truly done to be that famous?’ That might be my ignorance of just not watching that much TV, but I really don’t get it.”
That’s where the line came from, “Everybody wants to be famous, everybody wants to be a superstar.”
“You go on YouTube” Janson adds, “and people will ask a lot of the younger generations, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ And they’ll say, ‘I just want to be famous.’ What does that mean? I’ve even heard singers say that before and it makes me sick. You just want to be famous? Have you ever written a song? They don’t even get it. They don’t even care.
“The entitlement that people have is shocking to me. And we’ve all been guilty of thinking we deserve something when we don’t.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Drunk Girl,” which was co-written with Douglas and Scooter Carusoe. The song is an important message that needs to be heard in today’s hook-up culture. It beseeches any man interested in taking an inebriated woman home and hooking up with her, to do the opposite. Instead, drive her home, make sure she’s safe and then leave her keys and your contact information by her phone.
“I’m not trying to change the world or preach to people,” he said, “but it gives the younger generation of males a different way of looking at it. I know coming up through the years, a lot of guys, the first thing they think when they go out to bars is, ‘Let’s go out, tie one on and see what happens with a chick.’
“It’s more of a redemptive story about actually showing the respect to a woman or a girl. When you take somebody home, you don’t have to hook up with them, especially if the circumstance isn’t right. In that kind of light, 99 percent of the time it’s not right. For me and my part, being a dad is really where it came from and I would want somebody to treat my daughter with great respect and take care of her. If my wife was drunk, that’s what I would do. But I really hope that the message resonates with dudes.”
Janson’s Everybody tour will showcase the more musical side of his artistry. People might not realize this but he plays at least seven instruments including piano, drums, guitar, bass, banjo, steel and harmonica. And fans can expect his set list to be heavy on the new music.
“This is not a slam to the Buy Me a Boat album,” Janson said. “I don’t play 75 percent of that album because I don’t feel comfortable singing those songs. But with this Everybody record for the first time ever, we’re playing every song and we’re feeling really good about it. Everybody is already singing along with it and the songs feel familiar to them. That’s why I guess I’m most proud of it. They all feel like hits.”
The Everybody Tour continues Sept. 28 in Peoria, Illinois. Janson will perform three shows on Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul2Soul Tour starting Oct. 5 in San Antonio.