Music

Chris Young Kicks into High Gear, Personally and Professionally, on New Album: ‘I’ve Been Changing Things Up’

Key to any artist’s career progression is a keen sense of knowing what elements of their sound and style require evolution and exploration, but also which should remain constant.

Leading into Chris Young’s ninth studio album, Young Love & Saturday Nights, out Friday (March 22) via his longtime label home RCA Records Nashville, the 38-year-old singer-songwriter surveyed his life, personally and professionally, and set about making a series of changes. He switched management companies, joining Red Light Management. He also committed to bettering his health, focusing on healthier meals and a workout regimen with NFL trainer Jeremy Holt, resulting in a 60-pound weight loss. 

“I’ve focused on myself over the past year,” Young tells Billboard. “I spent more time in the gym, changed some things around in my career and spent a lot of time creatively on this album.”

His commitment to growth extends to his new album, which emanates an energized sound, while Young stretches the scope of topics fans have come to expect from his songs. Young also delves even deeper into music production; solo producing three songs on the new project (he had previously solo produced “Tonight We’re Dancing,” a song on 2021’s Famous Friends), while also continuing to work with his longtime co-producers Chris DeStefano and Corey Crowder.

“I’ve just been changing things up, trying new things out, and I feel like this album is all the more special for that, just having the ability to stretch and grow as an artist and a writer, but also as a producer,” Young says.

Since his eponymous debut project in 2006, Young has accumulated nominations for two Grammys, more than a dozen Academy of Country Music Awards nominations and eight Country Music Association Awards nominations for his work as an artist and producer. He’s earned 11 Billboard Country Airplay chart-toppers and along the way, forged a reputation as one of country music’s most reliable hitmakers.

While his new album features its share of raucous party anthems and polished country grooves that Young’s fans have come to expect, the title track, which currently sits at No. 27 on Country Airplay, comes with a twist. “Young Love & Saturday Nights” interpolates the signature guitar riff from David Bowie’s 1974 song “Rebel Rebel” — something Young says he initially balked at when he first heard the demo of the song. The late Bowie is credited as a writer alongside Ashley Gorley, Josh Thompson and Jesse Frasure.

“We did a full day of just listening to songs from multiple publishers. This one started and I’m like, ‘This is “Rebel, Rebel.” I would never recut that song,’” Young recalls. “They were like, ‘Hold on, we got something coming.’ When I heard the whole song, I loved it. It’s been so much fun to play this at shows and I think it’s something so many people can relate to. Now I got a David Bowie cut on my record, so that’s pretty cool.”

While the album’s title conjures images of teenage years, freedom and passionate romances (not to mention the singer’s surname), at least one song on the album, “Getting Older,” nods to the challenge of aging gracefully, and is a tip of the hat to Young’s father, particularly on the line, “If I get half the chance to be like my old man/ I ain’t afraid of getting’ older.” Johnny Clawson, Dave Fenley and Kyle Sturrock are writers on “Getting Older.”

“I hadn’t done something like that before; it was something I was trying to say — trying to write — and I just couldn’t,” Young says of the song. “Then one of my buddies played me this song and I was like, ‘I have to record this before someone else gets ahold of it.’ That hook is so strong. It’s a really special song.”

Elsewhere, on “Everybody Grew Up,” he muses how even though he and all his buddies have matured and traded cutting class for mowing the grass and other adult responsibilities, those youthful memories of small-town childhood are never far away. “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” which Young wrote with Crowder and Cale Dodds, centers around what he imagines heaven will be like for man’s best friend.

Of course, some things remained constant, such as Young’s unmistakable vocal power and his unyielding devotion to songwriting. As with many of his albums, he’s a co-writer on much of the project, penning 15 of the album’s 18 songs, including already released “Looking For You” and “What She Sees in Me.”

Meanwhile, songs that detail the nuances of relationships proliferate the album, including “Right Now,” which chronicles the “are we/aren’t we” push-and-pull of a couple deciding whether to make their relationship official, and the tenderly romantic ballad “What She Sees in Me.” Elsewhere, “Call It a Day” continues in the vein of the R&B-laced love songs that have become a staple in Young’s repertoire.

“That one was sort of what people expect to be my wheelhouse and you gotta do those, right?” he says of “Call It a Day.” “I got to play around a bit vocally on that one so it was fun.”

While country has certainly become cool again, with a plethora of pop artists making country forays and a batch of newcomers chasing the stripped-back, rock-fused sound of Zach Bryan, Young simply focuses on bettering what he does best.

“I think I’ve been lucky enough to be around long enough that I’ve seen everything from LimeWire and Napster to TVs going away, to LPs coming back to streaming being a thing,” he says. “That’s indicative of how life is. If you are around long enough, things are going to change. Especially as an artist, you have to be able to adapt to that. It’s a real cool thing that people still love country music, and they love all types of it. I think there’s always going to be a place for it. I think that country music is predicated on country music telling stories — and sad songs and waltzes,” he says, citing the Willie Nelson-penned tune that both he and then Keith Whitley recorded. “You can kind of do whatever you want to do, as long as you are saying things that are authentic.”

In April, Young will launch his headlining Young Love & Saturday Nights tour. Rejuvenated physically, emotionally, and musically, he says he’s ready to hit the road.

“There’s been a lot of stuff I’ve changed out, a lot of stuff I’ve worked on. I’m excited to be able to go out there and tour and play this new music,” Young says.

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