East Kentucky native Chris Stapleton is an anomaly in today’s commercial country milieu. While his songs have been recorded by some of the genre’s biggest stars—Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Josh Turner, Darius Rucker—his own music is anything but mainstream. Absorbing the best of country’s past, his powerful voice reveals a prominent soul influence.
If Otis Redding had made a country album, it might have sounded a lot like Traveller, Stapleton’s solo debut. Garnering nearly universal acclaim, it is one of the best major label male country releases in recent memory.
He’s also becoming a regular on the talk show circuit, with appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman, The View and Late Night With Seth Meyers. TVD sat down with Stapleton before his appearance at Louisville’s Forecastle Festival to talk about recording the album, vinyl, and Tennessee whiskey.
The sound and writing on your album really stands out against most of the current country field. Was this your intention?
I was just trying to make the best record I could make. I had a single that died in October 2013 and then my dad passed away the same month. It’s part of life but it’s a rough thing and it flipped a switch in me. It helped me focus on what I was doing and what kind of music I wanted to make. It also made me think of the music I grew up on.
Then I heard Sturgill (Simpson)’s last record and I really liked the sound of it. That made me seek out (producer) Dave Cobb. I thought, “Here’s a guy who makes records the way I like them to sound.” It sounds like things I grew up on and I didn’t know that (type of production) still existed. It’s something that, sonically, I chased down unsuccessfully for fourteen years. I met with Dave and we liked each other tremendously so we started to make the record.
Again, I am struck by how different the album sounds than what commercial country radio is playing, but yet you’re having success…
Actually, the single we had on the radio didn’t work but, yeah, people like the record. I don’t know how to quantify that into what’s making the album work.
You’ve had several songs covered by artists who do get a substantial amount of airplay on country radio. What do you think it is in your songwriting that appeals to them? Have you asked them?
No, I’ve never asked that question, “Why do you like this?” (laughs), but I’m thankful that they do. The vast majority of my income over the last fourteen, fifteen years has come from being a songwriter. That’s allowed me to do other things creatively, like being in bands and make records a little outside of what (the mainstream) is. I’ve always walked in doors that were open and if someone wants to record one of my songs, I’m certainly thankful for it.