Chris Daughtry is an American rock artist. Together with his band he has sold over 9 million albums, 21 million singles and over 3 billion streams worldwide. Daughtry, known for his hits “September,” “Waiting For Superman,” “It’s Over Now,” “Home” and acclaimed hit single “World On Fire” from last year, celebrates the memory of Chris Cornell today, May 28, 2021, and has teamed up with Lajon Witherspoon (Sevendust) to get it done. The reinterpretation of “Hunger Strike” is available today here at Spotify or to download at Amazon – don’t forget to support the artists you love.
Hey Chris, good to have you here. How are you and where are you right now?
Thanks for having me. I am good and I am home in Nashville, Tennessee – and it’s raining. That’s been pretty typical lately. We get, like, two or three days of sun and then it’s all rain. I felt like I’m in Seattle sometimes.
I heard about your new songs, and I guess they are teasers for an upcoming album, right?
Yeah. We pretty much have the record finished. As far as myself and the band is concerned, all our parts are done. We’re in the mixing and post-production phase right now. So it’s definitely taken a little longer than it would, if everyone had been together. But we had to do things a little differently and bring people in at different times. And some people did their parts at home, but it turned out amazing. I can’t wait for the fans to hear it.
Congratulations, your brand new song “Hunger strike” has been released today and is a collaboration with your good friend Lajon Witherspoon from Sevendust?
Yeah. Lajon and I were talking about doing something this year together and this opportunity came up and I called him. I was like, “Hey bro, are you available?” Cause, I know that they just released their new Sevendust‘s album. So I didn’t know if he was going to be busy or not, and we made it work out. I love working with him. He’s one of my favorite people in the industry and favorite people in general.
We just released the song this morning and the phone has been blown up ever since.
And we didn’t even know that it was “World Hunger Day”. We couldn’t have planned that any better. And, all the proceeds go to feeding America, which is a huge food bank in the states. So the proceeds that we make on the song are going to charity to give something back to the people.
Let’s talk about “Heavy is the crown” which has also been released some weeks before, what is the meaning behind it?
I feel, the beauty of music is that everyone finds what the song means to them, and it can mean different things to different people. When we wrote “World on fire”, to me that represented a hard look at what’s going on around us hard and look at the world, all the things that are wrong, the injustice in the world. And I felt like “Heavy is the crown” represented the responsibility that we all have, as human beings, as individuals to stand up for the ones who don’t have a voice. To be “the change” we want to see, and we all have this heavy responsibility over our own lives and our own proverbial castles, so to speak and, our families and the decisions we make. The responsibility of trying to carve your own path without doing what everybody else is doing and conforming to societal norms.
I think we, as an individual, can think you have things bad until you talk to the next person and go. I didn’t realize that you had this going on. And everyone has their own weight of the world. I feel like that song “Heavy is the crown” really represents that and the responsibility that we have, and the choice in how important it is, the choices that we do make and how it affects everything.
What is the creative process behind a production like “Heavy is the crown”? Are you putting together some liner notes or do you start with sound elements?
Well, a lot of the credit goes to my keyboard player, Elvio Fernandes, on the song. We were in the studio and I think we had just released the song “World on fire”, or it was in the process of being released. He sent us a little demo of this song idea that he had called “Heavy is the crown”. He was like, what do you think of this? And it was the piano and the first person chorus. So it was like, um, you think this would fit the record. And we were all like, dude, this feels legit.
We started running with it in the studio and trying, when you have, it certainly helps when you have an idea that’s already started and a concept, and then you just go, okay, well, what does this mean to me? What does this mean to you? Like, what else can we say to add to what’s already there? And, that’s how that song came about. And it turned out to be incredible. And we were so pumped that he had that idea. Sometimes, we have lightning in a bottle and an idea and we’ll just kind of download and it works out.
Let’s talk about expectations – as a musician who earned so many awards and number-one albums in the United States. How heavy are expectations, when it comes to new songs?
I think the pressure we felt early on was much more palpable than it is now, and much more tangible, like after that first record did so well, we didn’t have any pressure on us. It just, it just happens like that, that record took off like a speeding bullet. And, after that, we kind of felt the pressure because how do you follow that up? How do you live up to that?
And, then it became a thing where it felt like everyone was really paying attention to what we were writing and really paying attention to what we were turning in and going. I don’t know if that’s good enough or, I dunno if that’s gonna really, do what the last one did. I always felt like in the moment I was writing from the heart, but you, you look back and you see certain records where you felt like you were chasing, chasing a sound, chasing the charts, chasing whatever everyone else is doing.
You get replaced by these bands, these other bands come along and we feel it just as much as the listener, you and I were guilty of it as a fan of music too.
Well, my favorite band today is a different band tomorrow. And we felt that, and we also felt this pressure like, how do we get back into those fans’ eyes? How do we get those new fans? How do we get these younger people that are gravitating toward these newer bands?
I started to hear things from peers and record exacts and my manager, and you got to do this in order to stay relevant. You gotta drop the guitars. Nobody’s playing those anymore. We started believing that, man. I did all these things they said to do that would have gotten me here, but that didn’t happen.
So why am I not just doing what I want to do and letting it live, where it wants to live. And once I finished, once I completed my contract with RCA Records and we mutually parted ways, I stepped back and I was like, what? I started listening to stuff that made me excited about music in the beginning, albums, such as “Facelift” or “Dirt” from Alice in Chains, “Superunknown” and “Badmotorfinger” from Soundgarden, “Secret Samadhi” and “Throwing Copper” from the Band called Live.
Those records that really made me as a young teenager, have this ridiculous dream of being a rock singer and in a band and got me excited about music. And I started listening to those records again, and it got me excited again. And I was like, oh, I feel alive. I feel like I’m re-inspired, this is what I want to be doing.
The most important thing in life is to always be yourself …
A hundred percent. I think, I was very guilty of listening to those outside influences. Maybe out of fear, maybe out of fear of failure, maybe out of fear of rejection. I finally had to take a step back and find my own voice and be like, what makes me happy as an artist? What makes me excited as a fan of music?
What did I, what were the things that I looked up to, and that really shifted my perspective.
Especially the feedback of those two fresh songs give you a first impression of what the fans will think about Daughtry in 2021.
There’s always this fear, what are they going to think this time? They haven’t heard anything yet. They heard that these two singles, that’s the tip of the iceberg.
Like, whether it’s successful or not, it just lives in the hearts of the diehard fans that have followed us for 15 years. I’m okay with that because it feels more artistically fulfilling. And, that’s where we’re at right now in this record that we’ve created is, by far, the most fulfilling record I’ve ever had any part of writing and recording and performing. So, we can’t wait for the fans.
You reminded yourself, to the music you started to listen to. The “Hunger Strike” is a homage to the Band “Temple of Dogs” around Chris Cornell. Was his music also the driving motivation for you to pick up an instrument?
This is true, yeah. A friend of mine and in high school, this was before I ever learned to play an instrument. Um, and I would always kind of sing along to stuff, but I never really thought of myself as a musician or a singer, even though I was around music my whole life, my dad played guitar and my granddad also played guitar. And I just didn’t really, was an artist. I drew and I wanted to be going in to be an actor. I wanted to do something artistic, but I never really had this dream of being a musician.
And my buddy was playing guitar in class one day. We were done for the day and he, I think he was playing like “Fell on black days”. And I was really into that record at the time. And, that got me.
I was like, Ooh, I want you to teach me some chords. And, I want to learn how to play. And he taught me some chords. And, then I was kind of singing in front of him one day. And he was like, dude, why aren’t you doing this? Why aren’t you behind the microphone all the time? Why aren’t you in my band? He had a cover band. So I started. I came out to his garage and sang with his band a couple of times. I kinda got the bug and started writing my own songs.
I always looked at Chris Cornell, this unattainable goal, as a vocalist, that was the bar. So he was always a huge driving influence for me, as a singer and songwriter.
Did you had any sort of vocal training or education when you began to sing?
At the time? No. I just tried to emulate those records that I loved and my favorite singers. And I would, I would fail miserably. I’m sure there were many times where my parents were probably like, ah, what is he doing in there? But, that was kind of my schooling, to try to sound like those singers that I looked up to. And I think, I found out later or early in my career when I started touring and, having to sing more, that I needed some help on how to keep that and how to preserve that and how to do it the right way and from a right place. And so I’ve worked with vocal coaches over the years, when I felt like I was running into some trouble or whatever, to kind of remind myself of the proper technique.
I never had that growing up, but when that becomes your job and you have to use that every night, you start to rethink it and go, okay, I need to really take care of this. I really need to be doing it the right way.
Coming back to Chris Cornell, was it more like a fan-to-icon-relation or did he have any personal, direct relations to him?
I was very fortunate enough to meet Chris Cornell back in 2008 or 2009. He was doing a solo, his solo thing, and he was rehearsing next door to us in Los Angeles at this place called us center staging. And I found out that he was over there and I was like, oh my God, I gotta, I gotta say “Hi”, I gotta meet him. And so my tour manager happened to know his store manager and work it out.
I went over and I was watching him. When I walked in, he was rehearsing and performing out shine and they gave me an ear pack so I could hear him. And I just was like, I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I got to meet him. And he was so tall, very soft-spoken, very, very meek and mild mannered and just a sweetheart of a guy.
We had spoken a couple of times over the phone after that. We didn’t really stay in touch and I wish I’d stayed in touch more, but, that’s a heartbreaking situation. It was one of the tougher. We see our heroes go, yearly. We always lose someone that we look up to and aspire to be, whether it be, actors or singers. We lost Prince, Tom Petty, and so on. That one hit me really hard. That one was definitely an unexpected loss.
Chris Cornell committed suicide in May 2017 in the age of 52. And I also read a post from you some years ago via Twitter as you highlighted the serious topic of mental illness and depression to make it public. Especially its relevance, because the topic could affect everyone.
Yeah. I think more people deal with it than we realize. And I think, I think it’s such a stigma to kind of keep that part of ourselves hidden and just smile for everyone and make everybody think everything’s okay because nobody wants to talk about it. But I think it, I think it’s worth being vulnerable and worth it. I have it close to myself and my own family. I see mental illness, quite regularly and the effects that it has on the choices you make and the things that you do that from the outside, you look at it and you’re like, what are you thinking? But in that moment for that person, it’s not them, it’s the illness. It’s really sad.
More people should take depressions more seriously. I think it needs to be de-stigmatized. It just needs to be like, we all deal with it.
There are days where I don’t feel like myself to the outside. People ask me, what do you mean? You got everything, you’ve got a wife and kids and you sold millions of albums. You have millions of people that love you doesn’t change the fact that we all have self-doubt, we all have moments of regret. And, we tell ourselves these stories in our head that we’re not good enough, or we’re not worthy of good things happening to us.
I think that’s something that everyone struggles with and the more people are willing to talk about it. I think the more we’re able to see that we’re not alone and they’re not alone. And being isolated is a very dangerous thing. Isolation is the most dangerous thing to, to someone about it. Even if it’s someone you don’t think is going to understand you, you’d be surprised.
Especially social distancing since Covid-19 period made this topic even bigger and bigger, to put it into the spotlight.
I think this year and a half really forced people to go inward and be introspective and really analyze things. Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe it was something that brings that more to the surface, that it’s something that we should all take very seriously and bring each other up and help people and support each other. I think that’s a huge thing is to not, it’s easy to see someone doing something or be a certain way and to kick them when they’re down. Stop talking shit about them or to say nasty stuff on the internet. We’re all human beings. We all deserve acceptance and love. And, I think that’s becoming more obvious than ever.
Coming back to your latest release “Hunger Strike” – will it be on your next album and how was the production with Lajon?
I think the song will be seperate. The production was one of those situations where I wasn’t with him. He did his vocals in Kansas city where he lives. And I did mine here, here in my office. Some of the band came to Nashville and we’re already two of the band members already live here. Our drummer flew in from DC and did his parts, and everybody else did their parts from home. So it was a weird hodgepodge of, of getting everybody’s parts together.
And it just worked out, it’s kind of how we did with “Heavy is the crown” and “World on fire” as well. Um, but, we feel each other in spirit.
Times are changing and the whole situation clears up a bit. Hopefully it will be better by the end of this year.
We’re looking to, hopefully hit the road this year and hope to come see you guys in Germany soon. So we love the fans over there.
We’ve got some dates coming up in July and September 2021, as of right now, if all goes well, we will be on stage in front of real people this year.
We did a virtual live stream back in the fall, or actually, as a full band back in February. And that was our first time playing together in over a year.
We had screens in front of us that had the band spaces on them and they were, we could see them in real time and I’m sitting here like, this is some black mirror shit right here. This is crazy. Like, this is the future. This is real. It was cool, but it definitely did not take the place of being right there in front of people.
In your studio I recognized that you’re collecting a lot of superhero stuff and aside just, just masks.
Yeah, I’ve been a nerd pretty much all my life and I’ve got way more Batman stuff in my office than I have music stuff. I have some plaques and some guitars, and then everything else is like comic books.
I saw Deadpool in your background. Are you collecting specific types of superheroes or random?
This life-size tall Deadpool figure was given to me by Chad Kroeger from Nickelback on our last tour together in Europe. As a matter of fact, it was one of the last days of the show in Munich. That was the last show on the “Feed The Machine” tour. That was a gift from him, for doing the tour. But I’ve always appreciated comic books in general and the genre as a whole. I love it all. But as far as I like, my favorite has always been Batman.
As a matter of fact, I have a Batman mic stand here at my studio. Whoa. That was something I had made for myself, when we went and did the Daughtry “Leave This Town” tour. And it became so heavy for our techs to carry around. I think one of them hit his shed on it and I decided to retire and bring it home.
I am sure you had to buy an additional flight ticket for Deadpool. Right?
Chad Kroeger shipped it to my house and I’m in a massive wooden crate in pieces, shows up with those little styrofoam popcorn. It was like wood tall and five feet wide and it was full of these popcorn.
I am curious, what kind of toys did you play with when you were 12 years old?
It was always action figures. I still have a ton of ’em in case my wife is like, get rid of this shit and, I’ve got boxes of action figures. Some that I collected from when I was a kid, some that I actually went back and got off of eBay when I became an adult.
I know what you’re talking about… *laughing*
Yeah. So I went back and got the one still in the package, you know what I mean? And left him, way more expensive than when I was a kid. But, that part of me, I never grew out of.
I love all that stuff, man. That was, that was my childhood for sure. Very cool.
What are your plans by the end of this year?
So we’re about to drop the video for “Heavy as the crown”, very soon, which is like next level. It’s crazy. It’s really cool. And then, we’re looking to get back out on the road. We haven’t got all the dates confirmed yet, but we hope to be announcing something very soon and fingers crossed. We’ll be headed back your way next year. That would be amazing.
We’re supposed to be at Download Festival 2022, if that all still sticks in the UK and then, hopefully we’ll, we’ll make a whole European tour out of it.
Awesome. Thank you so much for your time.
Interview with Chris Daughtry by Marcus Liprecht on 29th May 2021