New Music To Know: Chris Stapleton Steps Into The Spotlight With Solo Debut

Chris Stapleton (credit: Becky Fluke)

Chris Stapleton (credit: Becky Fluke)

Chris Stapleton is the man behind many hit country songs you’ve heard before, including Kenny Chesney‘s “Never Wanted Nothing More,” George Strait‘s “Love’s Gonna Make It Alright,” Darius Rucker‘s “Come Back Song,” and Josh Turner‘s “Your Man,” all of which went to No. 1. His songs have been recorded by many others, too, including Brad PaisleyDierks Bentley and Tim McGraw, and he has a song (“Drink a Beer”) on Luke Bryan’s new album Crash My Party.

Now Stapleton is stepping out on his own as a solo artist with the release of his new single “What Are You Listening To.”

This isn’t Stapleton’s first time in front of a microphone. He spent a few years as frontman and guitarist of GRAMMY-nominated country/bluegrass band The SteelDrivers, and he currently still plays with rock band The Jompson Brothers. This new solo venture, though, marks the first time he’s had his name on the marquee–something he admits he isn’t completely comfortable with.

“Being a solo artist is a slightly uncomfortable thing,” he explained to in a recent interview, “because I’ve been in bands in the past, and it’s never your name on the front of things. There’s a bit of pressure internally, because when you put your name on the cover of something it’s like, ‘This is me.’ It’s more of an eye on you sort of thing than being in a band.”

The spotlight is something Stapleton will have to get used to, as his first-ever solo single has been added at numerous country stations since its release in July. In addition, this fall he’s on the Locked and Reloaded Tour with Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley.

Stapleton wrote “What Are You Listening To” with Lee Thomas Miller, whose credits include, among other things, the Jamey Johnson song “In Color” and Tim McGraw’s current single “Southern Girl.”

“We talked about the concept of it, and how people might listen to music, and how it affects people in different ways,” Stapleton said. “We got this notion of a breakup song, thinking about what somebody else is listening to and how music affects the moods of people, or how it reflects the moods of people. That’s where the song came from. It wasn’t necessarily a notion that I’d heard before in a song.”

While “What Are You Listening To” wasn’t written from a particular personal experience, he did admit that if you pay close attention to the lyrics, often a songwriter’s life will unfold within the song.

“My job for years has been to show up day in and day out and write songs,” he said. “You run out of personal experience really quick, but the neat thing about it, even when you’re not writing from personal experience, you’re trying to write something universal that maybe someone else can attach themselves to.”

So in that sense, he explained, “Even if you don’t know your personal experiences are showing up in songs, they do. That’s why if you have a buddy that’s breaking up with his girlfriend, then you need to go write songs with him, because it’s going to show up. He’s going to have something good, whether he knows it or not.”

Related: Chris Stapleton Offers To Help Tom Petty Write Country Songs

Speaking of breakups, one of Stapleton’s songs “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” fell into the hands of Adele, someone who knows a thing or two about heartache. Stapleton originally wrote the song with Michael Henderson for their band The SteelDrivers. On the U.K. version of her album 21, Adele covered the song, one that Stapleton says means more to him now than when he first wrote it.

“That one has taken on a thing of it’s own,” Stapleton said. “It was a song we strictly recorded for [The SteelDrivers]. It had been recorded once before by Darryl Worley, years earlier. It’s a bluegrass murder ballad for the most part. It’s got death in it and hitchhiking. All kinds of what we would call uneasy listening in that band. For it to be recorded by someone as big as her, it means something to me. Sometimes doing songs for the sake of doing songs, those things have lives, too, and they can find a way and have a path. It’s refreshing to have that.”

Stapleton is gearing up for his untitled solo debut (no official release date has been announced), and couldn’t be more excited for fans to hear the new music. Being his first country release, once again he is leaving his comfort zone.

“It’s all going to be a change of gears for me musically,” he said. “I try to make myself a little uncomfortable musically all the time, for better or for worse.”

– Annie Reuter,

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