Chris Janson’s Beacon of Hope in a Dark World
How a Prison Visit Led to CMA Award Nominations
The first message Chris Janson got was from Keith Urban. Then, things just spiraled from there.
Janson told me that when word of his three CMA Award nominations started to spread, he had nothing but well wishes from all over Nashville. I asked him if his reaction was more “No way” or more “Hell yeah,” and he said it was a little bit of both.
“Honestly we were very surprised. Nobody really knows if they’re gonna be nominated. There are not that many nominees when you really look at the list. It still hasn’t really hit me yet. We haven’t slowed down and smelled the roses yet,” he said of his “Drunk Girl” which is nominated for a CMA Award for song of the year and music video of the year.
And to think, it all started with a conversation in prison.
Janson shared with me the story of how one of his co-writers, Tom Douglas, was working with inmates at the Hill Detention Center in Nashville. During a session when he was helping inmates learn the craft of songwriting, Douglas said something about taking a drunk girl home. “The sheriff told him,” Janson recalled, “‘If the majority of guys in this prison would’ve taken those words you just said to heart, and lived their lives like that, they wouldn’t be in here serving time.'”
Fast forward a few years after they wrote the song with Scooter Carusoe, and after Janson recorded it, and “Drunk Girl” started climbing up the charts at the exact moment when the world needed to hear it.
While sexual abuse scandals have nearly become a national epidemic, and conversations about what is (and isn’t) sexual consent, Janson and his song were poised to be something of an antidote to the abuse. Or at the very least, the song gives someone a better understanding of how to do the right thing when the wrong thing seems too easy.
“Honestly, you could never have planned on the events in the world happening during the time frame that ‘Drunk Girl’ has been on the charts and on the rise, but I hope and pray that my song is a positive influence on people who may not have that positive influence in their lives. People who may not have had the better information to make the right choices.
“We pray that it’s a beacon of hope in a dark world.”
And this is coming from a man who isn’t exactly an Issues-Song Guy. Janson’s first couple of top ten hits have been about things like buying boats and fixing drinks. So is this one a little out of character for him? Maybe. But he says he always intended on showing another side of himself with his music.
“I’m not a one-dimensional artist. I’m a multi-dimensional person, so I write songs all across the board. That’s why I love being a songwriter. And when I put the artist hat on, I feel like I can make any kind of music. There’s a rowdy side to me, but then there’s a real personal, quiet side to me, as well,” he said. “You have the creative freedom to be as many people as you want to be, so to speak. At the end of the day, I’m a lot of areas of one man. Having depth is the beauty of it. I’m in a different mood every time I walk into a writers’ room, and I always want to stay fresh.”
Regardless of what happens at the CMA Awards in November, Janson says, he has already won.
“I’m winning every day. The day I was born, and every day when I wake up, I’m winning. And music is just icing on the cake. I’ve already done everything I set out to do. Everything else is just such a blessing. I feel like every song has its own life. Every song is special, he said.
“And I know that you get a song like ‘Drunk Girl’ once in a lifetime.”