From all of the CMA Songwriters Series tours and shows that have graced the crowds this side of the pond, it is always apparent how the fans are captivated by the stories behind their favourite songs and one of the strongest reactions is always towards the people that have managed to write hit after hit for other artists so we get to hear it from a different perspective.
Chris De Stefano is no exception to this as the New Jersey native has had his work cut by the likes of Luke Bryan, Chase Rice, Dan & Shay, Kelly Clarkson, Florida Georgia Line, Morgan Evans, Chris Young and Bon Jovi plus has been involved in some of Carrie Underwood’s biggest hits (The Champion, Smoke Break, Something in the Water).
The CMA Songwriters Series tour saw Chris along with Ashley Campbell tour mainland Europe with Drake White and Charlie Worsham before Kassi Ashton and Tenille Townes joined the two of them for dates in the UK. Prior to the final show of the tour in London we were able to catch up with all four of the artists performing where Chris was the last that I got to chat with and it was really interesting talking about the songwriting and production process along with how music in Nashville is progressing.
It’s quite strange to hear of people involved in the music industry that had travelled from the US to Europe numerous times (which Chris said was 15 over the previous 6 or 7 years) for work related business without actually coming to Great Britain before. “I have been looking forward to this for way too long, it’s been so overdue.” Which after trips to Scandinavia and Holland in previous voyages along with spending time with family in Italy along with an annual writing retreat in the South of France it was inevitable that visiting our little island was something he needed to do.
An example of the success of these writing retreats was Miranda Lamberts duet with Carrie Underwood: Something Bad which was written in a 13th Century Chateau in Dordogne with Brett James and Priscilla Renea. “We focused on just writing a fun song that had a lot of energy.” The song had been thought about as a potential duet then after Miranda put the song on hold which as Chris said was “amazing in itself but then got even bigger when she asked Carrie to be a part of it.”
We hear so often about peoples preconceptions of our country and the music fans over here along with how things are visiting the continent which never tires us hearing how much people love the experience of our culture and meeting our people which Chris emphasised. “It’s been incredible, definitely a trip of a lifetime. It really is about the people, the cultures and the love for music. Sharing songs and stories and connecting with fans. It’s a special thing, that’s why we write and perform music.”
Connectivity is almost the buzz word you hear from musicians when they talk about what they want to achieve and how people that come to shows over here particularly look for that in totality. “Folk over here have no problems just singing along. Particularly the songs by Dan & Shay (From TheGround Up) and Morgan Evans (Kiss Somebody). Then its special meeting the people one on one, it’s been my favourite part of the trip because there is no hiding the love for music you guys have, it’s so genuine and really special.”
One song that Chris co-wrote (along with Brett James and Carrie Underwood) that really has connected with people is Something in the Water which I asked Chris whether there are songs like this that you just know are special when it has been written and that you get a feeling could be something really big? “The truest test, or not even a test but a realisation when I keep wanting to hit rewind on it and listening back over and over again. I can’t tell you how many times it brought tears to my eyes even whilst I was working on the production as it is such an emotional song and my dad reacted with tears in his eyes too as I played him the demo. It made me realise like wow! This is a special one for sure.”
In addition to hearing him talk about writing music you really do get a sense of how passionate this guy is about every aspect of music. Not just a writer and performer but he was so enthusiastic talking about production spanning from how it fascinated him in his younger days. “I remember getting my 1st Pro Tools rig, version 3 maybe? Shoot I even had an old Vestax 4 track. I used to bounce tracks over just so I could multi track. It was like magic to me.” One artist who Chris has worked fairly heavily on the production side is Chase Rice where both of his full length releases Ignite the Night and Lambs & Lions feature heavy influence from Chris on both the writing and production aspects. During the show at Shepherds Bush, Rice came out onto stage to join Chris as they performed Eyes on You together.
In regard to the production and writing of songs we discussed the process where a lot more people are producing as they go along but ultimately the “fundamental of still writing a great song is most important.” What was refreshing to hear him emphasise was the importance of change and growth within music creatively “The last few years has been an opening of the floodgates of possibility with the sonic spectrum of things. There’s a lot of influences from other genres and I feel that is important. Nothing stays the same and it shouldn’t. I feel like everything should progress to give new sounds and new ways of approaching songwriting.”
Despite all the passion for writing and producing, Chris is looking to be bringing out a lot more music of his own, where the show at Shepherds Bush including him performing his latest solo track Wide Open which is available on Spotify. “I enjoy it too much, singing and connecting with people is just a really special thing.” However this does in no way mean there will be less focus on production and writing “it’s not necessarily a trade-off, going to keep doing both. People like Ryan Tedder and Ed Sheeran are able to juggle writing and performing so hopefully more to come on all levels. But hey who wouldn’t want to be more like Ed Sheeran?”
This was a real pleasure to talk to someone genuinely so passionate about every aspect of music and such a really interesting guy to talk to. He is such a natural storyteller the way he talks about his experiences and the meaning behind songs so I would definitely recommend to anyone the opportunity to listen to this guy even if not to hear the background behind the array of hits he has written. For such a regular visitor to Europe I would be very surprised if the British Isles becomes a repeat destination in future as “I have loved getting out meeting the people, the culture, eating local foods and drinking local beers! The beer tastes different over here but it’s much better and I know it’s totally cliché but I’m a big fan of fish and chips with the way you guys do it here.”