Chris Stapleton’s bold but simple plan: to put music first
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — These last few years, Chris Stapleton is often surprised by early-morning texts of congratulations from his friends. Take, for instance, last week, when the Grammy Award nominations were announced.
“That’s how I usually find out. People go ‘Congratulations’ and I go ‘What for?'” Stapleton said. He eventually discovered that he was nominated for three awards, including best country album, best country song and best country solo performance. “That’s usually what happens to me because I usually don’t know what’s going on.”
Since his sensational debut solo album, “Traveller,” was released in 2015, he’s won two Grammy Awards and scores of Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music Awards. The album continued to dominate the country album sales chart this year and has been certified double platinum.
He released two new albums this year — the Grammy-nominated “From A Room: Volume 1,” which came out in May, and “From A Room: Volume 2,” which came out Dec. 1.
His success lies in his bold simplicity: His recordings are cut live in the studio with his band; his wife, Morgane, sings harmony; and his producer is Dave Cobb. Stapleton isn’t verbose and neither are his lyrics, so it’s no surprise that everyone from Adele to Luke Bryan has recorded his songs. “Either Way,” which is nominated for best country solo performance, is literally his voice and a guitar.
“I think simple is harder to do than making overly complicated things,” Stapleton said. “Much in the way that I think lyrically in songwriting less words can mean more, the same can be true of music. If you can, for lack of a better term, sell a song without putting in extraneous instrumentation … then that’s what serves the song the best.”
His touring is an extension of the idea of putting the music first. On his arena tour this year, he plays on a stage shaped like a half-circle band shell with lights. “While it looks like some science fiction piece, it’s a giant diffuser that controls frequency and stage volume,” Stapleton explains.
He doesn’t use in-ear monitors, those ear buds that allow artists to hear the music, preferring monitors placed on the stage; the stage allows him to better project his music to the seats in the back of the arena.
“I am not trying to make the biggest, most elaborate, pyrotechnic show,” Stapleton said. “I am trying to make the show that sounds the best, or best represents what we do onstage. It’s all from a sound perspective for me and then the visual has to fall in line.”
Singer-songwriter Kendall Marvel met Stapleton 15 years ago, back when the Kentucky-bred Stapleton was a clean-shaven new songwriter with a short, flattop haircut. They have written some 60 songs together, including songs cut by Blake Shelton, Lee Ann Womack and Josh Turner.
Marvel, who co-wrote “Either Way” as well as two other songs on Stapleton’s “From A Room: Volume 2,” said the husband-and-wife harmony is key to their music. Morgane Stapleton, who is also a songwriter, adds just the right touch of sweetness and softness to his volume and range.
“When you take her out of the equation, he would not be Chris Stapleton,” Marvel said. “She is to him and his guitar playing what harmonica player Mickey Raphael is to Willie Nelson.”
Stapleton gives a lot of credit to his wife for knowing all the songs in his catalog and picking songs that fans can connect to, like “Broken Halos,” another Grammy-nominated song.
That song, which talks about not always understanding why loss happens, has become a tender, comforting moment for many fans, especially after the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas earlier this year. Stapleton said he wants his fans to attach meaning to his songs that he didn’t always intend when he wrote them.
“I want them to have ownership in it because they do,” Stapleton said. “The songs don’t really mean as much without them and without people listening to them and investing in them.”