Photo courtesy of Brett Eldredge
One of the most anticipated country albums of the year released today. Sunday Drive (Warner Music Nashville) is the fifth studio record from Brett Eldredge and it’s a stunner. Wanting to do something completely different from previous projects, he first rounded up a couple of new producers, the Grammy-winning team of Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, who worked with Kacey Musgraves on Golden Hour. He then stripped away much of the “noise” we all deal with in today’s world, by largely avoiding social media and swapping out his smartphone for a flip phone.
A native of Paris, Illinois, a small city that sits approximately 165 miles south of Chicago, with Terre Haute, Indiana actually being the closest bigger city, Eldredge wanted his new album to represent his Midwestern roots and values. He made the decision to grab his producers and manager and travel back to his hometown to spend some time there with them. He felt there was no better way for them to understand those Midwestern ways of life than to actually go there. From there they went to Chicago’s Shirk Studios where most of the album was recorded. The record was finished up at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios.
Photo courtesy of parisillinois.org
I heard the album before it was released and from all I’d read about what Eldredge wanted it to be, he nailed it. Every track tends to interlock with the next in a subtle way, just like so many concept albums I grew up with did. The kind of album you listen to track-by-track, because that’s the way it’s intended to be heard. You can read my Think Country review of Sunday Drive here: https://thinkcountrymusic.com/whats-new/review-brett-eldredges-sunday-drive-sometimes-you-gotta-lose-yourself-to-make-your-way-back-home/ Of course, as a fan of this record, I had a million questions about it. I would have loved to get answers for so many of them, but there are time limits to these things. I would say we packed in quite a bit of content in the time we had though. Eldredge was more than happy to talk about the album, and answered every question in great detail, which I appreciated so much. In an effort to convey his thoughts directly, and after speaking with him, I believe he would want them presented to his fans that way, as he was extremely passionate with his words, I am transcribing the interview as it was conducted.
Photo courtesy of Greg Noire/Brett Eldredge
Patti McClintic (Think Country): Hi Brett, how are you?
Brett Eldredge: Wonderful, how are you?
PM: I’m doin’ good. I don’t have a British accent, I’m here in Nashville, but I’m representing the UK (I was interviewing via a UK public relations firm and Think Country is based in England).
BE: I was wondering. I was like, “What?…”
PM: I know, sorry!
BE: I was talking to another one before this and I was expecting another British accent.
PM: I know. It’s disappointing.
BE: Not at all. It’s all good.
PM: Oh, good. Well, anyway, you wanted to do this record differently and you did. It’s great. You simplified your life, I heard. You went up to Paris and Chicago. Can you tell me a little bit about what you guys did there in Paris to get everybody in the right mindset to do the record?
BE: Yeah. I was, yeah, I think it was something that I haven’t done in a lot of my records. I mean, I have in some, in some ways. I mean, something I haven’t done in my records as much as I’ve liked, is really capture that Midwest heart and soul that I have, and where I come from, and the uniqueness of that. I think that, you know, I don’t hear a voice from there a whole lot of the time, and that’s a unique lifestyle. Being from a small town in the middle of what I call the “Heart of the Heartland”, Paris, Illinois. So, I wanted to really have that shine throughout my whole record, other than just a song that might be titled about the Midwest or whatever. I wanted the whole feeling, the whole aura of the music to be coming out of that part of the country, because I wanted to be a voice for that part of the world. A voice for a small town, you know, small town people. So, it was about my hometown.
BE: Taking my producers and my manager, and spending some days, not just stopping for a couple of hours at a restaurant. We spent days there, you know, walking the same streets and riding down the same little roads that I went down as a kid. We even shared dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house, where it’s as “farming table” as it gets. My aunt grows all these wonderful vegetables in her garden, and my uncle has a farm, and you have fresh beef from his farm. You know where it came from and you know the people that worked hard to get the food to that table. You have these conversations about who I was as a kid, and what I was like as a kid, and our stories from over the years. The same conversations I had as a kid with my friends and just picking up where we left off. Just seeing all the things. I think it was really unique for them to see and feel and walk in my shoes in that Midwest life. I think that was important. Then we took the bus from there to Chicago to take the next chapter and actually record that, and have that feeling there of a kid dreamin’ about the big city, but also comin’ from a little town in the “Heart of the Heartland”. I think that’s what makes this album so unique and so important in my life.
PM: So, when you got to Chicago, tell me a little bit about what was different about recording in Chicago versus Nashville.
BE: Well, you know, Nashville is Music City. It’s the greatest place for music in the world, but I think, after a while, you gotta shake things up in your life if you wanna get out of the, if you wanna disrupt and change the way you do things and give another element to who you are and find change in your life. So, I wanted to do something drastically different. I wanted to do something to take myself out of my comfort zone. Not walk the streets and see people I know. Not be worrying about what that person is recording or singing, because if you’re in Nashville, which is great, and I don’t regret recording any of my records here, but you’re in a place where the music business is, and where it lives, and I wanted to not worry about what anybody else was sayin’ or singing about, or what musicians they were playin’ with or whatever. Not because I didn’t care, it’s just that I wanted to uniquely get my sound out there, unfiltered and all of that. I needed to go somewhere that really inspired me, but also made me feel like I was kinda out there on my own, ready to create something that I’ve never created before, and I think that’s what we did.
PM: Yeah. You definitely did. So, did you do anything in the studio to create something different? Did you bring in any different instruments or different people? Anything special to make it a different record?
BE: I pretty much did everything different, from the kind of studio we used, we used a little studio in Chicago, kind of a mom and pop, family-owned Shirk Studios, and it was just a small studio. Really homey, really nice, really taken care of, a lot of passion into it, but it wasn’t this giant tracking room like I’ve been using for many years, like Ocean Way or Blackbird. Those are amazing studios, but I wanted to jump in a studio where it was a small space, and where it felt like the way it was when we were creating our demos in Daniel Tashian’s garage studio. I mean, it was nothin’ fancy, but it was vibey and it felt good, and we go in there to record, just me, Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, and we would all just record in his garage studio. I was hearing this rawness out of my voice and out of this music that I never even came close to feeling ever in my life, and that was so amazing.
BE: So, I said, “Let’s take this up to Chicago, have that same feel.” I’m gonna sing the vocals live in a room while the drums are playing, and sometimes you get vocal bleed in there, and then you pick it up on the microphone from the drum and all that. ‘Cause that’s all my favorite records that I grew up listening to and everything, because I feel like I’m listening to the band as it plays in the room. I feel like when I put it on my speakers, I feel like I’m there with ’em. I wanted to capture that feel and so, you know, there was just three of us recording throughout the album. These guys played so many different instruments and we would just go down live and sing it and that’s, I think , what made it so honest and vulnerable and real.
PM: That’s great. It sounds great. Let’s talk about a couple of songs real quick. “Sunday Drive”, obviously you didn’t write it, but it is somewhat autobiographical, right?
BE: Yes. Yeah, I was an intern at Universal Music Publishing many years ago, and was doing the college thing. I was trying to live in Nashville to become a singer/songwriter and I heard that song when I was working in the tape room. I was transferring CDs into MP3s and I heard this song and I was just completely taken aback by it, because it felt like my life story. It felt like, you know, that Midwest lifestyle when I was a kid ridin’ in the backseat, lookin’ and watchin’ the world through an open window, as the trees lined up like dominoes. Like, I felt everything, and then I felt myself grow up, get older and ride in the car in high school with my friends singin’ along, never thinkin’ these days would fly by.
BE: You know, when I first heard it, I wasn’t old enough yet, I wasn’t grown into the time in the song to where, you know, my parents were still younger, but I still felt like there’s gonna be a moment where this third verse really starts to hit home, and that’s now. When I start to get really reflective in my life, I do see my family growing older. My parents are growing older, my brother and myself, and I too, will continue to grow older and I realize that all you have is this moment, right here, right now. I think that song was so important to me when I first heard it, and then albums went by and went by, and this is the one where I got to the place in my life where I was very reflective on what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to be. This was kind of a serendipitous moment of when I needed to record that song, and luckily, I got to have it. It became the album title because I thought it was so important.
Video courtesy of Brett Eldredge and YouTube
PM: Okay. I probably have one more, so I’ve got to decide which song I want to talk about. I have, like, three that are so important to me. I guess I’ll go for Paris…
BE: Well, let’s go quick with all of ’em, I can do it.
PM: Okay, let’s go with “Paris Illinois” first. Just tell me real quick, I have to know. The wind chimes. I want to know, where are the wind chimes?
BE: Yeah. My grandmother’s. My grandmother had wind chimes growin’ up. She also had a grandfather clock. I just remember she was someone that had these “comfort noises”, you know? That nostalgia this song holds so heavily in your heart, and I always remember hearing the wind chimes at my grandmother’s house. I’m not somebody that would have wind chimes at my house, because I think, like, if I hear ’em now, I think it makes me think of that, but really there’s no more special way to hear ’em than when I heard ’em at her house. It just gives me comfort when I hear it. It takes me back to her house and that little neighborhood in Illinois.
PM: I love it. It’s short and sweet and I love it. “Good Day”. Did you actually write that on a good day?
BE: I wrote it on a good day, because I wrote it at a time where I became aware of when I told myself I wasn’t gonna have a good day. I found that kind of negativity, where you wake up and it’s like, “Aw, man, it’s raining outside, it’s cold, here we go…,” and you’re taking a step backward instead of forward, and I wanted to change that. This was the first song I wrote with Ian and Daniel. I decided I wanted this to be, I wanted to change the way I look at the world a little bit. When I wake up in the morning, what’s so bad about saying, “I’m gonna have a good day,” and makin’ that decision to have a good day? I think that’s important, and I think just by doing that, it’s done a lot for me in my life, and I think the message of that is so powerful.
Video courtesy of Brett Eldredge and YouTube
PM: It is. Finally, “Magnolia” is important to me because I’ve introduced it to my two granddaughters that live with me, and we dance to this song, so I love it. (Brett Eldredge laughs) So, I want to know, who wrote it?
BE: I wrote that with my friend Scooter Carusoe, which we’ve written a lot. I wrote “Wanna Be That Song” with him and “Mean to Me” and several songs. He and I love to write about, you know, that innocent, undiscovered love, when you’re a kid, you know? “Magnolia” kind of captures that freedom you have as a kid, when you feel like you have the world at your fingertips and you meet somebody. The simplicity of dancin’ under that magnolia tree, for me, was, the reality of that was so beautiful, and then it gets to the bridge of:
“It’s a shame that you grow up when you do
‘Cause all the miles and all the years take a piece of you
I guess everything gets cut down over time
but that don’t mean I don’t go back there in my mind”
BE: It’s like you go right back there and you dance under that magnolia even if you’re long past that part of your life. You can always go back there in your mind. That song just makes you want to dance, and it makes you feel good, takes you back to simpler times and lets you know that those are still there for you if you just close your eyes or listen to music and start dancin’.
PM: Yeah. I love the album. Thank you so much. There aren’t enough superlatives, honestly.
BE: Aw, man, thanks so much for saying that. I appreciate that.
PM: You’re welcome. Thanks again. Bye.
BE: Thank you and have a great rest of your day.
Hanging up the phone I felt a good deal of relief. When you are given a 15-minute window of time to try and extract enough quality information, you never know what you’ll get. Everyone is different. After going back through it all, I’m actually amazed at how much came out of that interview. When you have an album like Sunday Drive to talk about, one that you, as the interviewer, believe in just as much as the artist believes in it, it has endless possibilities. I’m grateful that Brett Eldredge was willing to share so much. It made it fun and I learned a lot. Get the album. Listen for all the things he talked about. Any artist that pours that much passion into a project that you can actually feel it dripping out all over from song to song, you know he worked hard to get it right. Factor in an artist from the Midwest and you can bet your last dollar that he worked twice as hard.
Photo courtesy of Bill McClintic, 90 East Photography and Think Country
Sunday Drive Track List
- “Where the Heart Is” (Brett Eldredge, Jessie Jo Dillon, Tyler Johnson)
- “The One You Need” (Brett Eldredge, Jessie Jo Dillon, Matt Rogers)
- “Magnolia” (Brett Eldredge, Scooter Carusoe)
- “Crowd My Mind” (Brett Eldredge, Ross Copperman)
- “Good Day” (Brett Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk)
- “Fall For Me” (Brett Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk)
- “Sunday Drive” (Barry Dean, Don Mescall, Steve Robson)
- “When I Die” (Brett Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk)
- “Gabrielle” (Brett Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk)
- “Fix A Heart” (Brett Eldredge, Scooter Carusoe)
- “Then You Do” (Brett Eldredge, Scooter Carusoe)
- “Paris Illinois” (Brett Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk)
Brett Eldredge’s Website: https://www.bretteldredge.com/?frontpage=true
Join Brett Eldredge’s Official Fan Group, The Locals Here: https://thelocals.bretteldredge.com/
*Feature photo courtesy of Greg Noire/Brett Eldredge