It’s hard to dispute the message of Chris Janson‘s new hit “Buy Me A Boat.” “Money can’t buy everything,” he sings, quoting one of pop’s famous cliches. Then he quickly revises that statement: “maybe so — but it could buy me a boat.” The amusing track has connected with listeners, and it climbed to No. 17 on the most recent Hot Country Songs chart. Billboard caught up with Janson to talk about materialism, boats, and what he would do if this song made him rich.
One of the things that makes “Buy Me A Boat” stand out is that it’s pretty funny — was that a conscious choice?
It just turned out that way. That’s just my sense of humor. My co-writer Chris [Dubois] is a really witty guy too, and when you put two of us in a room together and shut the door, it’s hard to know what might happen. When we wrote “Buy Me A Boat,” the conscious effort was: we don’t really care, we’re not trying to impress anybody, we’re just going to talk how we talk and put it onto paper and put music behind it. We’re not going to follow any rules or any systematic form of thinking, and that’s how “But Me A Boat” got here. And when it was done, it was like, “Oh my god, I love it.”
So you talk about how it’s impossible to buy happiness in the song — what does happiness mean to you?
Happiness means my family. That’s off-kilter [relative to] the song, but happiness is my wife and kids, my faith and relationship with the Lord. In reference to the song, I’m going to be honest with you: I love pickup trucks, and I do love Yeti coolers, and I had both before I wrote the song, and I worked really hard for both of them. Even if I wasn’t the singer on it, that song really is a good representation of me.
If this song makes you a million bucks, what are you going to spend it on?
If I ever make a million dollars with anything in life, I’m going to tell you like I told everyone else — and I mean this — I’m going to buy diapers first. As long as my family is set and secure with their livelihood, I’m happy. Like the song says, money can’t buy everything — it can buy a boat, but I don’t even know if I want a boat. Maybe an upgrade on the house or something.
Do you think of yourself as a materialist?
It’s all about my wife and kids, man. Anything else is just icing on the cake. I’ve never cared about how I look, what I say, any of that. It’s all about how you feel and how you wake up and if you’re a good human at the end of the day. All the other stuff, I let it fall into place. I’ve always lived my life like that. I plan on continuing to live my life like that.
Do you sail or own a boat?
I don’t have a boat, I don’t sail, I wouldn’t know the first thing about a boat except how to get on it and how to not wreck. I never even thought about buying one, I’m just hoping somewhere along the line one will just appear in my life.
Do you think the song resonates more because you’re an up-and-coming artist? Like if a superstar like Blake Shelton sang it, do you think it would have the same meaning?
I sell it the best. If you’re putting it on a 1 to 10 scale of who would sell it best, I’m like selling snow cones to an Eskimo. Not just because I wrote it, but because it’s how we roll when we wake up in the day. With a guy like Blake who’s just the real deal, and connects with people because he’s the real deal, I think it would work. I don’t think it would work for everybody, but I’m grateful that it’s working for me.
— Toby Keith (@TobyKeithMusic) March 20, 2015
How did it feel when Toby Keith tweeted about it?
Gosh, dude! It was amazing. It felt even better when we got on tour with him. My dreams are coming true, man. You’re catching me at a point in my life where I’m genuinely pretty shocked about all this stuff. I played my first awards show this week on the CMTs, and while I was playing, unbeknownst to me, Tim McGraw sent out a message saying he was a huge Janson fan — are you kidding right now? People are coming out of the business and giving it so much love, from Toby to Tim to Brad Paisley to Dan + Shay. It’s the most humbling thing that an artist can ever experience.
Big @janson_chris fan
— Tim McGraw (@TheTimMcGraw) June 11, 2015
And is it true that when you put this out the first time, you were doing it totally independently?
Yeah, dude. We put this out through Tunecore in my bedroom. You’re not talking to the most computer-savvy whiz-kid here. You’re talking to a dude who lives a happy family lifestyle and needs music to come out for the summertime for his fans. We got it up there and radio started playing it, fans started buying it, and that was well before I secured a deal with Warner Bros. I’m proud to say it was a pretty cool independent success story. If it ever only got that big right then, I’d be happy with it. I’m just thrilled that the ship has set sail, so to speak, it’s really a lot of fun.
Nice use of a boat metaphor!
You don’t hear those stories as much in country. The label push at radio seems pretty important still.
I got a lot of friends out there, thankfully. From years past, the relationships speak for themselves. I’m so grateful to have country radio on my side — in a real way too, it’s not just, “Oh hey, we’ll give you a shot.”
Are you going to be working on an EP or a full-length?
I’m working on a full-length record, man! I’ve been telling people for 10 years I’m working on a record and I finally got one coming out with Warner Bros. I’m in the process right now. It’s on the fast track. I would expect something to be done and out this year. We’re going to go for it.
An edited version of this story originally appeared in the June 27 issue of Billboard.