“A dose of humility will serve you well,” Vince Gill said with a laugh after trading war stories with Chris Young about their earliest days in the music business, playing for tips — or in Young’s case, quesadillas — to audiences with less members than their bands.
Those eight words of wisdom were among many as the two lounged on a couch in Gill’s cozy Nashville home studio, waxing philosophical on everything from paying dues to playing producer, to making music without eyes full of dollar signs. Rolling Stone Country recruited Gill to interview Young about his new album, I’m Comin’ Over, on which the two collaborate on what is arguably the most intoxicating heartbreak song of Young’s career, “Sober Saturday Night.” Co-written by the singer with brothers Brad and Brett Warren, the track is brought to an emotional climax by a Gill guitar solo, along with the legend’s unmistakable (and unparalleled) harmonies. It was recorded in the same studio where the two sat for this chat — surrounded by dozens of Gill’s guitars, priceless memorabilia (like a doppelgänger bobblehead) and awards, including the guitar-slinger’s 20 Grammys.
While we sat as mere flies on the wall, Gill and Young’s “interview” turned out to be more of just a conversation between friends — and one that spanned more years than Young’s young age of 30. Read below as the two musicians talk about their earliest career challenges, their latest musical epiphanies and why a song’s defining moment can have nothing to do with its singer.
Young: Have you ever written with the Warren Brothers before?
Gill: No, I refuse. They are much too crazy for a man my age. [Laughs] No, I’m kidding.
Young: There are stories I can’t tell right now. [Laughs] That was the first time I’ve written with them, and I’d been a big fan of theirs. We spent 90 percent of that day writing a tempo song that no one will probably ever hear. We had about an hour left before one of them had to pick up their kids. Brad sat down at the piano and was like, “Check this out.” And we decided to write something more serious. We started writing it and wrote it in 45 minutes. Of course, that’s the song we loved, “Sober Saturday Night,” and the other song we spent all day on is just OK.
Gill: That stream of consciousness stuff always winds up being the most meaningful.
Young: When I asked if you would be a part of this song, that was after we’d tracked it all wrong. [Laughs] So I asked if you’d be on it. . .The solo that was there was good but it didn’t really move me like I wanted it to. Now it does what it’s supposed to: it escalates the song to the very end. Your solo made the song. Now it’s one of my favorites on the record, and if I have my say it will be a single.
Gill: Be careful, that could ruin your career. [Laughs] But you’re kind to say that. We talked right when we got started about the definitive moments that happen on records. “When I Call Your Name,” I always go back to that because it was the song that changed my world. But nobody thought much of that song. We tracked it, I sang it and had my part done and then Tony [Brown, Gill’s producer] and I started talking and realized it didn’t have a great intro. So we called Barry Beckett, an incredible piano player, and he came in at probably one or two in the morning and played an intro. And three notes in, you know what song it is. It was magical what he did to that song. He gave it its defining moment.