Chad Brownlee – Back In The Game by Roman Mitz for Open Spaces
For Chad Brownlee, the title of his new EP ‘Back In the Game’ says it all You see the singer/songwriter has been pretty low-key since his last musical offering in 2016. It’s been a time of reflection for the singer, and this led directly to major changes as he now has the backing of both a major label and a new management company. On the surface, the title track is about a romantic break-up but on a personal level, it is about the singer being at the crossroads and having decisions to make.
“Yeah, it’s kind of an all-encompassing title,” says the Kelowna native, who is calling from his home in Gibsons B.C., the main marine gateway to the Sunshine Coast. “I felt a little bit of stagnation possibly sinking into my career and that kind of freaked me out. I felt it was time for a change. It’s scary taking yourself off the road and not releasing new music for a while but I felt it was necessary to kind of propel me to the next level. Sitting here right now it feels pretty good looking back on those tough but necessary decisions. Back In The Game is all about taking that hiatus in order to get new management and a new label, and really focusing on making sure this next record was the absolute best I could make it.”
The title of the EP also links back to Chad’s hockey background as he was once a Vancouver Canucks draft pick before an injury cut his career short. He first entered the limelight with the release of his self-titled debut album in 2010 which features fan favourites “Hood Of My Car” and “Carried Away”. 2011 saw Chad win the Canadian Country Music Association Rising Star Award, followed by the release of his sophomore album ‘Love Me Or Leave Me’ in 2012, after which he hit the road for a tour across Canada with Dierks Bentley. ‘The Fighters’ (2014) and ‘Hearts On Fire’ (2014) rounded out his discography up until the time of his break. Now he’s back in a big way as the new EP includes the previously released singles ‘Dear Drunk Me’ which was his first ever Top 5 single on the Canadian Country Music Charts, and Forever’s Gotta Start Somewhere’, which hit #1 with over 10 million global streams.
“I don’t know what kind of expectation I had going in with Forever’s Gotta Start Somewhere,” Chad admits. “Obviously you want all of your songs to be successful but to see what happened with that one was quite overwhelming in a really good way. It’s a positive song and it makes people feel good whenever they hear it come on. Any time you can get testimonies from people saying that my music made them feel good, you’re in the right place.”
Chad co-wrote four of the six songs on the EP including the latest single ‘The Way You Roll’ which will also make people feel good but in a different kind of way as there are several weed references. It’s a song about his passion for a girl who’s ‘100% homegrown’ and gives him his ‘favourite kind of buzz’. It just could be the first Canadian weed anthem.
“You never know,” Chad laughs. “With the changing landscape, especially with the legalization of cannabis in Canada, the conversation has changed and it’s become a little more open. I felt that song has a good balance because it’s not super direct about the use of cannabis. It’s more of an analogy to the way a girl can sometimes make you feel. The song came about because at the time I was writing a lot of heartfelt, emotional songs. I went through some pretty heavy personal stuff and it was coming through in my music. That day I wanted to change things up and write something uplifting and I told (co-writers) Gordie Samson and Tawgs Salter, let’s write a song with a fun, summer theme. Those two are a couple of the best in the business and they really helped make that song take shape.”
What’s also a lot of fun is the video for the new single. Without revealing too much of the plot, let’s just say that Chad didn’t appear to endure too much hardship on the set as he cavorts with a beach goddess.
“It’s funny because I sprained my ankle not long before that shoot. There are a couple of scenes of us running and jumping over the waves, and it’s a good thing some of them are in slow motion because there was a bit of a limp going on and I was trying to make it look like I was okay. But, yeah, that would have been the only hardship. We had so much fun and laughed so hard all of the time.”
On another track, ‘My Revival’, Chad shows a harder edge with a big guitar sound that rips through the speakers. When asked if he felt the EP has a harder edge than his previous work, Chad suggests that it wasn’t a planned thing. (“We took it one song at a time and we put in the elements that we felt fit the exact songs. There was no thought going into the entire recording that there was any specific musical theme we wanted to develop.”) What has clearly evolved, however, is Chad’s songwriting as evidenced in My Revival, a thoughtful number about having to make the choice for finding salvation through either music, the bible or bourbon.
”I think songwriting is a constant evolution,” Chad says. “As we change as people we have different opinions on different things we’ve experienced. As writers, as you progress on that life path you have more to write about, and the more experience you have the more proficient you become. Some days I feel like I can write a really good song and on other days I can’t even come up with something like ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’. Sometimes the creative energy shows up and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Another heartfelt number is ‘This Old Guitar’, but this time the singer’s passion is for an axe as opposed to an ex. Chad found his inspiration for the song at a show by Canadian music icon Barney Bentall.
“One night I went to see the bluegrass band The High Bar Gang and Barney Bentall was singing lead and playing on this really old 1946 Martin Acoustic guitar. It had a worn out fretboard and holes in the pickguard area. I went backstage after the show and played it and just holding that thing you could almost hear the stories that it could tell. I went home that night and the idea of writing a song about a guitar that could just tell these stories was really intriguing. I just tied in my personal experience into it and when I got up that morning I could hear the melody in my head. For the next three days, I shut out the world and wrote that song.”
Speaking of old guitars, there’s probably none older that Willie Nelson’s Trigger and Chad is stoked that his EP came out on the same day as the latest release by the Red-Headed Stanger.
“That’s pretty amazing and definitely made me smile. I’d say that when I’m home I listen to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings on my record player about 80 percent of the time. It has a huge impact in my life personally and not just as a musician, but I’m sure it seeps through to that as well.”
The EP concludes with a couple of liquor-fueled songs, ‘Bourbon’ and ‘Dear Drunk’. They aren’t your average drinking songs, however, as alcohol is just a side serving for the main plot which follows a couple’s break-up in the first song and then tracks the emotions that the jilted guy is going through in the second.
“I don’t do many things without thinking about them ad nauseam, and song order is one of them,” Chad explains. “Following the guy in Bourbon through Dear Drunk is kind of an evolution, and if you loop the EP that song goes back to the title track which is another evolution. There definitely was a lot of thought given to the order of the songs and the content and the message behind them”
In September Chad will be heading out on the much anticipated ‘Friends Don’t Let Friends Tour Alone’ junket with headliners Dallas Smith and Dean Brody. After being away from concert stages for so long, Chad is just itching to get out on the road again.
“It’s unbelievable”, Chad exclaims. “They have become really good friends of mine over the years. I have a lot of respect for those guys as humans and as artists and what they’ve done in this industry. To go one the road with them and to share our craft means everything to me. It might be too much fun, actually.”
Another country performer from Kelowna is Beamer Wigley. Now 16-years old, Beamer wrote his first song at age seven, took First Place at the Vancouver P.N.E. ‘Star Showdown’ at nine, won the inaugural Penticton Youth Arts Award (25 and Under) at eleven and hit the charts at #74 for his first single to radio at age fifteen. Beamer is back with a new single ‘I Knew’, co-written by his manager, award-winning hit maker Keith Follese (Faith Hill, Tim McGraw).
It’s official, the summer song of the year is ‘Old Town Road’ by rapper Lil Nas X and good ‘ol boy Billy Ray Cyrus, who has made a comeback for the ages. Billy Ray has amassed an incredible amount of great songs and albums, but unfortunately his body of work has always been overshadowed by his 1992 smash hit ‘Achy Breaky Heart’. Old Town Road is an immediate earworm and let’s hope it leads to renewed interest in Billy Ray.
As Burton Cummings once famously declared f-i-d-d-l-i-n spells fiddlin’. Well if you would like to hear a group of fine artists fiddling about, better check out the 43rd annual Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival taking place July 19-21 in Rollo Bay, Prince Edward Island. The festival features 2019 East Coast Music Association winners The Barra MacNeils, 2019 ECMA winners and 2017 JUNO Award winners The East Pointers, PEI natives Vishtèn, and ECMA winner Richard Wood. The festival attracts the best artists from the fiddling tradition, including international guests and local groups.