Best known for writing such Number One hits as Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer” and Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” Chris Stapleton has announced his debut solo album. The record, titled Traveller, will be released May 5th on Mercury Records. Stapleton gave journalists and Nashville insiders a preview of the album Thursday night during a listening event at the recently rescued RCA Studio A on Music Row.
Sprawling 14 tracks, Traveller was produced by Dave Cobb, the producer du jour who has helped country return to its more organic roots via albums by Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and Jamey Johnson. “I tried to track down Dave Cobb, after hearing just half of a song on the Sturgill Simpson record. I thought, ‘Here’s a guy that makes things sound like I like them to sound,'” Stapleton tells Rolling Stone Country. “We have a love of outlaw country things and soul music and old R&B…. We’re just trying to find something that we think is cool and go with that. And not worry about catering too much. Dave is really fearless in that way, in recording, producing and playing.”
Making last night’s album party all the more unique — not to mention music-focused — Stapleton and Cobb recorded Traveller‘s final track, the bluesy “Sometimes I Cry,” live in front of the assembled guests. (As the crowd filtered out, Cobb was already mixing the recording in the Studio A control room.)
Stapleton, who released the more polished single “What Are You Listening To” in 2013 to little radio play, says the album (which does not include that previous solo foray) was inspired by a soul-searching trip west with his wife.
“I lost my dad back in October 2013, and I had a single that did not do so well on the radio,” he says. “I needed some head-clearing space, and my wife had the presence of mine to purchase me… an old Jeep, a 1979 Jeep Cherokee out in Phoenix. Instead of having it shipped back, we flew out there and drove it to south Florida and then home. It’s a long haul back to here, which is kind of a crazy thing to do in a vehicle you aren’t sure is going to make it or not. We lost an alternator along the way, but that was about it.”
During the drive, Stapleton came up with the title track. “It says a lot about life and how we’re all passing through it. That’s where that song came from and it works on a number of levels. It’s going to mean something to different people,” he says.
While Stapleton acknowledges that today’s country has become a bit homogenized, he says he and Cobb simply tried to challenge themselves.
“My goal is just to record the best music and make it available. As far as being homogenized, music always goes in cycles. Even if something were to drastically change, and something else became fashionable, eventually everything else would try to sound like that. It all goes like that,” he says. “My goal is to be on the front end of something, instead of chasing something. There is more chance for artistry when you’re pushing yourself, making yourself uncomfortable and doing something that someone else is not necessarily doing.”