Interview: Chris Young Champions Generosity with Crown Royal, Chats Songwriting

Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Crown Royal
Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Crown Royal

Hot on the heels of his most recent #1 “Think Of You,” Chris Young joined forces with Crown Royal this CMA Fest for an incredibly cool fan opportunity. By sharing tales of generosity on social media, fans could enter to win a trip not only to the CMT Music Awards in Nashville this week, but also were treated to a special acoustic performance and meet and greet with Young.

“It is encouraging people to think about somebody else who they think are really generous and give up their time for their most generous friend,” says Young, “which is a really cool way to get people to think about it and to push that, especially on socials. That’s a really cool thing to see for me.”

In the spirit of generosity, Crown Royal also donated $10,000 to Stars for Stripes, a charity of Young’s choosing, the mission of which is to provide quality celebrity entertainment for internationally deployed U.S. military forces.

“I have military in my family, my little sister is a former Marine – but once a Marine, always a Marine. I get yelled at if I don’t say that part,” he laughs. “Stars for Stripes and I have partnered multiple different times, I’ve gone overseas several times with them in the past and just know what a great organization they are.

The event took place during this week’s CMA Fest, one of the most busy times both in Nashville and for country music. For Young, the place for CMA Fest beginners to start is downtown.

“Especially during CMA Fest, [the place I’d take someone coming to Nashville for the first time] is probably just downtown,” he says. ” There’s so much going on, whether it’s live music, [or] other people having their charity events or their fan club parties where they also donate to charity that week. I think that’s really a theme that gets tied in a lot to music is the ability to give back and I think that definitely is on full display during CMA Fest as much as any time during the year.”

Young kicked off this year’s festivities at the Ascend Amphitheater downtown, performing songs ranging from first #1 “Gettin’ You Home” to a cover of “When You Say Nothing At All” as a duet with Tristan McIntosh. Collaborations have looked good for Young of late; his recent duet with Cassadee Pope, “Think Of You,” topped charts, and his new single “Sober Saturday Night” features Vince Gill.

“With both of those things I lucked out because I wanted Cassadee, she was my first choice for this duet, and when I asked her she was like, absolutely, I’d love to do it,” Young shares. “Then I had this song “Sober Saturday Night” and I was like, man, I just want something that’s gonna put it over the top and I was like, I wonder if Vince would have any interest in doing that. We asked him and he said yeah, so I was two for two.” He laughs. “It was way easier than I expected it to be! And obviously both of them, so perfect for both of these songs, and just on the end of “Sober Saturday Night” with Vince, I’m obviously a huge huge fan, so just really cool to get in the studio with him and be able to collaborate together.”

“For me, really being able to watch other people perform from an artist perspective and even to just get a chance to sit people down and ask them questions as much as you can,” he says, describing how he grows and improves as an artist. “I’ve totally done that with people I’ve been on tour with, I’ve been like, so what’d you think, why’d you do this, or looking at their stage shows, when did you start doing this part of your show, and production elements, and why did you put this song back to back with this song and not pester them to death but really just try to learn as much from other peoples’ shows and other peoples’ experience as I can where it makes sense with what I’m doing, because at the end of the day some of the stuff that you do is gonna be unique just to you.”

“With songwriting,” he continues, “it’s really just doing as much as I possibly can. Being in a room any time I get a chance, whether it’s somebody that I know really well or somebody maybe I haven’t written with as much, and just to keep trying to stretch at all times as far as not staying locked into ‘I’m just gonna write this kind of song’ or ‘today I have to have this.’ I feel like for me as a songwriter, the biggest lesson I learned is I went in to write with somebody, I was like, I have to have this type of song, [and] he was like well maybe that’s not what we’ve got going on today. This was a long time ago but it was like oh, if I stay locked into that maybe we don’t end up writing this other really really cool idea that we have on the table because we immediately just push it to the side.”

Balancing touring and songwriting can be tough, but Young “I’m the weird guy that will be walking through the airport and like singing a melody into my phone,” he says. “But I do set it to the side; I’m definitely kind of a compartmentalized person when it comes to that. I write when I’m at home and I very, very rarely if ever try to write on the road. I’ve actually never written anything on a tour bus that has ever ended up on an album. That’s not to say that it won’t ever happen, but it feels like to me it’s better for me to write those ideas down and put them down whenever I have them in the moment, make sure that they’re there, but then when I really sit down to do it it’s something that I do in town.”

When Young does sit down to write, he tries to keep an open mind. Though what defines a country song continues to shift and genre lines increasingly blur, Young has excelled at growing as an artist while continuing to stay true to his sense of artistry. “When I go into a write I don’t know if I’ve ever sat in there going, okay, I have to sound exactly like this on a specific thing because like you said, it is broad and there’s so many different things you can do with music, I don’t feel like you should box yourself in,” Young says. “That being said, I do feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I have a kind of sonic footprint a little bit, people hear my music and know that it’s me. I think a big part of that as much of anything is my voice; once I kind of start singing on something it sounds country,” he laughs.

With eight trips to the top of the country radio charts under his belt, it’s safe to say that Young’s sonic footprint is one that cornerstones country.