Big enough that KFC licensed it for a commercial in Russia. And yet, Corbin and the song’s three writers are all still waiting to see if it will work in the United States.
“You have no idea how strange that whole ride has been,” says songwriter Shane McAnally (“Noise,” “T-Shirt”).
Not just strange, but long. Written May 4, 2011, at a Franklin, Tenn., cabin owned by the former McBride & The Ride singer-songwriter Terry McBride (“Play Something Country,” “I Keep On Loving You”), “Are You With Me” is now 5 years old, rather mature for a song that was in high demand when it first came into existence. Songwriter Tommy Lee James (“My Eyes,” “She’s My Kind of Rain”) had come up with the title that morning, and while “Are You With Me” sounds like a phrase a soldier might use on the battlefield, James thought of it as a no-brainer for concert conversation.
“There was an artist looking for a song that would work really well in a live situation, and I thought asking the audience ‘Are you with me’ would be a really interesting take on that,” recalls James. “What I didn’t realize is it works in a larger sense, too. It can work as a love song, like ‘I want to do all this stuff in life, are you with me?’ It’s almost like a marriage-proposal song, if that makes sense: ‘I want to have all these adventures. Do you want to do them with me, too?’ ”
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McBride grabbed a bass, while James and McAnally strummed guitars, and they painted an escapist, vacation-like picture of a Mexican beach and margaritas for the first verse of “Are You With Me.” The imagery sounds like a celebration, but as the song’s primary character describes a sunny potential future, there’s also a cloud of doubt — his proposal could get rejected, leaving him to face the world alone. They cast the verse with several minor chords, hinting at the uncertainty in the man’s crossroads moment.
“That’s all in the melody,” notes McAnally, “because the lyric doesn’t say that.”
After that four-line verse, they launched right into a second one, this time focusing on the woman’s skin and the coupling he has in mind.
“In the beginning, it could be anybody, which is why it’s kind of brilliant of Lost Frequencies,” says McBride. “Dance by the water, drink margaritas — that could be anybody. We wanted to bring her into it to make it interesting.”
The chorus moved into more major chords, lifting the melody into a higher range and underscoring the adventure of the proposition — “We can chase the wild dreams/Live like crazy” — before settling back into that scary question: “Are you with me?”
The third verse would delve even further into the emotional risk — “I wanna love so hard that it rips my heart out” — as the guy bathes in vulnerability, asking for the woman’s hand, knowing she might destroy all his dreams.
“Especially if you’ve been hurt before, it’s a brave thing to do,” says James.
They did a quick work tape. A short time later, they cut a more formal demo that used a bass and electric guitar an octave or so apart to form a moody intro.
Kenny Chesney, who was working on the album Welcome to the Fishbowl at the time, was the first to respond when “Are You With Me” got pitched. “He has never emailed me back faster about a song,” says McAnally.
Chesney eventually let it go, and MV2 Entertainment creative director Clay Myers — then the vp/GM for Barbara Orbison’s Still Working Music — pitched it to Easton, who was recording at the time. Corbin was gung-ho about “Are You With Me.”
“The dude in the song, he’s throwing it all out there,” says Corbin, “and that’s what it’s about is throwing all care to the wind and going for it.”
Producer Carson Chamberlain (Billy Currington, Mark Wills) oversaw the session at Nashville’s Sound Stage, with steel player Paul Franklin filling a lot of cracks and crevasses with long, lonesome notes.
“The hardest part of that kind of song is people not playing too much,” says Chamberlain. “Sparseness is your friend on that.”
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Mercury was so convinced of the song’s potential that the label shot a video for it in 2012 when Corbin did the clip for “All Over the Road.” But with Universal Music Group (UMG) in transition, “Are You With Me” never became a single during the run of that album.
Meanwhile, Lost Frequencies — his stage name comes from his penchant for making dance mixes out of forgotten tracks — had his ear open for a song with a lonesome guitar/bass instrumental vibe. When he heard the intro to “Are You With Me” on a SoundCloud link, that became the song.
His version went platinum and/or multiplatinum in numerous countries, though the songwriters knew nothing about it until it was in full gear. German-based BMG had publishing on it, and executives there were supposedly grooving to the song on the radio, not even realizing it was their copyright because it had been changed so much.
“This kid licensed it; he did everything he was supposed to do legally,” says McBride. “It kind of fell through some cracks, and we didn’t know about it.”
Lost Frequencies’ YouTube video has now amassed more than 170 million views, and at least some consumers have done some homework and discovered Corbin’s recording. Corbin and UMG felt strongly enough about his original version that it was added to his next album, About to Get Real, when it was released June 30, 2015. Mercury finally issued it to radio via Play MPE on April 11 with a long lead time — the official add date is May 23 — and with a new solo, courtesy of guitarist Derek Wells. It’s at No. 58 on Country Airplay.
The single version got sped up just a couple clicks, too, though not enough to damage the fragility Corbin creates with his shy phrasing. “That’s what the good ones do,” says Chamberlain. “They make you feel it.”
Corbin has been doggedly playing it in his live shows from the beginning, and he and the writers are understandably relieved that “Are You With Me” is finally getting its chance stateside. His frequencies are no longer lost.
“It’s about time,” says Corbin. “It’s my favorite song.”