This past Friday is the day Chris Stapleton fans have been anxiously waiting for… his new album, From A Room: Volume 1 dropped and is now available everywhere. It’s the follow-up to his 2015 solo debut Traveller, which has sold well over two million copies – and has won every award imaginable since its release. Needless to say, things have changed for the Kentucky native in the past 24 months.
So, Chris, is there any pressure? The answer might surprise you.
“It would be easy to feel that way,” he admitted to Sounds Like Nashville. “But, about a day into getting into the studio to make records, I very much tried to put any expectations out [of the way], and just get back to making music for the sake of making music. I didn’t have any expectations on the last one. If we sold 50,000 records, it would have been a giant victory for me – as far as getting to go out and play live, and keep the wheels rolling. But, we did a little more than that. I kind of feel the same way about this record. It’s a whole new record, and my expectations for this record don’t have much to do with the last record. I just want it to be whatever it’s going to be for this record. That kind of takes the pressure off when you do that, for me. I’m sure that other folks at labels or retailers might have other opinions of that, but I really don’t. I just want to keep making music for the sake of making music, and let that stuff sort itself out. You can’t control any of that, really. I just realized that I was going to go in there, and play some songs and play music – which I love to do, and generally, I’m okay at it.”
Stapleton’s main goal for the new project was a simple one – the inspiration of which he owes to one of his biggest influences.
“I read an interview with Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top one time, and he said he always tried to make music that he would want to listen to. I think that is the best litmus test for what you want to record or make. I’m a fan of albums, too, so I’ve always been a fan of things that work together in a pot. With that being said, am I necessarily chasing somebody else? No, because I’m not somebody else and any attempt on my part to be somebody else would be not only not genuine, but it just wouldn’t work.”
That’s not to say that if programmers picked up on some of the new music, he would be offended. That’s just simply not his aim.
“I hope that I can have some radio success. I hope that some of the stations decide to play some of the things off of this record in different formats, such as Country and Americana. But, I don’t make records thinking about how it’s going to play out that way, just like I don’t make records and think about awards or anything like that. I just don’t think that’s a healthy thing to do.”
And, while From A Room, Volume 1 is a new album, the songs are ones that have been around for a while, he insists.
“None of these songs are new. None of them have been written in the last two years. They all pre-date the last record. The process was very much the same. We evaluated the songs, and some of them were probably on the short list to get recorded last time. We take to the studio in a ‘What do you feel like doing now’ kind of way. That’s what we did this time as well… We very much followed the muse of the room and the moment in trying to play songs that we wanted to play.”
One of those songs that might be familiar to fans is the heartbreaking “Either Way.” Originally recorded by Lee Ann Womack on her 2008 disc Call Me Crazy, Stapleton says the song isn’t true to life, but that’s the point of being an artist – getting to create an emotion.
“That’s the luxury of co-writing and creating in general. You can create fiction, or you can draw from personal experience, and you can also try to get inside the character of a song. I wrote that song over ten years ago. I couldn’t recall the day or any of those things, but I’m sure I walked into the room with Tim James and Kendall Marvel, and one of them had this idea. It seemed tragic and sad, and we tried to do that to the best of our ability, but also to put truth and honesty in it. When you can do that, then truth and honesty are going to find somebody inside of the song. Little pieces of yourself are going to get in there, whether you know it or not. You can think that something is fiction, and find out years later that it’s not. That’s another conversation. As far as recording that song, my wife always loved it – which probably should worry me,” he said with a chuckle. “She just loves slow and sad songs, and always wanted me to play that one. So, I felt led to do it, and if I am going to sing something, I am going to sing it with every ounce of belief and try to put every bit of believability into a lyric that I can.”
Just like he did on Traveller with “Tennessee Whiskey,” the Grammy winner also covers a classic in Willie Nelson’s 1982 hit “The Last Thing I Needed (The First Thing This Morning).” Could this be a trend for him? He stops short of saying so, but admits he loves making a new audience aware of the classics that inspired him.
“I don’t want to make any promises about how I feel about future records or what I’m going to do, but much like I like bridging gaps in live shows, I like doing that on records. I think if there is somebody out there who hasn’t heard that song, they should hear it, whether they hear it from me or Willie Nelson, or Gary P. Nunn, who wrote the song. It’s important to hear that song, because it’s a great song. I have no illusions that everything that I write is the best thing for me to record. There are great songs out there that I love, and if I know them and I love them, I’m going to sing them. That’s what songs are for. Back in the day, everybody used to make versions of songs, because they loved them – not because of some other guy having a hit on it, and them saying ‘I can’t do it.’ I like it better that if a song is great, I want to hear Aretha Franklin do it, and I want to hear Willie Nelson do it, or Ray Charles, or Johnny Paycheck. That’s the kind of stuff that went on. I think that can still exist today. We get all – I don’t know if it’s ego, but we’re not allowed to re-record some things. It’s goofy to me.”
As you might have gathered, the album title stems from the site of the recording of the album – the historic RCA Studio A. Naming the project after the iconic studio was a no-brainer for the gritty singer.
“You get in there, and I had never been in that room. I had never stepped foot in the room until we made that last record. We had attempted to book a different studio that was booked at that time we had allotted. At the time, it was going to be torn down, and there was a good possibility that we were going to be the last record ever made in that place. That was reason enough for me to go ‘I don’t know what kind of shape it’s in, or how good it’s running, but let’s go over there and let’s make a record there.’ That alone was reason enough to make a record there because it wasn’t going to be there anymore. Maybe I’m superstitious, but we got time to make another record, and we decided that we were going to do things that were just as comfortable as last time – only this time, we were going to intentionally go to RCA Studio A, and know that was the perfect place for us to be making records, because it was. We spent a couple of months in there, and came out with a couple records that we are going to be putting out. There was no song in the whole batch of songs that probably described everything. So, what do you name a record after that? I hemmed and hawed about it until it was the absolute last minute for a title.”
When it comes to his favorite track on the record, he doesn’t hesitate, it’s the closing song – “Death Row.”
“I wrote with Mike Henderson, who I was in the Steel Drivers with. We wrote that as a straight blues song, with him doing like Robert Johnson. I can’t do that stuff, but he can. I always liked that song, and always thought it was cool. We were in the studio, and Dave starts playing the riff. That became our version of that. The guys started playing, and I told them ‘Guys, just keep on playing. I’m going to figure out something to sing on top of this.’ That’s how that song came to pass. Those are the moments that you get when you get into the studio that you don’t get anywhere else. I don’t know if we recorded anything else that day. That’s when you get the cool magic stuff, and that’s why it’s my favorite track.”
The singer will be on the road throughout the year to promote the new release, and the recording machines will be rolling – just in case there’s magic in the air.
“We’re gearing up for some of that, and we’ll see what happens. It feels like massive for someone who is as weird about things as I am to try to capture it, but there are things that happen in live venues that don’t happen in studios. So we’re going to make some attempts, and try to be ready for it if the magic shows up, but we don’t have any plan for it, necessarily right now. We will be archiving. We have been archiving, but we’re going to up the archiving to some degree. We’ll see to what degree. It gets expensive, but if you can get the magic, it’s worth it.”