Music

Chayce Beckham on His Chart-Topping ’23’ & How His Story-Expanding New Album Highlights ‘The Things I Love in Country Music’

In 2021, California native Chayce Beckham joined the lineage of artists whose talent captured viewers’ ears and hearts during his winning run on American Idol. But the narrow passageway from talent competition to bonafide star is littered with artists who never successfully made that transition.

Beckham is not among them — thanks to “23,” his newly minted, first Billboard Country Airplay No. 1 hit, which reached the chart pinnacle this past week (on the chart dated April 6). In the process, he joins an elite class of Idol winners to earn a Country Airplay No. 1, including Carrie Underwood, Scotty McCreery and Kelly Clarkson. Moreover, “23” was solo-written by Beckham; the song has become only the sixth song crafted a solo writer to hit No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart in the past decade — and in the process, stakes his claim as not only a song interpreter, but an artist intent on telling his story in his own way.

“I’ve been working this song for a long time and it’s had a new life at radio,” he tells Billboard of “23.” “Just watching it open up to a whole new audience over the past year has been special.”

On Friday (April 5), he will build on his success with the release of his debut album, Bad for Me, via 19 Recordings/Wheelhouse Records/BMG.

“Over the last few years, I feel like just kind of put my head down and just kept trucking and put as much hard work into this as I could,” Beckham told Billboard. “I just wanted to create a record that I felt highlighted all the things I love in country music, like fiddles, guitars, mandolins, harmonies and storytelling.”

He co-wrote nine of the album’s 13 songs, with three of those nine compositions being solo writes. Many of the songs on the project, including the title track, as well as “Devil I’ve Been” and “Addicted and Clean” offer unflinching honesty, drawing from his own struggles just weeks prior to his American Idol audition. Those hardships included his grandfather’s death, his girlfriend ending the relationship, and the bustup of a former band during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beckham coped through heavy alcohol use, which led to a DUI and a near-fatal car accident in 2020.

During his recovery, his mother encouraged him to try out for American Idol. A song on his new album, “Mama,” which he wrote back in 2021 and performed on Idol, is a musical mea culpa and apology that faces his story directly on lines such as “All the pain you’ve felt, I hope you never have to feel it again/ And the night that you picked me up from jail and I swore I’d never do it again.”

“Songs like ‘Mama’ and “Drink You Off My Mind,” those were all written around the same time and come from a personal place,” Beckham said. “Writing is always therapeutic, and when you’re done writing a good song, or one you like, it feels so good to get it off your chest. This album is so special to me because I feel like it has that emotional connection with me, regardless if a song is a hit record or not.”

That Idol audition proved life-changing. Now, Beckham is signed to KP Entertainment, the same management company that guides the career of American Idol judge and country hitmaker Luke Bryan; Beckham, who is repped by UTA for booking, is currently headlining his own slate of shows and will join Luke Bryan’s Mind of a Country Boy Tour this summer.

Beckham, Billboard’s April Rookie of the Month, discusses his new album below, as well as his experiences being a co-writer and the rock band that inspires him.

Several songs on this album, including “Devil I’ve Been” and “Addicted and Clean” touch on trying to move on from past decisions that had poor consequences. Why was it important to include that here?

I had a lot of things I wanted to say, and I think I had a hard time trying to find the words to say that just in conversation, but I was able to communicate a lot of my feelings through these songs and through music. Once my life goes in a different direction — maybe becoming a dad or a husband and stuff like that, I might start singing about that stuff, too. But I think that just right now I’m still very much so in the phase of remembering the last 10 years and writing songs about it.

Throughout the album, you have several writers whose names appear several times, such as Andy Albert, John Pierce and Lindsay Rimes. What was it like finding a group of writers who are helping you tell your stories?

There are people who, whenever I moved to town, really took the time to get to know me and understand the kind of music I wanted to make. We were able to keep coming back into writing rooms and finding successful songs. Those were the guys who wrote most of this record with me, and I couldn’t have done it without them. But also, when I first got to Nashville, I figured I’d just write everything and had never thought of cutting other people’s songs. But once I got involved in the songwriting community, it was something I wanted to support and be part of.

“Waylon in ‘75” is one of only four tracks on the album you didn’t write. What stood out about it?

Yeah, that’s a song that as soon as I heard it, it definitely, it made me turn my head. The first line just pulled me in and the title, before I even heard the song. I got lucky with it and I jumped on that one pretty quick. We went in the studio and tried our best to do our thing on it, and I love the way that that one came out. I think it sets the tone really well.

What are some of your favorite Waylon songs?

“Lonesome, On’ry and Mean” is a good one, but also “Good Hearted Woman” with Willie [Nelson] … I’ve always been hugely inspired by the outlaw scene. And even before that, Johnny Cash, before the Outlaw music, was one of my biggest inspirations. So just paying homage to those guys who really drew me into country music when I was a young kid.

Producer Bart Butler produced nearly every song on the album. What made you want to work with him on this project?

He’s done a lot of stuff that I admire, and I think that was a great starting point — a lot of the Jon Pardi stuff. We were on the same page from the get-go — we knew the direction we were trying to go with the record.

Who are some artists you would you like to collaborate with?

There are so many people that are just killing it. I’ve always wanted to work with Lainey Wilson or Chris Stapleton. I’m also a fan of guys like Zach Top who are coming up right now. I’ve talked with my buddy Elvie Shane about doing something, and Drake Milligan. There are a lot of people going down this really country route who are making great music.

What has it been like performing some of the newer songs with your band and introducing them to your audience?

Our last three, four shows, we’ve been playing a completely new set. We play most of the record, and it’s been cool just seeing the crowd reactions.

What are some of your favorite records that have inspired you?

One of my favorite groups ever is The Doors, and their [1967] self-titled album is phenomenal. When you listen to it, there is a point where you can tell they were in the studio all day trying to make the album and they got to a point where it was like, ‘That’s the best it’s going to get. Let’s move on to the next song.’ Because you can hear there’s a little whiff, there’s a little slip in a guitar solo, or Jim [Morrison], his voice might’ve cracked, or the drums were slightly off or something, but they just left it there.

There was something about those songs that made me fall in love with those records, because it felt human. These incredible musicians that I look up to, even those guys are subject to making mistakes. I feel like that inspired me to make the music I make, music that feels honest and isn’t so picture perfect.

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