“American Idol” Season 5 finalist Chris Daughtry is about to release a new album, Baptized, and while its new sound — poppier, cleaner, lighter, even downright folksy in parts — will likely win his eponymous band new fans, it’s also inevitable that it’ll alienate some aficionados of the angst-ridden, hard-charging signature sound of Daughtry’s first three LPs. Already the album’s lead single, the EDM-tinged “Waiting for a Superman,” has polarized Daughtry’s fanbase and sparked fervent Internet debate. But as Chris sits down with Yahoo Music to preview three other tracks from Baptized — the upbeat, almost Bon Jovian title track; the groovy “Battleships”; and a humorously nostalgic ode to the good ole days, “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” — he doesn’t show much concern for the haters.
“Concern? That’s probably not the right word as much as the word expect. I kind of expect a few people to just not get it, you know?” he shrugs. “And I’m okay with that, because this is where I’m at right now. I’m very proud of the record. I always think about Van Halen, what were fans thinking when ‘Jump’ came out with all the synthesizers? Of course, back then the Internet wasn’t around, so you didn’t hear immediate hate. But my point is, I can’t continue to put out the exact same thing. And the fans don’t deserve that.”
While the sound of Baptized may throw some listeners for a loop, Chris sees it as more of a natural progression. “I love the stuff that’s out on the radio. I’ve always been a sucker for pop melodies,” he insists. “I love the Katy Perry stuff, Pink, Imagine Dragons, even Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers, so [my album has] all these aspects of everything I love that’s out there. I wanted to experiment a little bit with those kind of sounds and incorporate it in what we do.”
Working without his bandmates or longtime producer Howard Benson this time around, and joining forces with such producers as Martin Johnson (Boys like Girls, Christina Perri, Hot Chelle Rae), Sam Hollander (Train, Neon Trees, Owl City), and Claude Kelly (everyone from Britney to Whitney), Chris took a radically different approach to Baptized. “I knew I needed to do something different for my own personal inspiration and get out of the same kind of pattern that we had done the previous records in. I needed to be challenged and to go somewhere different, and I didn’t know where that was, but my whole motto behind everything I was writing was, ‘If it sounds anything like something I’ve done before, then it’s not being finished.’ I was starting to trust it if it was making me go, ‘Man, what are people gonna think of this?’ That was kind of my barometer: ‘If it’s that different, that’s probably a good thing.'”
As for working on the album sans his band, Chris explains: “It started as writing a bunch of songs with the idea of maybe putting out a record in 2014, and we started turning in these demos and the label started freaking out, like, ‘Oh my gosh, we need to put the record out in November!’ And so this record was done in a very unorthodox way, very different from what we’ve done before, in the sense that these demos that I created with the respective writers and producers are the songs that are going to be on the record. The band had been on tour all year, so to then take another month for the band to learn the songs and recreate that magic that was already captured, that just didn’t make sense. Basically, it sounded like a final record, and the label was so amped about it that they were like, ‘This is what we need to put out.’ So it was never a conscious thing, like me saying, ‘I’m doing this on my own, screw the band!'”
Chris admits that, at first, his bandmates may have balked, because “there’s always this togetherness when you’re working on the material together and that feeling of connection to the material. But at the end of the day, they really do love the new stuff. I think it took some getting used to for a few of the members, but I think it kind of started settling in when we started rehearsing the new stuff and realizing how much fun it was to play. And it forced us to be restrained, because it’s not like a big wall of guitars everywhere. Like, I’m looking over here at my lead guitar player, and he’s holding a mandolin! It’s kind of making all of us, myself included, to really be about the song and not about how ‘hardcore’ it is or whatever…it doesn’t have to be this massive wall of buzzsaw guitars in your ears for it to be rock ‘n’ roll and for it to be us.”
Good point: Lest anyone think that Chris has stopped rockin’, one aforementioned Baptized track — sort of a modern-day, tongue-in-cheek take on Bryan Adams’s “Summer of ’69″— proves that Chris still loves that old-time rock ‘n’ roll. “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” is an amusingly sentimental romp that begins with Chris declaring, “I was born the day that disco died” and then launches into healthy music-geek debates about Billy Joel, Courtney Love, the Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones, and “Van Hagar.” Says Chris: “Martin Johnson and Sam Hollander approached me with this idea, and it was something I’ve never done before. Sam had this lyric: ‘We used to wonder about who’s better, Elton John or Billy Joel/And we still wonder if Kurt really wrote the songs she sang in Hole.’ I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never done anything where I’ve referenced anyone in a song, especially…not in a negative light, necessarily, but something that’s kind of a jab.’ But it was funny, and I was like, ‘Hopefully they won’t come looking for me after this!’ I’ve never written anything like that. People are so used to seeing this hard-ass face, everything is so serious, and if anybody hung out with this band they’d realize that is the last thing we are is serious! So this is a good thing, because no one’s ever seen this side of me as a person and especially as a songwriter. My favorite line in the whole song is the Van Halen/Van Hagar thing. That’s one of my favorite lyrical moments on this whole record.”
So, where exactly does Chris stand when it comes to this standout song’s age-old rock debates? It’s time for Chris, currently the subject of much debate himself, to take a lightning round!
Elton John vs. Billy Joel:
Guns n’ Roses vs. Motley Crue:
Van Halen vs. Van Hagar:
“Come on. Do I even need to answer that one? Halen. Even if I believed in the other, I would not say it.”
Beatles vs. Stones:
“That’s a tough one. I’m gonna piss some people off with that one. Obviously you can’t discard the amazing songwriting of the Beatles. If those are my choices for greatest ROCK band, I’d have to go to Stones. But if it was a question of the songwriting catalog, it’s probably hands-down the Beatles.”
So…does he really think Kurt Cobain wrote all those Hole songs?
“I don’t. However, I do feel that there were a lot of similarities there [between Nirvana and Hole]. There was a lot of inspiration there. But it makes for a funny lyric!”