10 Questions with ... Brett Eldredge
July 24, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Atlantic/Warner Music Nashville artist Brett Eldredge is well on his way to super stardom. One of Country's most talented vocalists, he already has five #1 hit singles; two studio albums, one of which is RIAA Gold certified; four RIAA Gold certified singles, and one RIAA Platinum certified single. Brett released his sophomore album, "Illinois," in September of last year, and his current single, "Wanna Be That Song," is climbing its way up the chart. He's currently on the road on Keith Urban's "Ripcord World Tour" with special guest Maren Morris. Brett sat down with All Access to discuss how special it was filming the video for "Wanna Be That Song," his love of Frank Sinatra, and his special relationship with Warner Music Nashville President/CEO John Esposito.
1. Hi, Brett! Thank you for taking time to talk with All Access today. You've been incredibly busy since we first sat down with you for "10 Questions" approximately three years ago. But, let's start by taking it back to the beginning. You're an Illinois guy. Your album is called "Illinois," and you grew up in Paris, IL. How did that shape your musical sound?
In one of my songs I say, "the heart of the heartland," because it's in the middle. I think growing up in the heartland, you kind of get influences from everything all over. North, south, east, and west - you get everything. I had Country music. I had jazz. I would listen to Frank Sinatra. I would listen to Ray Charles. The Eagles. It was all this different stuff. I think I pulled from so many different places of inspiration. That's where I get my own brand or sound of music is through growing up singing so many different things. My first love was Country music and the stories they told. Once I said, this is me and this is who I am, this really locked in. Now here we are a bunch of hits later. I'm petting my puppy and riding down the highway on a tour bus. Not even a van anymore. I used to ride in a van when I started.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue music?
I always dreamed of being a big performer on stage in front of thousands of people, but I was really shy in the beginning. A lot of people would never imagine that, seeing my persona. When I'm on stage, I'm running all over the place. In the beginning, I'd stare at the floor and be all nervous and anxious all the time. Then once I figured out that the crowd wants you to do well and wants you to knock them out and entertain them, well then I just connected with it. When I was around 13 or 14, maybe, I started to get on stage and move a little bit. Then I started singing Sinatra and guys like that. So I would try to go up there and croon and swing around and snap my fingers and sing to these ladies in the crowd that were handing me dollar bills - like at the local golf course or the local café. It was pretty funny.
2. You mention your love of Frank Sinatra. How has he influenced your music? How did your annual holiday Sinatra party come about?
Sinatra inspired me through music in a lot of forms, but especially in phrasing. The way he phrased every line was like your favorite storyteller. My grandfather was my favorite storyteller. He told me everything - stories that seemed larger than life and were so good. I always wondered if they were real, and then I find out they were real! He'd always somehow prove to be right, and I'd believe every single line. Well, it was like that with singers. If I believe every line, and it's with music and touches my soul and moves me unlike any other thing in the world can move me - through music - it's through somebody that can tell a great story, and Frank Sinatra can tell a great story. So I was singing his music when I was 14 and 15 years old when all my other friends were listening to Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC and all that stuff. I was listening to stuff that my grandpa was listening to, because I thought it was cool. Not that I wasn't listening to [Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC] too - I was listening to everything, but I just thought he was so cool, so I started singing that. I remember when I was working to sign my record deal, I had dinner with John Esposito at Warner Bros and we started talking about Frank Sinatra. He loves Frank Sinatra. We both connected on this huge level that we both have this passion and deep love for his music and what he did in his career and stuff. We connected on that, and I was like, "I want to sign a record deal with this guy. I believe in this guy." We always said in the beginning, we've got to do a party every year where we start playing these old Sinatra songs, and maybe we'll do it around Christmas. We get up at this Christmas party every year and do these Sinatra songs and all sorts of jazz, and it's just something. It's not like I'm trying to go be that guy. It's just singing music because you love music and whatever inspires you and moves you. These kinds of songs do, and we throw a party every year. This year I think we're going to make it a charity event and raise a bunch of money for some kids that would definitely need the help. We would definitely help and have some fun in the process.
3. Can you tell us about your very special relationship with John Esposito and the whole Warner Music Nashville team?
I mean, yeah, as a whole, I've gone through the complete growth and John Esposito has built that label as one of the forces to be reckoned with in Country music. When I got there, I was his first signing. We always had this special bond. I was like the baby. I was his first signing; his first child. I believed in him, and he believed in me. He's brilliant. He told me he was never going to not make this work. He was going to find a way to make this happen. He came in and started building the label up and doing what he felt was right for my career as well, and he just believed in me. The people on my radio team were just so passionate about it. People in the art department doing the photo shoots were cool with me chasing down the idea of putting on suits and dressing it up and doing a little bit of different stuff. The marketing team allowed me to do that. I've spent so much time with the radio promotion people out on the road playing at Mongolian grills while people are serving themselves noodles while you're singing "Don't Ya" when it's not even a hit yet. I've gone through a lot with people over there, and everyone has really just stuck with believing in me. Going way, way back to the very beginning, they stuck with me. Espo stuck with me. He's always seen the bigger picture. Every day, it just keeps getting better and better. We've shared many drinks looking back and celebrating every step of the way of how we've gotten where we've gotten, how crazy of a ride it's been, how crazy of a ride it will continue to be, and all the places we want to take it. I couldn't think of a better person to do it.
4. You filmed - and debuted - your new single, "Wanna Be That Song," at Wrigley Field. How did the whole thing come together?
Well, I grew up going to games there at Wrigley Field, and it was a magic place. It was something that inspired me as a kid. You're always searching as a kid for something that will move you. It's something that's a memory - like I will never forget this place. I've never seen a place like this, and I don't know if I ever will again, so I have to keep coming back. So I keep going back, years later, and I say, "I want to capture that magic with the magic that I think this song captures about love and the big moments in life." That place - the teams that played there, and the people that played there, and the stories that came from there - definitely are a big part of my life. So we shot the music video there, and it created another moment that I'll never forget, just making that video. And then unveiling it and debuting it at Wrigley on the screens where we shot it! It was definitely exactly how I dreamed it to be - and maybe even better - and I'm excited that it's doing as well as it has, and I'm glad it's getting out there.
5. You had the opportunity to write with Bill Anderson - you wrote the song, "Lose It All," together. How did that partnership come about, and what about that particular session was most memorable for you?
I love to write with all different people who have seen all different aspects of the business. I like writing with guys that have never had a hit, and I like writing with guys with a bunch of hits. All around. I like the fact that this guy has a lot more experience than me. He's a Country music legend. What would happen? What would we get out of a writing session? It could be cool. It could not work. You've got to show up and try it. The fact that I got to sit in a room and write with a legend like that who had hits decades and decades ago and is still getting hits! It's like, you are inspired to write a song - a great song - when you get in a room with a guy like that. You want to impress him, and I wanted to impress him. That day we wrote a great song, "Lose It All." It's a song that is just pretty much the how to do everything wrong in a relationship and screw it up. Who better to deal with heartbreak than a guy like Bill Anderson who wrote songs like "Give It Away" and "Whiskey Lullaby" and stuff like that? That was really the perfect person for that I think. He's just so inspiring. That was a special song. I wrote that song years ago, and I always wanted it to be on a record. I wrote it four years ago, and it's one of my favorite songs about heartbreak that I've written in my career.
6. You're currently on tour with Keith Urban and Maren Morris. How has this tour - taking the direct support slot - been different for you from past opening slot major tours and headlining your own tour dates?
I went on tour with Keith before, and I was that first guy on stage. It was when it was early, and the sun was way up. People are coming in, and you've got something to prove as the first guy. Like right now, Maren is just knocking it out of the park, and that's what I love to see! My band really worked their butts off on that first tour with Keith, and it really did a big thing for us. We worked our way up the ranks to bigger and bigger places. Then we got the opportunity to go back on tour with Keith as the direct support slot, which was a big thing for me and my crew. So we're just excited! Now that I know his whole crew already having been on tour with him, it's a great opportunity to get in front of new fans of his that might not already be a fan of mine, but also to learn from him. In the next couple of years, hopefully I get to go do that and headline some of those big amphitheaters that we're playing, and I'll have gotten to learn from the best.
7. You and Thomas Rhett are in a similar class as far as artists who are building momentum in their careers, so how have the two of you helped each other in the business and personally?
I think that the first thing you realize is that everybody is a competitor of each other, or they bill it that way. People that are like, I want to get that song up the chart, and I want to do this and that, and at the end of the day, there's room for all of us. As long as you bring your own thing and your own sound and songs, there's room for all of us - anybody that can make it in this business and make it to the point where you can have songs on the radio. People that are still trying, I have so much respect for someone that has just stuck with it and continues to stick with it, even if they haven't gotten there yet - and they still might. I'm still that guy - I have several hit songs now, and everything is going great, but I also remember that I was that kid that way playing in front of ten people in a bar. Actually, sometimes zero people at a bar in Nashville. I think Thomas Rhett never forgets that, either. He remembers playing those shows, like when you're playing at a bowling alley or this random spot. With Thomas Rhett, I think that we both have our own sound and differentiated style, but also we go together so well as friends and on stage - it's like you can't help but root for that guy. I want to ride it up through the years and continue being on stages with him. I think that it's just really fun to have somebody that's a good friend but also has the goods to take it really far, and I know he does. It's definitely inspiring to watch him and the great person that he is.
Are there any projects in the future - music, tours, or other entertainment paths - that the two of you might venture down?
I think we have ideas for the future. We haven't locked it in yet, because we're both in the middle of big tours right now. We just hosted the CMA Music Festival, and that was amazing. It just went so well together. We had a good experience with the whole crew. I think that there's going to be a lot of things down the road. What that'll be, I don't know yet. As soon as he and I break from our tour schedules, we'll probably get together for a drink at a bar somewhere in Nashville and chat it up about what else we want to do together, so I'm sure there's more to come.
8. Well, you've definitely got that "it" factor. We see big things in your future. Everyone agrees that everything you touch - and sing - turns to gold. What do you think that "it" factor is?
I don't know... I guess for me, it's hard to think about. The "it" factor. I don't know if anyone necessarily knows what "it" is. It's funny that you say that I have that. For me, I think you have to look into the eyes of someone who's working in the city or the country or some small town you've never heard of. They're working every day, and they're turning on the radio and for a thirty-minute drive. They have some song that's making them escape from what they're doing for a little bit, or making them feel better about their day, or whatever it is. I get to be that escape for somebody. Once you learn that people take that escape to another level and see you live, you have a big opportunity to entertain people. Once they enter those doors, they are escaping the world. They're coming to see a show. I want them to walk out and say, "I never saw a show like that. I will never forget that show for the rest of my life." That's what made me write this single, this kind of thing. I think for whatever that is I just try to not take it too seriously. I just like to have fun with it. I guess if you're always having fun with it and encouraging everyone around you like, we're playing music. Our job is to go out there and rock it out on stage every night and make people feel something. I just try to make people feel something every day. Whether it's Snapchat or whatever it is, I'm always inspired through my fans, because I get to share this journey that they have given me. If that feeds into the "it" factor, or whatever it is, then I'll just keep doing it. I don't even know, but I appreciate it.
9. Whatever it is, it's working. Since we last talked to you in 2013, you've grown exponentially, and your future continues to look so bright. Can you tell us what's on the horizon for you? What are the next goals you've set for yourself?
Yeah, on the horizon for me, I'm already writing for my third album. I write a lot. I have songs that didn't make the last album that I wanted to save for this album. I'm going to Switzerland this year and playing shows there. I always have dreams of playing and taking my music everywhere possible and finding new fans, and people, and such. Also, going back to the cities I played when I was just a brand new act. To remember what it was like to have nobody know my songs, but at least they're out there dancing a little bit. And now there's tens of thousands of them singing back the words to every song. That is what I've always dreamed of, and it just keeps coming true, and I keep chasing it down. There's so much - and I think by the time I'm 80 years old, I'll still have stuff that I want to do, so there's no slowing me down right now.
You were in the UK and Italy this past year, correct? What was that experience like interacting and connecting with those crowds?
It was a brand new set of fans, so it was really cool to be a new guy over there. It was a whole different kind of market. People don't listen to the radio the same way they do here. So they know album cuts - deep album cuts - that people maybe don't know, and they knew every word to them. It's really neat seeing how - maybe it's only a crowd of 400 or 1,000 - but just to see them all know all the words. That really blew my mind. It was just a great experience. It inspired me to go back and do a lot more. I'm ready to get on a plane again.
10. Earlier, you mentioned Snapchat when talking about entertaining your fans. You seem to be the king of social media. Everybody has Snapchat - artists and fans alike - but you seem to stand out from other artists. You're notorious - in a good way - for your Snapchat. What makes you different? Is there a strategy?
I think the strategy for Snapchat for me is to not have a strategy. When I started with Snapchat, celebrities hadn't really started using it, like music people hadn't started using it yet. I'm not saying I'm the first one; I'm just saying there weren't a lot of people putting up public stories - I don't know if they even had stories in the very beginning. I'm talking like it was a million years ago. I would use it to make funny faces at my buddies and just random stuff, and I was goofing around with it and I was like, what if I make a story out of it and capture the fun and randomness that life has to offer. We're all people, and we're all everyday people. I have a not-so-average life, because my life is weird and random and all over the place. But I think we all have random moments in our lives, and I try to capture those random moments with Snapchat. I don't even plan it out, usually. I just kind of live that way of looking at life and laughing at it and having fun with it, and sharing the story and the journey with everyone out there that I can, because they're the reason I get to do it. To be able to share my journey through many instances throughout the day is a fun way to do it and my fans love it. I've got tons of new fans - who may not have even heard my music - through Snapchat. It's been a great resource, and I continue to try to have fun with it every day. That's about the planning that goes into it. If I think of a fun idea, I'll plan out how I might go about it, but I don't sit there and sketch it out. Like, I put on my track suit when I was playing my guitar, and I just started goofing around with everyone on the bus and started singing a song about a track suit. I was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to start snapchatting this," and that's where it comes. Normally stuff I would do. I just end up putting it all on camera.
Did you think your Snapchat alter-ego Xander would be such a hit with your fans?
Yeah, you know I didn't. It was really funny. I love acting and playing characters and performing. Getting to play this character that is Xander, I was going out for a while - I just did it the other day even still, but now the character has gotten known pretty well - into the crowd with Xander's wig. Xander is a like a hippie-looking wig with curly beach hair, and he looks like a hippie guy. I created this character that is my cousin that always somehow figures out ways to get backstage passes to my shows and hangs around me - and we're always like, this is that cousin that hangs around and has fun and parties on the road. So I go out in the crowd - I did this a couple weeks ago, but I got busted - and I'll have just played in front of tens of thousands of people, and then I put on the wig and went out in the crowd. I was watching Keith Urban before I was going to get back up on stage with Keith. I was walking towards the stage with that wig on, and I would be dancing with people that had my t-shirt on or something. I was acting like a crazy guy having a good time. People were like, "Who is this guy?" and eventually a couple people figured it out and were like, "It's Xander!" They caught me. But I might create a few more characters coming up, because Xander has been a pretty crazy, fun character to have.
1. Fitness obviously means a lot to you - how did your partnership with 22 Minute Hard Corps come about?
I realized that our culture is a crazy world where you're always on the go. I'm kind of a health nut - I like to be healthy - but sometimes I realize when I'm on the bus or I'm traveling somewhere, I don't have a gym all the time. I don't have a lot of time, so it's like, how do I get in a workout? It's hard, but fast, and can get the results. Also [I can] inspire other people that might not be able to go to the gym every day or be able to afford to go every month. You don't have to have all these fancy machines and all that. It's about eating well and having a good workout program. I had done several workouts before - I had done Insanity, and then I heard of this one. It seemed like a good partnership, and it worked out great.
2. Do you Pokémon?
I did download it, because I didn't understand anything of what it was. I tried to sign on to it, and they had so many people try to sign on to it that they were out of new profiles or something. I don't think I would actually do it, but I wanted to see what the whole hoopla was about it. I don't think I'll be a part of it, but I'm fascinated by anything weird that catches on like that.