The first thing that is apparent about singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton is the beard. Yes, Stapleton's facial hair is so impressive that it easily takes center stage (in fact, it even inspired a contest last year -- asking fans to submit photos of their own beards in order to win tickets to his shows). However, the other standout feature he possesses is that he is remarkably free of pretension.
The musician is economical with his words, a stark contrast to the volume of music he's written over the years, both for other artists (Kenny Chesney, George Strait and many others) and for his own bands the Steeldrivers and the Jompson Brothers. He finally decided to go solo in 2013, having released his first single in September of that year and prepping a full album for release soon.
"The record label called me and asked if I’d like to make a country record," he explains simply. "I thought about it for a minute, talked to my wife about it, and decided to give it a shot. So here we are."
If anyone's up to the task, Stapleton would be the man, given his extensive work in country, bluegrass, rock and even soundtrack writing. What's remarkable about his musical flexibliity is the fact that he's been able to write songs that manage to fit an astounding range of talent, something he says is not difficult due to the fact that "I don’t like to put things in a box all the time."
"If I’m feeling like rock, we’ll do some of that, and if I’m feeling some other way, we might do some of that. So, that’s typically how I record and write and play music and anything else," he notes, adding that he can't choose a favorite tune that he's composed. "They're all my favorites."
In fact, the songwriter is pragmatic about how music can fit a certain artist to a tee, even if it's not written by or specifically for that artist. "It’s such a strange marriage, a song and someone that sings it. When that works, it really works and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t," he explains. "So I’m not a good judge of that sometimes. I write the songs and hand it over to the world and see what happens. But the things that I’ve written for people that have been hits, I don’t know that I would have directed them in the right path, but they definitely wound up on the right path.
"I always just try to write the best songs that I can at any given time and sometimes those songs are for me, and sometimes they’re for other people. And that’s to be evaluated after the fact."
So what can fans expect from Stapleton's upcoming solo record? "Hopefully they can expect it to be good," he jokes. But in all seriousness, as one might expect: "It’ll be probably some good songs."
Still, with all this serious talk, there's still -- as we mentioned -- the beard. Stapleton is fine with fans attaching themselves to this particular feature, for whatever reason. "If they’re fond of something, that’s great. If they’ve attached to the beard, that’s fine," he says. "I’ve had this beard for a long, long time and you know, it’s always fun. It's a good thing to be relatable.
"I’ve had a few fans yank on it a little too hard, and things like that. But other than that, I’ve had fun with it. To see the folks put on fake beards or draw them on…always an interesting thing."