“This is the first time I’ve ever held my actual album,” says Chris Janson, the affable underdog behind 2015’s country song of the summer, “Buy Me a Boat.” “It’s really happening.”
Lounging on the leafy patio atop Warner Brothers’ Music Row headquarters, the newly-minted star turns his just-delivered album (also titled Buy Me a Boat) over and over in his hands. Inspecting each photo and song title, he grins and shakes his head in disbelief over his long and laborious path to this moment. Over the last six years Janson has persevered through two failed record deals, two EPs and three singles that failed to make a major impression — but never released a full-length album.
That was before fans got on board with the independently released “Buy Me a Boat,” however. A delightfully sarcastic blue-collar kiss-off built on hot-rod twang, the song steadily climbed radio charts and became Janson’s first Number One in September. Now signed to Warner Music Nashville, he’ll release his long-awaited debut album on October 30th.
In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone Country, the modest Missouri native explains how his first-ever big-time release came together, and how it compares to his buoyant calling card. According to Janson, fans will find rowdy up-tempos, deeper-meaning ballads and even a guest appearance by Tim McGraw on Buy Me a Boat, all of it co-written by Janson and played with a proud, straight-ahead country sound.
“Every song on this record is just a simple song written by a simple dude — me,” he says. “Every time I’ve tried to overthink something in my life it either failed, or I wasn’t that proud of it. . . I can tell you right now that I’m never gonna make records I have to sit around and think about forever. I want to have fun with this stuff.”
Indeed, the project was put together in near-record time to capitalize on the success of “Buy Me a Boat,” which was first championed by DJ Bobby Bones. Of the album’s 11 tracks, Janson co-produced five with Chris DuBois and Brent Anderson (the crew behind “Buy Me a Boat”), while Byron Gallimore (McGraw’s hit-maker of choice) led the sessions for six others. As a result, the record has a loose, under-the-gun feel that’s undeniably exciting.
“It’s probably the quickest turnaround in history,” the singer-songwriter jokes, “but it wasn’t a rushed process. It was thought-out and planned just enough to be right, but not planned enough to get in the way.”
Luckily, the team had plenty of material to work with. A prolific songwriter, Janson simply turned in a list of his favorite songs. The label did the same, and they met in the middle. As a result, the album features a diverse mix of testosterone-fueled debauchery, cautionary tales of sin and thankful ballads of blessing.
Such variety has always been a hallmark for Janson, who co-wrote McGraw’s over-the-top 2012 hit “Truck Yeah,” as well as LoCash’s jubilant current single “I Love This Life” and two tracks on Hank Williams Jr.’s upcoming new album, It’s About Time.
“On the ‘Truck Yeah’ side, ‘Power of Positive Drinkin” is kind of like that,” he says. “It’s rocking, raucous, rowdy, kind of in your face. And then songs about life and legacy like ‘Where You Come In,’ ‘Holdin’ Her,’ ‘Messin’ With Jesus’ — those have more of a serious undertone to them than just the hands-in-the-air, make-you-wanna-sing kind of thing.”
With its bait-and-switch title, “Messin’ With Jesus” is actually a Saturday-night/Sunday-morning duet about redemption and getting right with God. Dripping with steel guitar and twangy vocals, the song raises questions of faith, a common theme for Janson, who counts himself as a Christian but won’t claim to be a perfect example.
“I’m not scared of Jesus,” he says. “Whether you believe in him or not, that’s your business. I do believe personally and I like to keep that relationship good, but I’m right on the fence [between living right and wrong] all the time.”
On the other side of the coin, “Power of Positive Drinkin'” finds Janson putting deep thoughts aside for a wild night at the bar. Janson actually quit drinking when he met his wife Kelly, but he remembers the feeling well. Co-written with DuBois and Mark Irwin, the cheeky anthem is Janson’s new single, one that mines the same ironic territory as “Buy Me a Boat.”
“Beer five, and I’m comin’ alive/Beer six, man that went down quick/Seven, eight, nine, I’m feelin’ fine/And by number ten, life’s good again” goes its chorus.
“People have been asking, ‘How can you relate to ‘Power of Positive Drinkin”?” Janson says. “I can relate because not so long ago I was that guy, I totally get it. . . I’ve drank a lot of beer in my life, and whatever problems I had walking in, they were gone by 10.
“I could still drink to this day,” he continues. “I just choose not to because it always made me feel bloated and fat — I’m 135 pounds, so 10 beers makes me feel like a balloon, man.”
All told, Janson believes his time has finally arrived. Holding his debut album for the first time, he has the look of a proud father imagining all the possibilities that lie ahead. (He actually is a dad too, to a son and a daughter with wife Kelly, and two “bonus kids” — he refuses to call them “step children.”)
“For as rowdy and raucous as it will be at times, there will be storytelling, too,” he says of his album, and his career in general. “That’s always been my goal: to be a renaissance man of sorts with songs and have some identity. I finally feel like I have that identity.”
Buy Me a Boat arrives tomorrow, October 30th, and Janson will celebrate the release with a performance at his home away from home: the Grand Ole Opry. On February 18th, he returns to the road on a major tour, opening for Blake Shelton.