It's easy to recognize Chris Young's singing prowess from the moment he opens his mouth onstage, but his skills behind a mixing board require a more keen ear. Since co-producing 2015's I'm Comin' Over, which yielded a trio of Number Ones in the title track, "Think of You" (with Cassadee Pope) and "Sober Saturday Night" (featuring Vince Gill), the Murfreesboro, Tennessee native, has been steadily getting more involved in the process of making and recording his music. For his seventh album Losing Sleep, this interest blossomed into borderline obsession. For the first time, he co-wrote every song on the album and, along with trusted collaborator Corey Crowder, he's calling his own shots in the studio. But according to Young, production isn't necessarily a glamorous job.
"That evolved over time," says the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry, seated in his manager's office in Nashville's tree-lined Hillsboro Village neighborhood. "I wanted to put more of my touch on the minutiae of stuff, but it's definitely the boring part. It's listening to mixes at 8 in the morning that I had to get away from last night, and going 'Hey, the guitar part at 34 seconds, I really like take 3 on that.'"
Young has earned a reputation for consistency over the 11 years of his recording career – 12 of his last 14 singles have either hit Number One or earned Gold/Platinum certifications, and each of his last four (non-Christmas) albums has done the same. Losing Sleep takes that success and builds on it, as Young dives deeper into the nuts-and-bolts of his profession.
"It's not the pretty part at the end, it's all of the grind in the middle, and most people don't wanna know all that," he says, rattling off the technical specs of his recording gear and transitioning to the album's sonic quality. "I think my music is what it is. It's evolved a lot from my first record to now, and I'm sure it will continue to do so. This is a country record, but that's one of the things every artist deals with – it's a balancing act."
Indeed, Losing Sleep finds Young revving up his rich country baritone like a well-oiled machine, and it checks all his usual boxes for emotional depth. But right from the album's opening notes, it's clear that this project is meant to stand apart from the rest of his catalog.
"'Losing Sleep' is the most pop-leaning song I've ever done," he admits. "But there's a lot of stuff on this record that's really traditional-leaning, too. My voice is unabashedly country, but I do think this is a very in-the-moment record."
The album's title track and lead single features a slinky electric guitar hook that recalls Justin Bieber's moody megahit "Love Yourself," while "Woke Up Like This" finds him incorporating programmed beats for the first time. "She's Got a Way" kicks off with hand claps and sampled "hey!" accents, while "Holiday" takes fans on a tequila-soaked trip to the beach and out of Young's usual comfort zone.
Elsewhere, country stalwart Young is in fine form. "Hangin' On" and "Trouble Looking" simmer with easygoing romance, and "Radio and the Rain" lets loose a flood of desire. Meanwhile, "Where I Go When I Drink" puts a fresh spin on one of his go-to templates – the soul-bearing piano ballad – and the album closes with the weepy barroom number "Blacked Out."
With a listening environment now dominated by playlists, Young knew he needed the sonic diversity, but as an old-school artist he also wanted fans to play Losing Sleep from top to bottom. "I want them to be able to put the whole album on repeat if they want," he says. One of the ways he threaded that needle was by writing his own songs, penning all but one with longtime buddies Crowder and Josh Hoge. Big names like Liz Rose, Jon Randall and Chris DeStefano also contribute.
"It's something I didn't set out to do intentionally, but is it really cool? Yeah," he explains. "Especially for me as a songwriter, it's a long way from my first record, which I think I had two songs on. It's become something I'm more passionate about in my career – and the same thing is happening on the production side of things.
"Some of it wears on you," he continues, a weary smile betraying his exhaustion. He's been hands-on every step of the way for three albums in the last three years. "But when you finally get to a place where you're like 'OK, it's done,' you can go back and listen and it's fun. It's like 'We put hours and hours and billions of emails into this, and now it's something everybody is proud of.'"