'If you think about what everyone else will think, you forget to just make music'
Chris Stapleton broke big in 2015. His debut solo LP, Traveller, dropped to high critical acclaim — and his fiery duet with Justin Timberlake at that fall’s CMA Awards went viral, moving hundreds of thousands of records in the coming days. Now, the Grammy-winning Nashville outlaw, 39, gives EW a tour of From A Room: Volume 1, the first of his two-part country opus planned for 2017.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your 2015 record, Traveller, went double platinum and won a Grammy for Best Country Album. Did you feel pressure to match that success?
CHRIS STAPLETON: For about 10 seconds. Then I remembered that what I want to do is make music that I like and that I think is fun and good. If you think about what everyone else will think, you forget to just make music. I didn’t have any expectations with Traveller—I don’t think anybody did. That’s how I prefer the process to be.
You worked once more with producer Dave Cobb. If it ain’t broke…
I’m a little superstitious! [Laughs] I’ve happened upon a process, after many years of trial and error, where I’ve found who elevates me as a player and performer. From Dave Cobb to my wife singing with me to everybody on the back end, everybody is an all-star.
You’re releasing two LPs in 2017. From A Room: Volume 2 is coming later this year. How much material did you write?
All of these songs actually precede the last record. Some of them are 10 or 12 years old. There’s literally no new songs on this record! [Laughs] We gave ourselves two months to record. We knew we were going to need time to find our studio sea legs again, but we ended up with more songs than we had room for [on one album]. So we called up the label and said, “We’ve got to put out two records this year.”
What was the vibe like in the studio?
We always try to make it, “Let’s hang out and let the music happen.” Some days you just don’t get it; you eat too much pizza or something. [Laughs] I want it to be about guys and girls in a room playing music when the mood struck. That’s where the magic lives.
You cover “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning,” which Willie Nelson made famous in 1982. Why is that song special for you?
I listened to that song when I was a kid. I hope I’m not the last person to record it! It’s worth cutting again and again. If you want an instruction manual on how to write a song, listen to that one. And then try to take pieces of it with you, and maybe someday you can get 1 percent as good as it and you’ll have something! [Laughs]
Your wife, Morgane, is in your band. What do your children think of having a rock-star mom and dad?
They’re very unaffected by it. I’m still just Dad and she’s still just Mom and [performing] is our job. They don’t know that everybody doesn’t go and play in front of thousands of people every night.
Of those thousands, have any been surprising celebrity fans?
[Kiss’] Gene Simmons showed up at a show one time! It was the oddest thing. He was side-stage at a festival in New York, I think. I was like, “Hey, Gene Simmons, what’s up?” [Laughs] Bradley Cooper came to a show…. I hope I don’t sound like I’m name-dropping.
Not at all. But speaking of name-dropping, you’re touring with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers this summer. Are you pumped?
The 17-year-old me is going to be freaking out—and probably the 39-year-old me! [Laughs] He’s a hero. Well, that whole band, actually. Wildflowers is my all-time favorite record of theirs: It has acoustic music but it’s also rock & roll, and it has that Midwestern rock thing and has these country lyrics in places. I used to spend my money on going to Tom Petty concerts.
And now you’re getting paid to go!
Yeah, how about that! It’s a win-win for me.
From A Room: Volume 1 is streaming above.