Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
Blaine Larsen may only be 18 years old, but he already has experienced the highs and lows of a career in the music business.
At the moment, he's in the midst of one of the best highs the business offers. His first single for his new label home, BNA Records, is climbing the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. An affecting song about teen suicide, "How Do You Get That Lonely" is No. 34 on the tally.
His major-label debut, "Off to Join the World," will be released Jan. 25, 2005. The album is almost identical to the one he released in May on independent label Giantslayer Records. BNA added one new track.
Larsen landed his first record contract with Sony Music Nashville when he was 16. But he says that deal "never really went anywhere," and he asked to be released after the executives who signed him, president/CEO Allen Butler and head of A&R Blake Chancey, were let go.
When no offer immediately materialized while shopping for a new label deal, Larsen's producers, Rory Lee Feek and Tim Johnson, started their own label, Giantslayer, as a vehicle for Larsen.
They released one single, "In My High School," which spent one week in June, at No. 60, on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. Larsen says charting the song, even for just a week, "was a big deal for us. That song getting noticed the way it did for an independent is what got me over to" BNA parent RCA Label Group (RLG).
The story of how Larsen came to be signed to RLG is an interesting one. "In My High School" was getting airplay in Seattle and caught the ear of local BMG Distribution employee Sandy Conklin.
She e-mailed RLG chairman Joe Galante, whom she did not know, and asked him to check out Larsen's Web site. "Believe it or not," Larsen says, "he did."
After listening to clips of some of Larsen's songs on the site, Galante asked Conklin to send him a copy of the album. Conklin did not have any contacts in Larsen's camp, so she went to Wal-Mart, bought the album and mailed it to Galante.
A few days later, Larsen was in the RLG offices in Nashville successfully auditioning for Galante and senior VP of A&R Renee Bell.
Ironically, Galante and Bell had passed on Larsen two years prior, before he signed with Sony. He says the last two years of label deals and near misses has been "a good education."
Despite his age, Larsen is an accomplished songwriter and wrote most of the songs on his album. And while he did not write "How Do You Get That Lonely" (which was penned by Feek and Jamie Teachener), Larsen says he got chills when he first heard it and related to it instantly, since one of his friends had tried to commit suicide and the brother of another friend went through with it.
The song is eliciting a higher-than-normal volume of calls at radio, and Larsen has received e-mails at his Web site from teens telling him it saved their lives.
"I've always felt that a song like that can really touch people and change their lives," he says. "But to really see it happening is a whole other thing."
Larsen felt so strongly about the emotional power of the song that he made it a negotiating point with RLG that it would be a single. "There was no doubt in my mind it had to be the next single, and I wasn't going to let anything get in the way of that," he says.
He has been equally involved in selecting a director and concepts for the upcoming video and insisted there were no "graphic displays" of suicide. "I didn't want any guns, or anyone shooting themselves or any dead bodies," Larsen says. "We all know what that looks like, and I felt it didn't have a place in the video.
"I also wanted to make sure the treatment wasn't going to offend anyone or paint anyone in a bad light," he says. Specifically, Larsen rejected one concept that showed the parents at fault. He didn't want parents of other suicide victims seeing that and being made to feel guilty.
Larsen, a recent high school graduate, lives with his family in Buckley, Wash., near Seattle. He has no plans to move to Nashville. And while he travels here often for writing sessions, he is grateful for the distance from the company town.
"I'm so far away from the music business I'm able to be fresh all the time," he says. "I don't get caught up in the [Nashville] way of thinking, and I do my own thing."
Excerpted from the Dec. 11, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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