A little more than three months ago, Christopher Anthony Lunsford, aka Oliver Anthony Music, was still working his day job in outside sales. In a little under three months from now, he’ll kick off his 40-date Out of the Woods world tour in Stockholm.
It’s heady stuff for Lunsford, who’s never traveled much beyond the southeastern United States and is awaiting the arrival of his first passport. The tour, which begins on Feb. 1, comes on the heels of the breathtakingly rapid success of his raw, blue-collar anthem, “Rich Men North of Richmond,” which bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-August, a little more than 10 days after radiowv posted the video on YouTube of the six-foot-six, red-headed Virginian playing the song in his woodsy backyard.
“The last 90 days have been a little crazy,” Lunsford, a 31-year-old father of three, declares in a major understatement, during his first non-podcast/TV interview. Calling from the DMV in, believe it or not, Richmond, Lunsford comes across as smart and forthcoming. Even though he’s had to learn quickly navigate fame and the music industry, he’s already media-savvy enough to know what not to say — including declining to name the prominent producer he is in discussions with to helm his first full album, coming next year, since the deal isn’t yet done.
Lunsford, who is self-managed and has no plans to sign with a label, seems extraordinarily grounded for someone who transformed into a household name almost overnight, even becoming such a cultural touchstone that his song was referenced during the first Republican presidential debate. Despite the far right’s initial embrace of his music and the left’s early rejection of it, he has declared that “I sit pretty dead center down the aisle on politics, and always have.”
Booked by UTA, his tour will weave through Norway, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Ireland before the U.S. portion begins with two shows at country music’s mother church, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, and then heads into amphitheaters and arenas, including Jupiter, Florida’s Abacoa Amphitheater and the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum. Venue capacities average around 1,900 seats in Europe and 7,000 seats in the U.S. For the vast majority of the shows, tickets will range between $25-$45, excluding Ticketmaster fees. Fans can register for first access to tickets in select North American markets at his website, and tickets go on sale to the general public on Friday (Nov. 17) at 10 a.m. local time.
Tackling the ceaseless struggles of hourly-wage workers, who are taxed “to no end” to pay for, among other things, “the obese milkin’ welfare,” while politicians keep getting richer, the controversial “Rich Men North of Richmond” has been viewed more than 93 million times on YouTube and received more than 111 million streams on Spotify. The song is up for Top Selling Song at the 2023 Billboard Music Awards on Sunday (Nov. 19), while Lunsford is also up for Top Song Sales Artist, competing with the likes of Miley Cyrus, Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift and Morgan Wallen.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How are you doing?
The last 90 days have been a little crazy. It’s funny because the music side of it has been very calming and enjoyable. It’s all the stuff behind the scenes that’s unreasonably chaotic. My life is actually a lot simpler in some ways, because I’m not working a job and juggling 10 other things with the music. But when you become a full-time musician, you’re essentially a business owner and an entrepreneur and a lot of other things, too. And those are things I’m not quite used to yet.
How long had you been in outdoor sales?
Pretty much the last decade. I dropped out of high school, had a GED, I was doing factory work and then I had a bad head injury in that factory. I was unable to work for a period of time, and then I moved into sales. I’ve spent the last 10 years having real, authentic conversations with hardworking Americans who are very transparent about the way they feel about things. It has, in a sense, given me the ability to maybe create music that’s so relatable to those type of people. Being on job sites and talking with so many people, I realized how similar everyone is as far as our personal struggles and our personal ambitions. We’re all dealing with a lot of setbacks and frustrations. … I hated the sales side of things. I just went out and did my thing every day. I’m not so much a big crowd person, but I do appreciate people individually.
You may say you’re not a big crowd person, but you’re about to perform before some big crowds come February, and you’ve already played some shows that drew thousands of people.
My first paid gig ever was 12,000 people [on Aug. 13] at Johnson Morris Farm [in Barco, N.C.], where Jamey Johnson showed up. That was my first time on the stage [other than] some open mics.
Many of your songs are topical. How do you educate yourself about issues?
It’s a mix of things. If there’s any kind of books, I probably was consuming Audible versions of them while I was in the truck driving around. In the last five years, I’ve listened to quite a bit of podcasts and YouTube videos. We’re a commodity to big companies, and all these companies spend all their time trying to manipulate their systems to be as addictive as possible, so when you get on Facebook, you’re gonna fall into this trance where you’re gonna scroll for like two hours. I’ve done it before myself. I’ve just tried to do everything I can do to not fall into that bubble, and instead try to spend my time educating myself.
Your first big interview was on Joe Rogan’s Spotify podcast. Are you a fan? Is that why you went on the show?
I guess I’d say I’m a Joe Rogan fan. I don’t watch every podcast episode. If I’m a fan of anything of Joe Rogan, it’s his style. He runs his whole podcast not around what’s culturally relevant, or what’s going to get the most views. He only talks to people he’s genuinely interested in. When you meet him in person, you’re seeing the guy that you watch online, there is no smoke and mirrors, versus a late-night TV guy. So that’s why I wanted to choose him first. I don’t agree with everything he has to say, of course. Nobody agrees with everything everybody says, but I like his style.
Your first full album is coming next year. What can you reveal about it?
I don’t know if I can say who I’m recording with or not, but he’s one of the best in the business. In my opinion, it’s probably going to blow away everything else I’ve done so far, because everything has been recorded with just the internal microphone off of an about broken-in-half Android phone with a cracked screen. Even the radiowv videos used very basic equipment, so I had never had anything recorded with studio-quality equipment. So even just the vocal quality should absolutely knock people’s socks off, compared to what they’re used to hearing.
I want everything to still be authentic, and I want it to be me playing the music and not like a whole group of people involved. Everything now is just so carefully refined and edited and so we won’t have any of that. If anything, some of the songs are going to be recorded on older equipment from the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s.
That ties into the concept of your name, Oliver Anthony Music, right?
I adopted the name because I didn’t want my real name associated with the music, because I’ve got a lot of songs about a lot of things that I wouldn’t necessarily want an employer to hear. In the very infancy stages of things, like a couple years ago, it was right after my grandpa passed away. He was the only other one in the family that’s 6’6” and redhead, and he’s like my second dad in a lot of ways. So, it’s an honor to him. But then the reason I stick Music on the end of the name is because it really is supposed to be a representation of music that would have existed in his era when he was alive, living up in the mountains. They had dirt floors, they were scrounging to survive, they didn’t have electricity. I’m trying to represent that type of music [and] maintain the simplicity that would have just been necessary at that time. It’s not going to sound like something that’s going to be on country radio, by any means.
Are you going to record in Nashville?
We’re actually going to be in a studio in Georgia. I’m never going to be in Nashville sitting with people co-writing, ever. Most anything I put out is going to be something I write just by myself and if I do co-write something with somebody, it’s going to be with another artist and we’re going to be singing the song together. I don’t ever want to sit in some writing circle somewhere and have somebody in khaki pants and a collared shirt figuring out what my words are from my song. There’s a million other people that can go do that. I’m not one of those guys.
Is Jamey Johnson going to be on the album?
I don’t know if he will be or not. He just came to one of the shows. … I’ve had just so many artists reach out, kind of trying to — I don’t know if “protect” is the right word — but just kind of mentor me early on, because I kind of got into this so quick, they didn’t want me making wrong choices. He was just trying to be supportive, and come and introduce himself, and be somebody I can lean on for guidance.
John Rich also reached out and offered to work with you.
John Rich and I talked a little bit early on. I haven’t done anything with John Rich, we’ve just had a few casual phone conversations. See, this is kind of one of those gray areas where I don’t know if somebody wants me to mention their name or not in an interview, but I guess if I can make a statement about it at all, I would just say that there are a lot of really good people, not just in country music, that have been very supportive. We did the Blue Ridge Rock Festival and Louder Than Life, there were a lot of those rock bands that I met, they were super supportive and awesome. I’ve gotten to sing onstage with Shinedown and Papa Roach, and all those guys are just incredibly supportive. I’ve made contact with 20 or 30 different artists. A lot of them will reach out through Instagram.
You’ve said you believe that divine intervention has put you in this position. In the last few months, have you gotten any clarity on why this happened to you, and what God wants from you?
I mean, there’s no question that I don’t deserve any bit of any of this, so there’s no other explanation to be made of what happened the way it happened. There’s a gazillion, billion, trillion other people out there that are posting music that in my mind is better than mine. I’d had a decent online following before “Richmond” was ever written. I’d already started to have A&R people reach out from songs like “Doggonit” and “Ain’t Gotta Dollar.” I’d known for probably six months before “Rich Men North of Richmond” was even written or recorded that I’d probably end up full-time in music, but I would have never guessed it would have happened like this.
I think if there’s a message at all that needs to be spread, it’s probably that we just desperately need to connect on a personal level with each other. As a society, I think we rely too much on communicating with each other through the internet. The difference between talking in person and a text message is totally different — things get misunderstood and misrepresented, and when that’s done on such a large scale, like social media, and then there are things like bots and trolls, and probably the government influencing things and what gets said and what doesn’t get said, people form way too many opinions based off of internet-related content. Everyone’s looking at the top to fix a lot of what’s broken at the bottom, but we have to start at the bottom. It doesn’t matter who’s elected president, a lot of our problems are on the ground level.
You have been fearless when it comes to speaking truth to power, such as posting a video after the first Republican presidential debate declaring that those candidates are the very ones you’re singing about and distancing yourself from.
I don’t have anything against conservatives. I think there’s a big difference in today’s time between a conservative and a Republican. If you look at what conservative values are, by definition, I would say none of those candidates, maybe one of them, represents anything close to what a conservative is. When I knock those people, then the immediate attack that came back after me was like, “Oh, he’s against conservatives.” But most conservatives I know, at least in Virginia, would never vote for anybody that was up on that stage.
It’s funny, if I got any backlash at all from that statement, it was people misquoting me, trying to make it seem like I was against conservatives or somehow for, like, Joe Biden. What I’m against is corporate-owned politicians. The whole idea of us having a government and electing representatives is so they can represent us, because we obviously can’t all go to D.C. at one time and have our voice heard. And what’s happened is like, 90% of those quote-unquote “representatives” no longer represent us. They’re all bought out by whatever big corporation and they’re given stocks and given benefits, and they’re all filthy rich, and they do what they say, not what we say. It’s not a right or left issue. It’s more of a class versus corporate issue.
[Lunsford momentarily stops the interview, because a fan recognizes him at the DMV.]
You just got recognized. How are you adjusting to fame?
It’s been cool. I mean, everybody’s been super polite out in public and even at the shows everybody’s been very respectful. Everybody’s been just overwhelmingly well-behaved about everything.
There was a photo of you with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Cheryl Hines, on social media. Are you going to endorse him for president?
No, I was very clear, even when I talked to Bobby, that I don’t want any affiliation with him politically. Whether he becomes president or not, he’s very involved in this idea of a healing center, which is basically a way of combining regenerative agriculture and mental health together. We met specifically to talk about that project, because I’m looking to implement something very similar at my property. We were very clear upfront that there wasn’t any sort of political affiliation there with him. He’s been very respectful about that.
That’s kind of my long term ambition: getting people back in nature and teaching people how to grow their own food and raise animals and do all that stuff. We’ve become very disconnected from each other [and] we’ve also become very disconnected from nature. Everything’s fake and phony and plastic now, so getting away from that would really benefit, especially, our youth.
Yeah, as far as a candidate goes, I’m not really interested. I probably won’t vote for anybody. As a joke, I’ve made some Oliver Anthony 2024 signs, and I actually drive down the road and see quite a lot of them, which is pretty cool. But I’m not even old enough to run for president.
How do you even wrap your head around some of this? A year ago, you would not have been saying, “I said to Bobby,” referring to RFK Jr.
I’ve gotten open invitations from everybody, even the former president and all, and I’ve been careful about how I want to handle those because, I mean, if I wanted to go meet with Trump, no one should be upset about that. He was the president of the United States. Just historically, we’ve always respected anyone who was. People do just blow everything out of proportion.
You are the first person to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart without ever appearing on any other Billboard chart. Did that mean anything to you?
I think the most special thing about it being on the chart at all is that it made it to the chart without some big, corporate schmucky schmuck somewhere pumping a bunch of money into making it get there. It actually got to the top of the Billboard because people genuinely wanted to listen to it and support it. I think if people realized how much money record labels pumped into getting songs to become popular in the first place, they probably would never want to listen to the songs to start with. To just be a couple of dummies out in the woods with a laptop and a microphone and a guitar and [the song] ended getting there completely organically, that’s really saying something in and of itself. That’s what I proudest of.
There’s a lot of exciting things to come, but the most important part of all of it is just gonna be the opportunity to travel the world and connect with a lot of people. If there’s any mission statement out of any of this or any purpose, going back to your question before about what I’ve been called to do, I really hope if I accomplish anything out of my career in music, it’s just to give the voiceless a voice.
Out of the Woods tour dates
February 1 – Stockholm, SE – Cirkus
February 2 – Oslo, NO – Sentrum Scene
February 5 – Utrecht, NL – TivoliVredenburg
February 7 – Glasgow, UK – Barrowlands
February 8 – Manchester, UK – Albert Hall
February 10 – London, UK – O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
February 12 – Belfast, UK – Ulster Hall
February 13 – Dublin, IE – Vicar St.
February 21 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
February 22 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
February 29 – Plant City, FL – The Florida Strawberry Festival (on sale Dec 7 8AM ET)
March 2 – Jupiter, FL – Abacoa Amphitheater
March 3 – Estero, FL – Hertz Arena
March 8 – Alexandria, LA – Rapides Parish Coliseum
March 9 – Brandon, MS – The Brandon Amphitheater
March 16 – Queensland, AUS – CMC Rocks QLD 2024 (on sale now)
April 4 – Ft. Worth, TX – Billy Bob’s Texas
April 5 – Round Rock, TX – Round Rock Amp
April 6 – Lubbock, TX – Cook’s Garage
April 12 – Tupelo, MS – Cadence Bank Arena
April 13 – Jonesboro, AR – First National Bank Arena
April 19 – Albany, GA – Albany Civic Center
April 20 – Savannah, GA – Bulls, Bands & Barrels
April 26 – Greensboro, NC – Greensboro Coliseum Complex
April 27 – Duluth, GA – Gas South Arena
May 3 – Huntington, WV – Mountain Health Arena
May 4 – Beaver Dam, KY – Beaver Dam Amphitheater
May 10 – Corbin, KY – The Corbin Arena
May 11 – Pikeville, KY – Appalachian Wireless Arena
May 17 – Doswell, VA – Atlantic Union Bank at the SERVPRO Pavilion
June 14 – Marion, IL – MTN Dew Park
June 15 – Camdenton, MO – Ozarks Amphitheater
June 16 – Council Bluffs, IA – Westfair Amphitheater
June 22 – Canandaigua, NY – CMAC
June 28 – Pittsburgh, PA – Stage AE Outdoors
July 19 – Cullman, AL – Rock The South (on sale now)
August 16 – Lewisburg, WV – State Fair of West Virginia
August 21 – Put-In-Bay, OH – Bash on the Bay (on sale now)
August 23 – Indianapolis, IN – Everwise Amphitheater at White River State Park
August 24 – Saginaw, MI – Dow Event Center
September 1 – Palmer, AK – Alaska State Fair
September 13 – Allegan, MI – Allegan County Fair
Powered by Billboard.