Chris Stapleton Talks Unadorned New LP, Bringing the Studio to the Stage

Singer-songwriter on getting out of Nashville, covering Willie Nelson on 'From A Room: Volume 1,' his audiophile touring setup and more

Chris Stapleton opens up about leaving Nashville, covering Willie Nelson on his long-awaited 'From A Room' and how he's achieving pristine live sound. Credit: Kyle Dean Reinford/The NY Times/Redux

Chris Stapleton may have titled his debut album Traveller, but the restless country singer can't abide driving in Nashville. After that 2015 LP exploded, going double platinum and becoming the top-selling country album of 2016, he hightailed it out of the increasingly congested city for the freedom of a newly purchased 311-acre ranch in the country.

"It used to take me 15 minutes to get down to Music Row and I was seven miles away. Then it was taking me almost an hour," says Stapleton. "That was back when I wrote songs every day."

Stapleton, 39, revisits those old song notebooks on his new album From A Room: Volume 1. A collection of nine songs, some written nearly 10 years ago, From A Room re-teams the Grammy-winning vocalist with producer Dave Cobb. Together, they returned to Nashville's historic RCA Studio A (the onetime recording home of stars like Waylon Jennings and Elvis Presley that gives the album its name) and cut each track live.

"This is a guy whose profession was a songwriter, so he never has a shortage of great songs around," says Cobb.

Still, Stapleton chose to record one he didn't write: Gary P. Nunn and Donna Sioux Farar's "Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning," taken to Number One by Willie Nelson in 1982.

"I think it's one of the greatest country songs ever written," says Stapleton. "If you wanted an instruction manual on How You Write a Country Song, that song would do it."

Like Nelson, one of his heroes, Stapleton thrives on the road. In support of From A Room – and in advance of a second volume due later this year – the Kentucky native and his tight backing band, featuring wife Morgane on harmony vocals, recently launched a massive package tour, dubbed the All-American Road Show. With an array of artists like Brothers Osborne, Margo Price and Marty Stuart alternating opening duties, Stapleton is striving to give fans a music-first experience.

"I want people to come to our show to listen. I want the show to be the music."

He's even updated his spartan stage setup to maintain a sense of intimacy between him and his audience, devising a high-tech traveling bandshell to achieve pristine sound.

"It's actually a giant diffuser that controls frequencies onstage, with the purpose being trying to create a studio environment onstage," he says. "I spent a lot of time and energy dreaming up things. It was designed for sonics, and then we put lights on it."

That's about as many bells and whistles as the old-school Stapleton will allow. He's not a pyro-and-flashpots kind of guy and had to be cajoled to use video screens.

"The show isn't about screens, and we don't have any video content or lasers or things blowing up," he says. "I want people to come to our show to listen. I want the show to be the music."

But he won't blame fans who look away from the stage to light up during the new album's weed anthem "Them Stems." Stapleton was inspired to pen the shuffling favorite after a fellow songwriter admitted he sparked up the dregs of his stash one particularly dire morning before a session.

"We were having so much fun recording that song that there is actually a fourth verse we forgot," says Stapleton. "Because we might have smoked them stems. Or at least had too much bourbon."