Chris Janson brings ’90s country influences to ‘All In’ album: Interview – Billboard
“I will never forget getting a phone call from my agent, and every one of our tour dates had the rug pulled. Scary as hell, one of the scariest times of my life” , says Chris Janson Billboard, recalling the day in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced artists to refrain from touring. “People look at me as a man of faith, and I am, but I lost my faith for a minute. I was scared.”
Live performance has been a key pillar of Janson’s career, ever since he moved to Nashville and soon landed a gig at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Soon, his frenetic performance style — even then, Janson was known to prowl the stage, moan on the harmonica and skip out of the speakers — caught the attention of Music Row. His songs too: before breaking through with his top 5 Billboard Country Airplay hit “Buy Me a Boat” and signed to Warner Music Nashville in 2015, Janson had written hits for Tim McGraw (“Truck Yeah”) and LOCASH (“I Love This Life”).
To date, Grand Ole Opry member Janson has won two Billboard Country Airplay #1 with “Done” and “Good Vibes,” plus other top 10 hits including “Fix a Drink” and the poignant ballad “Drunk Girl.” But it was that period of career uncertainty two years ago that ultimately served as the catalyst for Janson’s studio album, All-inout Friday, April 29 via Warner Music Nashville.
He had already planned a trip to Florida with his wife Kelly Lynn and their children for spring break. But with touring halted, Janson says, “Basically, we just moved in for a year.” He estimates that half of the new album was written over Zoom and FaceTime, and calls it “the best album-making process I’ve had. It was effective and I was able to write with so many people.
Janson’s previous album was titled True friendsand he continues with that theme by bringing in musical pals Eric Church and Travis Tritt to collaborate on the new set.
Janson met Church at an All-Star tribute to ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons at the Grand Ole Opry House last year, and they quickly became fishing friends. This connection between the two singer-songwriters led Church to send Janson a rough demo of a song Church had written, a swampy murder mystery called “You, Me & the River”.
“I was coming from Whitefish, Montana, and Kelly and had just landed around 3:30 a.m.,” he recalled. “My phone rang and it was this voice memo from Eric. He said, ‘Hey, it’s a little dark, but I wanted to see what you think.’ I listened to the work tape and I was like, ‘Holy shit,’ and I texted him, ‘I love it.’ Why not do a duet?’
“I thought he’d say no,” Janson continues, “but he immediately texted back, ‘I’m in.’ I looked at Kelly and was like, ‘I guess I’m dueting with Eric Church now.’ I was like, ‘Am I really at that level where he respects me enough to send me a song?’ Sacred Schnikes.
Church joined Janson in the recording studio to record the track together, and they recently filmed a music video for the song. “He’s kind of ozark-ish,” Janson says of the clip. “We both act in the video, and it’s filmed so wonderfully, it’s not even like a music video, it’s more like a movie.”
Church also co-wrote another track on the album, the gently rolling “Flag on the Wall”, which details the lives of people who “really hunt for food”, chop wood for winter heat and do everything what it takes to pay. the bills. It also winks at those of all political persuasions who rally around whatever unites them, be it football, back porches, religion or the American flag.
“I was in Colorado and Eric sent me a half-finished working tape with some lyrics. I loved it and asked him if he wanted me to finish it with him. We weren’t not in the same room to write it, we were on the phone but we did, just back and forth, sending lyrics,” Janson says.
It was Janson who contacted ’90s country hitmaker Tritt to record “Things You Can’t Live Without,” which features one of Janson’s signature freewheeling harmonica solos. “It’s rowdy, four on the floor,” he said. “I remember Travis saying, ‘I feel like that’s something I could have cut in the mid-’90s and had a big hit. What a compliment,” adds Janson, who wrote the song with Deric Ruttan, Chris Stevens and 90s country hitmaker and best-selling songwriter David Lee Murphy.
“Cold Beer Truth” and “The Reel Bass Pro” tick the name of another friend of Janson’s, Bass Pro Shops founder/CEO Johnny Morris, who appears in the video for “Cold Beer Truth” with the caption of motor racing Richard Childress. NASCAR gets another shoutout in “My American World,” which Janson wrote with his wife and Shane Profitt. The track features a roster of things Janson has affection for — from rednecks and “laid back hippies” to the American flag, fishing and racing, as evidenced by the line, “I love NASCAR / I would love to give it a whirl.”
“I’ve never done it, but I want to do it,” says Janson, who also featured his friend and NASCAR team owner Richard Childress in his video for “Cold Beer Truth.” “I grew up in Central America and #3 [the late racing legend Dale Earnhardt] was part of your upbringing. Then befriending Richard, and there’s just this natural synergy between NASCAR and country music. I’ve been telling Richard for years that I don’t just want to do one of those things to drive, but I actually want to get behind the wheel and drive one. I would love to, even if I have to buy my own racetrack,” he adds with a laugh. “Well, probably not that, for legal reasons, but I want to drive one.”
Meanwhile, two songs on the album deal with mortality, a long-standing topic in the country genre. Janson and Brandon Kinney wrote ‘Bye Mom’ shortly after Kinney’s mother passed away in 2020, while Janson and Casey Beathard wrote ‘Here and Gone’ after Beathard’s son Clayton died of complications of a stabbing at a Nashville bar in 2019 after he and friends confronted a man who was stalking a woman.
“We wrote it as a tribute to his son, and we just let the emotions roll over it,” Janson recalled. “Even though these songs have nothing to do with my personal story, there is so much healing in them.”
With 16 songs on this project, Janson also had plenty of room to experiment, and it incorporates his love for 80s and 90s country. a nod to the Texas dancehall-infused music of George Strait and Bob Wills, while “Love Don’t Sleep” pays homage to the music of Alabama and Ronnie Milsap.
“I was listening to a lot of mid-’80s Strait, a lot of Haggard and Bob Wills,” Janson says. “But there is also the Milsap atmosphere. I didn’t grow up listening to Ronnie Milsap as much as I grew to love him years later. I loved the sound of ‘Smoky Mountain Rain’, so with ‘Love Don’t Sleep’ I thought, ‘I’m going to make this my disco song for the album.’ I want to put these vibrations everywhere, synthesizer and piano.
Now, having hit the road again and recently completed the first leg of his Halfway to Crazy tour, it’s those retro country sounds that Janson seems most excited to share with fans.
“Let’s not forget what kind of music paved the way for people like me to do my job and make the music I want to make. I want to honor that music. Plus, people love it! That’s why they are hounded there before they walk into a gig. I want to make sure they get some of that in this modern Chris Janson music.