Sinking into a leather chair inside the Nashville headquarters of his record label, plastic cup of Mountain Dew in hand, Chris Janson is philosophical about where he’s been over the past two years.
“I’m never trying to re-create the ‘Boat’ moment, just so you know,” he says, referencing his MediaBase Number One single “Buy Me a Boat” and slowing down his 100 mph conversation style for just an instant.
In 2015, Janson saw years of hard, independent work pay off with “Buy Me a Boat” – a big-dreaming, Platinum-certified hit that struck a nerve with fans craving straight talk and a sense of humor. His major-label album of the same name debuted in the Top 5, but a sudsy follow-up single, “Power of Positive Drinkin’,” went flat, and a year later his romantic real-life love story, “Holdin’ Her,” peaked at Number 20. The latter may not have been the “different kind of career song” he and Warner Music Nashville had hoped, but it nonetheless drew in fans who connected with the cards-on-the-table persona of the blue-collar Missouri native.
This past year, the question turned to “Where to head next?” On May 5th, the answer arrived with new single “Fix a Drink,” a clever kiss-off to the troubles and tribulations of everyday life that owes much to “Buy Me a Boat,” while being careful not to re-hash the past.
“I don’t care who you are, you would drive yourself nuts if you tried to re-create moments,” Janson says. “It’s almost like trying to re-create how I felt when I got married – I can’t. It was a moment in time. ‘Buy Me a Boat’ was, too, and it brought me here.”
Good or bad, “here” is the high expectations of a second album. The complete, still untitled project is set for release in late summer, while a five-song EP, also titled Fix a Drink, arrives Friday, June 9th, to bridge the gap. A sampling of tracks from the forthcoming album, the EP arrives just as Janson heads out on Sam Hunt’s 15 in a 30 Tour with Maren Morris and support act Ryan Follese. And while he might not have been looking to go back in time, Janson wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, either.
Both the EP and album were co-produced by Janson with Chris DuBois and Brett Anderson (his Buy Me a Boat co-creators), with Scott Hendricks coming aboard for the first time. Focused on fun, clever writing and quick tempos, Janson says he’s embraced his status as “The Buy Me a Boat Guy.”
“Fix a Drink,” tailor-made to be a summer anthem, shares a no-B.S. comedic theme with its predecessor, but leads with a bit more twang and some modern-production flair. Arriving late in the album’s creative process, the song ultimately gave the project a sense of direction, according to Janson.
The songwriter was actually set to lead with a different song (the happy-go-lucky good-timer “Everybody”) when a writing session with DuBois hit a road block. DuBois suggested they try finishing a song he and Ashley Gorley were working on instead: “Fix a Drink.” It’s a set-’em-up and knock-’em-down tune filled with things the narrator can’t fix –stifling hot summer days, pushy bosses, the 24-hour political news – and one thing he can.
“Immediately, it sounded like something I would say,” Janson says. Which is interesting, since almost every interview he’s done since “Buy Me a Boat” has made mention of the fact that he doesn’t drink alcohol.
“We should print this, ’cause it’s never really said,” he explains. “I drink if I like what’s in the cup. If my wife has a good peach martini on the table, I’m going to take a couple drinks of it, and I might even have one. I think everything in moderation, and I’ve always kind of said that under my breath but never out loud. Everybody looks at it so black and white, which is the damnedest thing. It’s funny.”
Elsewhere on the EP, Janson’s good humor gets paired with his open-minded musical taste. He co-wrote every song on both the EP and upcoming album, including the blistering rave-up “Redneck Life.”
“‘Redneck Life’ is like my punk-rock-meets-country departure,” he says. “It’s like Social Distortion meets Waylon Jennings, and it’s 100 percent me, man.”
Working with the hook “I didn’t choose the redneck life / The redneck life chose me,” its crunchy, hard-driving sound is paired with a storyline that calls out cheap smokes, repairing cars in your front yard and preferring Mountain Dew to a silver spoon. Janson will be kicking off shows all summer with that one, figuring it’s a surefire way to get a crowd on its feet.
“Everybody” continues the up-tempo push, while “Little Bit of Both” adds a brass section to he and co-writer Craig Wiseman’s snappy, of-the-moment lyrical approach: “You’re a little straight-A / And a little cray-cray / Girl, you sound like you’re just my type.”
But there’s also room made for another shot at that “Holdin’ Her” romance. “Name On It” was co-written by Janson with Gorley and Ross Copperman and pairs a smooth, hearts afire pop-country feel with one of the most passionate vocals Janson has delivered to date.
An anthem of a different sort, it doesn’t exactly scream “The Buy Me a Boat Guy.” Rather, it’s more like a fusion of the best elements of “Boat” and “Holdin’ Her” – which may be an apt description of the new EP as well.
“Oh God, if we could capture lightning in a bottle, we’d be doing it and selling it,” he says of having a “Boat”-like hit with “Drink.” “But I will say this – I feel the symptoms of ‘Buy Me a Boat’ in ‘Fix a Drink.'”
Janson is set to play a 40-minute full-band set during every show of Sam Hunt’s 15 in a 30 Tour. The trek kicks off June 1st in Cleveland.