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Chris Young on His Red-Hot Arena Tour: 'It's All I Could Ever Have Hoped For'
Chris Young performs during Day 1 - Country Thunder Music Festival
The 'Losing Sleep' singer talks about his sellout selfies, Vince Gill's invitation to the Opry and enjoying his breakout moment.
Chris Young is doing his best to enjoy the moment as he ascends to new heights with his chart-topping country single “Losing Sleep,” but he’s got a backup plan for cataloging the highlights of his sellout 2018 tour -- he always takes a selfie with the audience.
"I try to grab at least one photo with me and the crowd every night,” Young tells Billboard, amounting to dozens of photos of himself on his Instagram feed mugging for the camera with fans standing behind him, singing along to No. 1 hits like “I’m Coming Over” and “The Man I Want To Be.”
“The thing I love about Chris is that he's so real. He emotionally connects with his audience, especially with couples,” said AEG Presents and Concerts West co-CEO John Meglen, who is promoting Young's biggest ever headline arena tour, a red-hot winter run with plans to add new dates both in the U.S. and in Europe. A month into the tour, Young is doing everything he can to enjoy his breakout moment, with his album Losing Sleep debuting at No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart late last year.
Young has been building to his own headline arena tour since winning Nashville Star in 2006, amassing an impressive catalog that includes seven top 10 albums on the Top Country Albums chart (two of which hit No. 1) and five No. 1 hits on the Hot Country Songs chart and 12 songs in the Top 10.
"I just always thought he was an amazing singer with a big baritone voice and a great range,” said WME Nashville co-head Rob Beckham, who helped signed Young after he released his first No. 1 song "Drinkin' Me Lonely” in 2006. In the last year WME Nashville partner Shari Lewin brokered a deal with 5-hour Energy, highlighting Young and “I’m Coming Over” as the company’s first commercial incorporating original music.
He also opened for Jason Aldean’s They Don’t Know Tour, playing before audiences amounting to nearly 1 million fans as his Losing Sleep album began to gain traction.
"It really was Chris's decision to step out on his own arena headline tour," said Beckham. “He told us 'whether I sell 2,500 tickets or 10,000 tickets I've got to go out and create my own fan base and my future.’”
So far Young has 18 dates sold out or close to capacity, with support from Kane Brown, with whom he played during the Aldean tour, and LANCO. Billboard recently caught up with Young while on tour to talk about the success of Losing Sleep and learn more about how he’s enjoying his breakout moment.
How’s the tour going so far?
Everything's been sold out, so that's as much as you can want. This has really been building for a long time -- I’ve been at this for 12 years and it's always been marked by growth, but slow, deliberate growth, especially on the ticket side of things. Last year I opened for Jason Aldean and once I was done with that tour, I went into a new record cycle and thought it was the perfect time to try to step out and play bigger venues on my own headlining tour. There’s a lot of pressure on being able to pull that off and step into it, and, so far, it's all I could ever have hope for.
Are you taking the time to enjoy this moment?
I'm enjoying it as it happens. I mean being on stage in front of that many people and knowing that your name is on the outside of the building is something that I don't really know how to describe, other than to say it's really, really good.
Your sound has evolved on Losing Sleep, especially your voice which is more rhythmic and up-tempo compared to your past albums. How would you musically describe this record?
If you look at the song itself, “Losing Sleep” is the most pop sounding track that I've ever recorded. It's the truth and it's something that was deliberate. You're supposed to constantly try to stretch yourself as an artist -- while a lot of people talk about my voice being very traditionalist, it’s also the only voice I have. I played around with the track a bunch and Corey Crowder, my co-producer, and we were very deliberate when we went in. “Hangin' On” is another one of my favorites from the album. It’s a right-down-the-middle, mid-up-tempo country song and then you have other stuff on the record like “Where I Go When I Drink,” which leans back toward a traditional sad song. There's a lot of breath on this record and we put out something that's really different from what people expect to hear from me.
What about the song "Blacked Out?" Why did you end the album with such a sad track?
I wouldn’t say it’s sad, but it's a very, very serious song. It is getting dark but at the same time it's got all these really, really wonderful pictures that it paints toward the chorus. I have a list of people I have wanted to write with and Jon Randall, who I'm a huge fan of, was at the top of that list. It was me, Jon Randall and Josh Hoge in a room together and we actually wrote two songs that day. One was this really up-tempo song that we thought was OK and then we wrote “Blacked Out” in 45 minutes to an hour and we said, “OK, this song we love.” Sometimes when you're trying to force one song, you come up with something else that can't be forced.
This year you were invited to join the Grand Ole Opry by Vince Gill. What kind of relationship do you two have?
The first concert I ever attended as a kid was by Vince Gill and he’s appeared at the Opry on so many Saturday nights doing harmonies and playing guitar. I've just gotten to know him more and love who he is. He's an insanely cool guy. It was incredible, I mean absolutely incredible, and something that I put on this really, really high pedestal on the bucket list. To be asked to be a part of that family was just incredible.
For this tour, you’re working with AEG and Concerts West’s John Meglen. He’s done big shows for The Rolling Stones and Roger Waters, but never anything quite like this with a country artist. Why did you decide to go with him?
He’s been great and there's so many people that I've worked with from the beginning of my relationship with AEG to Rob Beckham at WME. John is definitely a big presence and a force of nature and he’s helped me think about my global strategy. Something that I've made a point to do as I've been coming up is to go to Europe and start to build an audience there, as well as go to Australia and build that. I love to travel the world and country music right now is really expanding. It's something that has gained more and more of a foothold especially in Europe and in Australia.
You’re touring through the first half of the year -- what do you have planned for the rest of 2018?
Man, I mean honestly, just keep going. We’re going to look at the tour and add some more dates. To actually be in the middle of it after all the planning phases and stepping out there on that stage and watching everything come together that we planned from the show to the audience to the entire package has been a constant.
You’ve got lots of selfies from your shows. What are you going to do with all those photos?
I’ll come up with something because I do try to grab at least one photo with me and the crowd every night. I do it just as much to let people have that photo as it is for me to have the photo. And it's just an incredible moment because it's about halfway through the show and we're documenting what’s really happening and how special it is to me to be in this moment. And I love looking at the photos -- it not only makes me think of where I've been, but also where I'm going down the road.