On television, Chris Carmack plays Will Lexington, a country-pop beefcake who doubles as one of Nashville‘s more interesting characters. It’s a role he’s played since 2012, and it’s kept him busy. Like the rest of the Nashville cast, Carmack does his own singing, which means he often winds up in a recording studio between shoots, tracking vocals for the show’s steady stream of soundtracks.
Off-camera, he’s a different sort of musician. A songwriter and blues guitarist whose songs are better suited for the coffeeshop than the saloon, Carmack shines a light on his original material with Pieces of You, a self-released EP that hit stores last Friday. He wrote the EP’s five songs alone, looking for something to keep his mind sharp between acting gigs. The result is a record that’s contemplative and self-exploratory, shot through with bursts of fiery fretwork.
“In between acting gigs, you can go into some deep, dark holes, and there’s a lot of ways to kill the time,” says Carmack, who wrote most of Pieces of You while living in Los Angeles. “Many of them are unhealthy. For me, music kept me grounded and centered. It was something I could do that would make me feel productive and would help me explore myself.”
While filming shows like The O.C. — a series that, coincidentally, also required him to sing and play guitar in one episode — Carmack began hosting blues jams during the weekends. He’d round up a group of likeminded players and descend upon somebody’s backyard, where everyone would trade solos for hours. It was loose and stress-free, two adjectives that don’t often describe the lives of those who make their living on-camera.
Years later, he revisits that laid-back approach with Pieces of You, a record that focuses on mood and message rather than mainstream appeal. Carmack may be a Nashville resident these days, but he doesn’t chase after the city’s twangy trends — and that’s perhaps the biggest difference between him and his onscreen character.
“I don’t think Will Lexington and myself draw from the same pool of influences,” he says. “I’m a big fan of Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, and I’m sure Will is hip to them. But when Will is looking to write a song, one of the first questions he’s gonna ask himself is, ‘What is current? What’s on the radio right now? Because I wanna do exactly what’s in the Top 10.’ That’s something that’s never really concerned me. I listen to mostly older music. I’m influenced by old blues, old jazz, old soul music and R&B and country. I try to emulate that to the best of my ability and let it inform me musically.”
To celebrate the record’s December 11th release, Carmack played a quick set at the Grand Ole Opry last Friday night. He hit the stage immediately after Vince Gill, who described him as “far too good of a guitar player to be an actor.” The two songs that followed may have been short, but they were inspired, too, a burst of something fresh and fiery during a show filled with country icons enjoying the spoils of their own hard work.
“This is my first time putting out original music,” says Carmack, the first Nashville star to release a record of his own songs. “It’s kind of a scary thing, but it feels great, too. I think I might have the bug.”