Originally published in the November 23, 2015 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
It’s 2:30 p.m. on a beautiful October afternoon at Pinewood Social, a local bar and bowling alley on the edge of downtown Nashville. Chris Young and his pals Corey Crowder and Josh Hoge, seated on modern, grey benches, have already ordered appetizers and are cracking up over an inside joke as they slide on their bowling shoes.
“We have a lot of inside jokes,” Josh explains, without offering to elaborate.
“We do and most of them will never see the light of day,” Chris says with a mischievous grin on his face.
“As long as no one gets a hold of our text stream, we should be fine,” Josh adds.
The text stream, they later explain, consists of song ideas, inside jokes and the day-to-day banter that is the standard of close friendships. As the conversation turns to whether or not they will keep score, the three guys are exuberantly talking smack over who will win and what nicknames to choose. One thing is immediately clear: the competition may not be fierce, but, with the steady barrage of jokes these three supply, it will definitely be entertaining.
“We don’t have to keep score,” Josh says.
“Oh no, we are totally keeping score,” insists Chris.
“The idea is to knock all of the pins down, right?” Corey deadpans.
While they may not be printing them on the back of bowling league T-shirts anytime soon, the guys’ nicknames give further insight into a friendship that gives them the freedom to be who they are, respectfully poke fun at each other and not take themselves or each other too seriously. Cool, calm and easygoing Chris opts for the more literal “CY.”
“We’ve got to come up with a more creative nickname for me,” Chris says, laughing. Corey is bestowed with “Lion King” and Josh has the dubious honor of being called “Deer Hooves.”
The entire group erupts into laughter—this is obviously one of those inside jokes.
“It all started one afternoon when I saw this quote and then told this funny story about how somebody said something about a lion,” explains Corey. “OK, it doesn’t sound very funny but it became funny because everybody started buying me lion stuff that I didn’t want. Next thing I know I’m the lion guy. I have hats, stuffed lions, things that hang from your mirror—it is terrible.”
“This stuff is all over his studio,” Chris explains. “But there isn’t an actual valid reason for him to have a bunch of lion stuff.”
“And I’m deer hooves, because my feet are tiny,” Josh jokes, before bowling his first frame. “Like I might fall over.”
This irreverent friendship is the heartbeat of Chris’ fifth studio album, I’m Comin’ Over, which arrived Nov. 13. Together, the three men wrote more than half of the songs on the record, including the hit single “I’m Comin’ Over”—currently a Billboard Top 5 country song and already certified gold, with more than 11 million video views on VEVO. Chris and Corey co-produced the album—marking Chris’ first time to take the helm over conceiving, writing, producing and recording an album.
“That was fun for me. Producing is something I’ve always wanted to do and it was really important to me to do on this project,” says Chris. “And there is nothing better than being able to do it with someone who is as talented as Corey is and sees music the same way I do.”
A native of Loganville, Ga., Corey began his musical career as a touring artist. His songs have been heard in Nashville, One Tree Hill and The Biggest Loser, and recorded by Chris, Eric Paslay, A Thousand Horses and many others. Josh grew up in Franklin, Tenn., surrounded by jazz and rock musicians, and landed a major pop label deal but stopped recording around 2010. He’s since written songs for everyone from The Backstreet Boys and Jesse McCartney to the Randy Rogers Band and Justin Moore.
Between the endless one-liners and undeniable familiarity, it is hard to believe that Chris, Corey and Josh only started writing and hanging out together a little more than a year and a half ago. And while he comes across as the laid-back jokester of the group, Josh actually had the foresight to bring the three of them together.
“Josh and I have known each other forever,” Chris says. “Josh and Corey have known each other forever but up until a year and a half ago, Corey and I didn’t really know each other at all.”
Josh called me one day and said, ‘Man, you have to come in and write with me and this guy Corey Crowder. We are getting some really good stuff.’”
Corey was playing in a softball game when the call came. He ended up canceling another writing appointment to meet with Josh and Chris.
“I kept thinking, ‘What if he doesn’t show up and here I’ve canceled this other co-write?’” Corey recalls. “I was nervous until he walked in the door.”
“That first day in the writing room was so fun,” adds Chris. “We laughed the entire time. It felt natural to write a song together. We wrote ‘Alone Tonight’ that day. It ended up being the first song we wrote for the record and we all loved it. From there we decided to keep writing together until it didn’t make sense anymore. We liked almost everything we created together.”
That collaborative chemistry deepened their friendship to something reminiscent of lifelong pals, with the requisite pranking and teasing. Josh pulls out his phone to show a high-school-era press photo of Chris that he’s saving for a rainy day. Not to be outdone, Corey confesses he has an audio recording of Chris singing the female parts on “Think of Me,” a duet with Cassadee Pope and one of the album’s handful of collaborations (see sidebar). A vocal with a high C-sharp that the guys jokingly explain no human being should be able to hit, Cassadee nailed it perfectly on every take.
“She sang it three times and never missed it. She is a phenomenal singer,” Chris says, before turning to Corey. “Hold on, do you really have a recording of me singing the female vocals?”
“Yes I do,” Corey says with a sneaky grin. “It’s a Chris Young secret I’m holding onto for a while.”
“We didn’t have to get together and catch up on what’s been going on in our lives because we were hanging out all the time,” says Josh. “We all knew what was going on with the other one.”
“Even when we weren’t hanging out together, we’d go back and forth over text with song ideas,” adds Chris. “After writing together for a while, I put a playlist together of the songs we had written, listened to the demos Corey built in the studio and knew this is what I wanted my album to sound like.”
Their friendship proved to be a turning point for Chris. With a passionate belief in the music they were creating and a confidence that comes from life experience and the willingness to take some risks, Chris personally wrote a check and quietly recorded six songs for the record.
“We didn’t do it in complete secrecy,” Chris says before bowling a spare and taking the lead. “The label knew we were going in to cut. But I basically said, ‘If you don’t like it, I’ll eat the cost of recording these songs.’ And man, that can [get] expensive quick. The funny thing is, as much as Corey and I changed some things on this record, I didn’t necessarily feel the pressure to change. It didn’t feel like we were trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It just always felt good, natural and right. But I don’t think I would be in the position I am in or writing and recording the songs that we are if I wasn’t doing it with these two guys.”
Trusting their instincts paid off. When Chris went in to play the new songs for the label executives at Sony Music Nashville, they told the three-man team to keep going.
With clear focus and direction, each of the guys drew from each of their personal experiences to write the songs still needed for the record, especially Chris.
“I think Chris is now in a position where he can write from a more personal standpoint,” says Josh. “‘I’m Comin’ Over’ was Chris’ idea and a story that belongs to him. At this point, we have all lived through some things—separately and together—and it’s so much easier to write the deeper stuff when you are writing with close friends.”
“It was a personal situation that gave me that idea and I think it is something everyone can relate to,” Chris says of “I’m Comin’ Over.” “Unless you are Corey and married your high school sweetheart. He wanted to call the song ‘I’m Still Comin’ Over’ for his wife. That’s the beauty of co-writing. You come with an idea from your life and build on top of it by drawing from everyone else’s personal experiences.”
As much as they love to joke around, it is clear that the admiration and respect Chris, Josh and Corey have for their unique gifts and talents is the heartbeat of their friendship.
“I’m am so glad that I not only got to make this album, but that I was able to make it with both of them,” says Chris. “This record came from the three of us creating music that we all enjoy together. These are my guys and I love that we get to share a full album. There are so many cool things I think people will hear when they listen to this record and really live with it. I want people to want to put it on repeat and listen to it again and again.”
“Maybe the title of this article should be called ‘Deer Hooves, Lions, Oh My,’” offers Josh. “Chris can be the ‘Oh My.’” NCW
SIDEBAR: Chris Young’s new album, I’m Comin’ Over, is packed with top-tier talent.
“Think of You” Featuring: Cassadee Pope
According to Chris:
“I was playing a radio show in Miami that Cassadee was playing on too. She opened her mouth to sing, got through the first chorus and I knew I had to ask her to sing on this song. Thankfully she agreed.”
“Sober Saturday Night” Featuring: Vince Gill
According to Chris:
“I remember sitting in the grass at Starwood Amphitheater as a kid watching Vince perform. I have always been such a huge fan of his. I’m still so excited that he agreed to be a part of it.
“The morning that I came in and sang ‘Sober Saturday Night,’ I had slept in until 10:30 a.m. I wasn’t hoarse but my voice was really gritty. I had just woken up, came into the studio and sang. I actually think it worked in our favor. It sounded cool, real and raw instead of polished.”
“Callin’ My Name” Featuring: Jonathan Singleton
According to Chris: “Jonathan is singing harmony on ‘Callin’ My Name,’ which he wrote with Corey and me. He is an incredible singer and songwriter.”
“I Know a Guy” Featuring: Kristen Rogers
According to Chris: “Kristen, who is one of the backup singers for A Thousand Horses, sang this beautiful harmony on ‘I Know a Guy.’”