Brett Eldredge is looking to build on the success of his debut album, Bring You Back, with the release of his second set, Illinois, on Friday (September 11th). The fun-loving, soulful singer scored three Number Ones with that first project — “Don’t Ya,” “Beat of the Music” and “Mean to Me” — but Illinois promises to reveal more of Eldredge’s true identity.
The reigning CMA New Artist of the Year recently spoke with Rolling Stone Country about the new album — named after his home state — noting that he co-wrote each of the 12 tracks.
“And that’s not because I don’t want to cut any outside songs,” he explains. “I just got in a groove where it was really working, and when they come from you and your stories and your soul, they’re even more believable.”
The restless up-and-comer began writing new songs as soon as Bring You Back came out, looking to move his sound forward, if not necessarily in a new direction. What he came away with felt just right.
“It opens up to my soulful side a little more like with [the first single] ‘Lose My Mind,'” he admits. “I got to channel some of my Ray Charles influence in there and really branch out a little bit with it as well. It’s the best I’ve ever felt in the studio.”
Eldredge co-produced Illinois with Ross Copperman and Brad Crisler, adding even more of a personal touch to the project. The singer — with a creative mind that seems to run at 100 miles-an-hour — says he found his match in Copperman’s anything-goes production style.
“I think it’s more fresh and more real when you capture something during the moment of inspiration,” he explains. “So we’ll use some of the vocals from the day we wrote the song. There are so many melodies going on in my head. A lot of the guitar parts are just what I sing to Ross. I’ll say, ‘I need this sound,’ and just sing it. I’m not a crazy guitar player, so I explain it the best I can 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 a rhythm, and he’ll record the stapler. Luckily Ross doesn’t think I’m crazy.”
If the album’s first single is any indication, Eldredge should keep riding his wave of success with Illinois. “Lose My Mind” is currently inside the Top 10 on Billboard‘s country airplay chart and still rising. Borrowing the “You make me crazy” hook from Gnarls Barkley’s hit “Crazy” (the co-writers from that song are credited on “Lose My Mind” along with Eldredge, Copperman and Heather Morgan), it features an exasperated, blue-eyed soul vocal delivery and evokes images of being caught in a straight-jacket of love.
“I wanted to put something out that was totally different than what I’ve been doing,” Eldredge says. “It has a different vibe and a soulful kind of groove. It was a good way to break out this album.”
“Just a Taste” (Eldredge, Copperman, Morgan) falls into a similar vein, described as a steamy lament about the one who got away.
“You think this person might be the one and there’s a certain moment where it’s perfect, and then it’s gone,” Eldredge says. “It’s sexy and captures that moment of where it was and then wondering what it could’ve been.”
Following the trajectory of falling in love, thinking everything is perfect and finding out it’s not, “Lose It All” (Eldredge, Crisler, Bill Anderson) is one of the set’s few heartbreakers, but Eldredge gets back onto the “life is good” wagon for “Wanna Be That Song” (Eldredge, Copperman, Scooter Carusoe). Saying it’s kind of like a follow up to “Beat of the Music” and “Mean to Me” — which both crystallize as specific moments in a person’s journey — he wanted an anthem about music that shapes lives.
On the other side of the coin, the uptempo “Fire” (Eldredge, Copperman, Jon Nite) brings out his passionate, energetic side, so he’s already started using it to open live shows.
“I feed off high energy, and by the end of it I’m already sweating,” he says. “It’s a fun song. Jon and Ross and I wrote it on a bus trip, and we were trying to figure out how to get it into the show by the next week.”
But the cherry on top for Eldredge is the title track, “Illinois.” Co-written by Eldredge with Tom Douglas and Crisler, the trio took a trip to Eldredge’s hometown of Paris, Illinois, to capture the essence of what “home” really means.
“We went around the whole town and saw it all,” he says proudly. “They got to see the rural farm community where I was from. It’s the heart of the Midwest, it’s winter snow it’s summer greens. It speaks from the heart . . The special thing about that song is, it’s about more than just being from Illinois. You can be from Texas, Utah, Tennessee — wherever you come from, it’s always in your heart, and that’s what I wanted to capture. It’s about what makes you you, and this song makes me me.”
There lies the whole idea behind Illinois, but according to Eldredge, he needed time to make it happen.
“When I first moved to Nashville, if I’d made this record then — when I was looking for a record deal — I wouldn’t be where I am now,” he explains. “I didn’t have that sound yet, I didn’t know who I was. It’s good to find your identity as a songwriter and a singer.”
Illinois is out today (September 11th), with the singer hitting the road next month to promote the album on the CMT on Tour: Brett Eldredge & Thomas Rhett — Suits & Boots trek. They’ll kick things off October 29th in New York City.