North Carolina native Canaan Cox has been surrounded by mountain music since birth, learning the mandolin, fiddle and guitar before studying musical theater at Catawba College in Henderson, N.C. After taking his talents to the high seas—where he performed on Carnival Cruise Line for three years—Canaan moved to Nashville in 2016. He recently dropped his self-titled EP, featuring the new single, “Coming Back.”
How did you get started in music?
I’ve been surrounded by music since birth. With Grandma playing the piano for our little church to Mom playing in her own band and Dad putting on every Conway Twitty record ever released, I was in it. I’m from the mountains of North Carolina, so it wasn’t long until I picked up a mandolin while listening to Ricky Skaggs and other bluegrass greats. Then came fiddle and guitar, and I always plunked around on Grandma’s piano.
At what age did you realize you wanted to make music your career?
It’s been the only dream I have ever had—to be able to do something I’m so passionate about and watch people enjoy it. I got serious about it after I wrote my first song during my freshmen year in college. One of my professor heard me sing—and he owned his own studio—so one thing led to another, and after hearing something that I created in my head come out in a full-blown production, I was hooked.
Did you study music in college?
Yes. I went to Catawba College in North Carolina and got my BFA in Musical Theatre. Throughout my time there, we studied everything from piano and theory to aural skills and ballet.
Who are some of your musical influences?
In country music, I definitely loved Joe Diffie. However, I love putting some soul and funk into my country music, so Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and even the ’90s boy band Hanson are some huge influences when it comes to my style.
What three words describe you as a musician?
Entertaining A.F. [laughing]. Can I say that? If not, dynamic, percussive, entertaining.
What would you say is unique about your sound?
My vocal abilities and timbre. I have a pop style in my abilities with riffs and vibrato, so it’s fun to be able to throw that into country music.
What does your new single, “Coming Back,” say about you as an artist?
That a negative doesn’t have to be bad. The song itself talks about a break-up—we know we shouldn’t be together, yet here we are. In writing the song, I wanted to focus more on why we were so good in the first place. I didn’t want to focus on coming back for a one-night-stand thing. I wanted the audience to be like, “Ugh, why cant I get her/him off my mind?” Is it because of that first kiss or that time we slow danced in the rain or that time she looked at me just before I told her I loved her? It’s a positive take on a negative situation.
Did you know the woman who played the lead in the “Coming Back” video?
I didn’t know her at all. However, I had a specific look in mind for her. So I searched through some modeling sites in Nashville and found the look. It was really cool reaching out to Emma about doing the video because she knew my music beforehand. We clicked immediately and it made for a fun shoot.
What was the first concert you ever attended?
Rascal Flatts. Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean were opening for them.
What’s the last song you heard that blew you away?
Coming from a musical theatre background, it’s no surprise I’ve seen The Greatest Showman four times. That soundtrack is absolutely brilliant and breathtaking. I’ve even added one of the songs to my set. But the track “Never Enough” is simply stellar. I don’t care what kind of music you listen to, if you hear this and aren’t moved, you’re dead inside.
Where is the most interesting place you’ve performed?
I performed on cruise ships for about three years. With Nashville being a tourist hot spot, there have been many times I have played downtown and people will come in and be like, “Canaan Cox? I saw you last year on the Carnival Magic.”
What family member or friend has been the most supportive of your musical career?
My dad. He is my my best friend. He jokingly calls himself my “Southeastern Regional Manager.” It was all jokes and such until he actually called me one day and got me on our local radio station, booked me a few gigs and got me the number of a venue. And fun little sidenote, he is the only one I’ve ever co-written with.
photo courtesy of Canaan Cox