Brett Eldredge has been running full speed ahead with a grueling tour schedule and little time off since signing with Atlantic Records 10 years ago. In early 2019, that all changed when the singer decided to step away from the spotlight to reconnect with himself.
The affable country singer is well known for his engaging social media presence that once included the endearing Snapchat series Bed Head Jams, frequent posts of his beloved dog Edgar, and humorous adventures on the road. On Jan. 2, 2019, he signed off from social media and shared his decision to “take a moment to experiment and see what it’s like to be here, RIGHT NOW, lost in the music and not in a screen.”
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To start 2019, I am going to go back in time to 2002. That was the year I got my first color flip phone with a lil megapixel camera on it…I felt like a bad ass…I would carry it everywhere I went but never look at it to check the never ending “Breaking News” or constantly compare my life to someone else’s…I wouldn’t sit at the dinner table and be halfway paying attention to my buddies convo’s because I was watching someone’s story about how good, or bad they were at “Flossing” or how quick someone could chug a bottle of vodka and do a triple backflip into a pool…I was there, in the moment, with my friends, with life…Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of amazing things about a smart phone…but I gotta take a moment to experiment and see what it’s like to be here, RIGHT NOW, lost in the music and not in a screen…if ya need me, I’ll be on the T9 text machine…here goes the #FlipPhoneChallnege Happy new year! Love Brett
And with a flip phone, notepad and pen, Eldredge stepped away to reset before working on what would become his deeply personal fifth studio album Sunday Drive. The singer-songwriter retreated to California solo before teaming up with Grammy Award-winning producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk for his most definitive album yet.
“Before even thinking about creating a song, I wanted to figure out who I am,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone. “I was burnt out, honestly. I was needing a break and I was needing to figure myself out first. It was scary at that time for sure, but it changed my life.”
Eldredge became a mainstay on country radio since the release of his 2010 debut single “Raymond,” a heartfelt story song inspired by his grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s. With seven No. 1 singles to his name including 2012’s catchy “Don’t Ya,” its feel-good follow-up “Beat of the Music” and most recent chart topper “Love Someone,” Eldredge was poised for superstardom. His decision to step away in 2019 was a bold move at the height of his career, which also included a change of management and producers. But, it was something he needed to do for himself.
“As soon as I started giving myself the time to feel things and to be vulnerable, it was the most empowering thing. It was also the most creatively, supercharging thing I’ve ever done,” he says. “All these lyrics and all these melodies, all these things were coming up in my mind and in my heart because I was not distracting myself with phones or with anything. I was just being and that’s a huge thing to do.”
The first song Eldredge wrote for the album was “Good Day,” an uplifting tune about finding the joy in everyday life. His first co-write with soon-to-be producers Tashian and Fitchuk, Eldredge says the writing session was different this time around as he found himself in deep conversation about the core of who he is as a person.
“I remember walking out of there feeling that was something I really needed. It was not what I was expecting. It was not like any other experience I’ve had as a writer. I felt this sense of greater appreciation for music than I have ever felt with these guys,” he explains of the writing session. “There is a lot of empathy in those guys. You feel like you’re in a therapy session a little bit.”
The willingness Tashian and Fitchuk had to dive deep in conversation and to allow Eldredge to step out of his comfort zone stuck with the singer. Knowing “Good Day” was exactly the type of song and lyric he wanted to chase for his next album, Eldredge invited Tashian and Fitchuk to the beach house he was renting in California the day after the 2019 Grammy Awards. Hot on the heels of winning the coveted Album of the Year and Country Album of the Year with Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, the two Grammy Award-winning producers accepted Eldredge’s offer.
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Creating SUNDAY DRIVE with @tronian and @thesilverseas was a game changer for me…their unique perspective and willingness to go alllll the way with me on this was somethin that I will never forget…we lived in Chicago, walked the timeless streets, ate at the local haunts and most of all, connected profoundly on the one thing that matters most to all of us, the music…so as you start hearing all of this music, you know who went to war with me
Alone with his thoughts and feelings and the sound of the ocean waves, the experience made Eldredge dive even deeper. In the days and songs that followed, he knew Tashian and Fitchuk were the men to help him with his next album. His new producers would later join Eldredge in his hometown of Paris, Illinois, before retreating to Chicago to record the album at Shirk Studios.
“We had written one song before that and all enjoyed the experience,” Tashian shares of his experience writing with Eldredge in California. “After talking to Brett and hearing that he really felt like exploring and finding something new, that seemed like a good time to be working with an artist.”
Lead single “Gabrielle” was the first song the trio recorded in Chicago and the song set the pace for the album. Currently No. 42 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart after its April release, “Gabrielle” is a personal song for Eldredge as he looks back on what could have been in a past relationship. “The miles they fly by/ Till you land back home again/ Do you ever wonder what we might have been,” he sings.
He says the process of slowing down and stepping away gave him time to reflect on past relationships and pay attention to his own heart. “You see the important things that you had in your life and you kind of wonder, do they still have their power in your heart? That line really rings true,” he says.
While recording together in Chicago, producer Tashian describes Eldredge as a man of mystery. “He would disappear for hours and just walk the city streets as far as I could tell, then, as if by magic, appear right when it was time to do a vocal take, and then he would knock it out of the park,” Tashian says. “I remember having a lot of fun and things got very emotional when we were recording ‘Sunday Drive.’ Everyone had chills about that song. I’ll never forget that.”
A stark and nostalgic piano ballad looking back on one’s family and traditions, the poignant “Sunday Drive” is the only song on the project that Eldredge didn’t write himself. Long before he became a household name, Eldredge discovered the song while interning at Universal Music Publishing. Written by Barry Dean, Don Mescall and Steve Robson during a writing trip in London in 2007, Eldredge says the song captured exactly what he felt like growing up in a small town and riding in the backseat of the car with his family.
“You feel like those days are forever and they’re not,” he says of his childhood. “I got very reflective with this album. I’ve lived enough life where I’ve grown up and am in the exact place where this song really speaks to my life. [‘Sunday Drive’ is] a really good way to remind yourself that all of this is temporary [and all] we have is the moment right here to hold onto and make every one count … When I was recording this song in Chicago, I broke down in that third verse. It was one of the most special recording moments I’ve had and really made me take a look at my life and realize this is the right way to go about living it.”
The song comes from a real place for songwriter Barry Dean (“Heartache Medication,” “Pontoon”), who recalls talking about his parents and grandparents during the co-write. “That was a really big moment for my songwriting personally,” Dean says of writing the song over 12 years ago. “I knew Brett since the day he moved to town, and then I got a text that he was going to cut it. When I heard his version, I said, ‘This is your song now.’ I love Brett. I love his approach on this. It restores my faith in the belief and power of songs and artists.”
Eldredge took a “less is more” approach in the studio when it came to recording Sunday Drive. Every track was recorded live, with his voice at the forefront. He says it was important to create space in the music and many of his influences — Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel and Elton John — can be heard within the vocal phrasing.
“I don’t feel like I’ve ever shown what I can do vocally and uniquely as an artist as much as I’ve done with this record. It was just creating that space and finding a place for my voice to be me more than I ever have been — without a lot of distractions — and I think it became a really powerful thing,” he says.
Opening track “Where the Heart Is,” penned by Eldredge, Jessie Jo Dillon and Tyler Johnson, demonstrates this space in the music. As Eldredge explains, “Where the Heart Is” serves as the album’s mission statement. “Remember when you felt the summer?/ Remember how the rain felt down on your skin?/ When’d you lose your sense of wonder?/ That firework goin’ off in your head/ ‘Cause there was a time/ We weren’t thinkin’ / We were flyin’/ We were alive,” he croons on the song’s chorus.
“I needed to find the magic, and the wonder again myself first and foremost in music. When I first got to town I had no fear,” he recalls. “I would go play every single little songwriter place and I didn’t care if there was one person or anybody in the crowd. That sense of wonder of not listening to any other voices out there telling you that you can’t do it. That is what I needed to find again because I lost touch with that. It was an outcry to myself: It’s time to feel that again, to feel that spark.”
Returning home also helped Eldredge share his world with his producers. He says it was important to showcase the heart of the heartland and where he grew up throughout Sunday Drive. During a trip back to Paris, Eldredge and his producers spent time on his uncle’s farm and at the lake, as well as ate from his aunt’s garden and walked around town so he could introduce Tashian and Fitchuk to Midwest hospitality and where he came from.
“It’s a unique lifestyle that I don’t think is covered very often in music and I really wanted to capture that,” he says. “I think you’re going to get something extra special because you see the heart and soul of a person in that situation. They got to see who I am to the core.”
This Midwest upbringing can be heard within the stirring final song on the album, “Paris Illinois.” Penned by Eldredge and his producers, the piano and horn-driven track has Eldredge noting, “Sometimes you gotta lose yourself/ To make your way back home.” A theme for his own life and the creative process behind Sunday Drive, Eldredge is confident that he has finally found himself thanks to a little time away.
“I think this album is me growing up. I feel at home now,” he says. “I became self-aware in this whole situation of finding myself. I want to show my fans what I’ve found in myself, and hopefully, in return, they’ll find themselves through this music. My whole goal with everything is to show the journey I’ve been on, and that we’re all on our own unique journey ourselves, but we can all relate to each other and connect to each other. I think it’s really important right now.
“To let yourself feel is the most freeing thing you could do,” he continues. “You’ve got to push outside of your comfort zone if you want to change anything in life, and I’ve learned a lot about that through this process.”