His leading role on ABC's Nashville is a full circle moment for Charles Esten — and a gig that combines his two career loves. The actor, who plays brooding musician Deacon Claybourne on the show, was actually singing before he was acting. He was the frontman of a band called N'est Pas during his college days, and his first big job following acting classes was in a musical — fronting a West End production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.
Twenty-something years — and dozens of TV and movie roles — later, a move to Nashville's namesake city wetted Esten's songwriting appetite again. He teamed with Deana Carter to pen a tune, "I Know How to Love You Now," which was used during a pivotal moment in the show. And the actor-musician has been writing with more and more of Music Row's biggest names, including Jeffrey Steele and country veteran-turned-Nashville star Mark Collie, to name a few.
Now, while he's jetting back and forth across the pond on the Nashville In Concert tour, Esten is collecting songs for his first solo album — singing as himself, and not as Deacon, as he does on the Nashville soundtracks.
"It's funny, I've been an actor for 25 years or so and I haven't written most of the things I've done. I bring a lot of who I am to the roles, but you say what other people wrote, say it in a way another person directs you to say it," he tells Rolling Stone Country. "What's interesting about this [upcoming album] and what I love about songwriting is, this is me saying it. I've played so many other people's music, whether it was Buddy or in my band in college. But I have to admit, it's interesting to suddenly go, 'Who am I? What do I want to say?' Because my music and the things I write are very eclectic."
While a title and release date for Esten's debut album are yet to be announced, he's already thinking about his second set of tunes — as acting is now sharing an equal spotlight with music.
"I stepped away from it early in my career and I don't see myself stepping away again," Esten says of making music. "This has been almost a miracle that I get to walk back into this door, into this life – with great songwriters, great musicians. So, it's what I want to do!"