Brett Eldredge smiles when complimented on the soulful, unique voice that makes him such an instantly recognizable artist on country radio. But he doesn’t exactly take the compliment. “I’m still working on that,” he responds, explaining that both his singing and songwriting identities are constantly evolving. But what he will boast about are the sonic and lyrical leaps that highlight Illinois, his second studio album due out September 11th.
Eldredge doesn’t want to fix what’s not broken; his debut album, Bring You Back, yielded three Number One singles and helped him earn the coveted CMA New Artist of the Year award. But it was that success that gave him the confidence boost to enhance his signature sound by channeling a few more of his heroes outside the country lines, namely from the soul and R&B worlds. And the current queen of pop is partly to thank for a more open, heart-on-his-sleeve approach to his songwriting for the LP.
Eldredge sat down with Rolling Stone Country to listen to a few songs from Illinois and talk about why the making of the upcoming album has been, he says, “the best I’ve ever felt in the studio.” Here are nine things we learned during our chat.
Eldredge, who has been known to use office supplies as instruments, is thankful his Illinois co-producers don’t think he’s lost his mind.
Brett Eldredge the singer may sound polished on radio, but Brett Eldredge the producer is all about capturing raw (and even flawed) moments. “My producing style is fresh. I like when you capture something during the moment of inspiration,” says the musician, who co-produced Illinois with Ross Copperman and Brad Crisler. “So we’ll use some of the vocals from the day we wrote the song. And a lot of the guitar parts are what I just sing to Ross, and Ross knows exactly what I want. I’ll even beat-box to him or I’ll pick up a stapler from his desk and jokingly make percussion and he’ll record the stapler. Luckily Ross doesn’t think I’m crazy. He’s so brilliant in the studio, it freaks me out a little.”
He co-wrote every track on the album.
Eldredge listens to outside songs “all the time,” he says, looking for his own personal connections to gems he didn’t pen, such as his first album’s “Bring You Back.” But for Illinois, he got on a songwriting roll — a long and fruitful one. “I just got in a groove where it was really working,” he says. “When lyrics come from you and your stories and your soul, they’re even more believable sometimes.”
Taylor Swift influenced his songwriting style.
Just after wrapping work on his debut album, Eldredge opened shows on the country-pop phenom’s 2013 Red Tour, soaking in her lyrical diary entries night after night. “I remember when she’d be talking about some guy that did her wrong, and she’d call him out in a song and be honest with it — just say it, not scared. And if she’d fallen in love, she’d straight out say it, too,” he recalls. “People love and accept her for that. Honesty in her music is her most important thing. That’s what I’ve learned, to make my records sound like my own thing. . . You can find yourself [asking], ‘Am I writing this song because this is what I’m supposed to say, or am I writing this song because this is what I want to say?’ Just write what is truthful to you.”