Everyone has heard the old adage about art imitating life, and in the case of Chris Janson, it’s pretty much true. Real Friends, his new project out Oct. 18, is an upbeat reflection of the happily married father of four and the values he holds dear.
“There’s something for everybody on it, of all ages,” Janson tells Billboard of the 13-track set. “It’s family-oriented. My music will always be family-oriented … We as artists have a platform to speak to the masses and I want to make sure that what I’m putting out there makes people feel good, if I can. I don’t have anything really to complain about, so you never hear that in my music.”
Sitting in a cozy room at the Warner Music Nashville offices noshing on hot chicken, Janson is appreciative of his successful career, and feels obliged to pass along the positive vibes through his music. “I wanted it to be positively themed, so that’s what we did,” he says of his third album. “We wrote it with a positive narrative and tone all the way through, starting with ‘Good Vibes’ being the first single. You can’t get any more positive than that.”
Sitting at No. 2 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, “Good Vibes” is the latest in a string of Janson hits that started with his 2015 breakthrough single “Buy Me a Boat” and continued with “Fix a Drink” and “Drunk Girl.”
The next single is “Done,” the song Janson cites as his favorite on the new album. “The first time I saw Kelly I said, ‘Done,’ and that’s true. I’m so in love with my wife and I have no qualms about telling people or sharing it publicly,” he says of his wife of nine years. “This career has grown us into being kind of a semi-open book family and I’m okay with that because we work together. She manages me. We write together. We love together. We raise kids together. We do everything together. I wrote ‘Done’ about her. I wrote about [our house with] a four-plank fence on a hill that we live in. Everything is autobiographical. Everything I write about is real.”
The video is a slice of life that spotlights Janson and his wife in a sweet, playful clip. “We filmed that at our place in Florida and it’s real,” he says. “It’s us being at home, kicking back and cooking. I love bacon, so I was cooking bacon. That’s real. When you are just yourself, you don’t need big productions to do things or to make records. With the video it was about showing our love and just pretending the cameras weren’t there. We were just being ourselves.”
Janson’s laidback, homespun approach also laid the foundation for how he recorded the new album. “I made this record at my house. You don’t need big productions or extravagant budgets or catering or all this stupid extra stuff that goes into it. You don’t need all that. It’s really about the music,” says Janson, who recorded at his Nashville home. “I don’t have the time, energy or most importantly want to go to a studio and lose my vibe and get into somebody else’s space and do it by protocol. I don’t have any restrictions at my house, and I don’t ever get to be at my house. … I love my job and we get to travel all the time, but when I’m home I love to be there. It’s like sanctuary for me and being at home is such an incredible feeling. We wrote it there, so why not record it there?”
Janson co-produced the album with Tommy Cecil, Brock Berryhill and Zach Crowell. He co-wrote every song on the album and is proud of the fact that he worked with some newcomers. “There are people getting their first cuts ever on this record,” says Janson, who got his first taste of success in the business as a songwriting, penning tunes for Tim McGraw, LOCASH and Hank Williams Jr. “There are musicians who have never played on a major record. Tommy Cecil never produced a major record. We’re doing all this stuff together. It’s amazing.”
He met Cecil when they got together to co-write. “We actually wrote ‘Say About Me’ the first time we ever met,” he says of a key song on the new album he co-wrote with Cecil and Shy Carter. “I met Tommy and we pretty much became instant friends. He’s great at making demos, a great songwriter, a great guy and most importantly just a great hang, so I kept inviting him over and kept collaborating. We did the demos together. We brought them into the label and [Warner Music Nashville EVP] Cris Lacy loved them and I said, ‘We should just co-produce this thing together.’ That’s how it happened. It was organic.”
On the title song, “Real Friends,” Janson is joined by a seasoned pro — Blake Shelton. “We are real friends and if you see us together, we are joking around and punching each other. We’re buddies,” he laughs. “I don’t think I’ve ever been around Blake Shelton where he hasn’t tried to kiss me right on the mouth and I’m like, ‘You freakin’ weirdo’ in a good way, but he can’t help be that funny, real-deal big brother type of person, and I love him for that.”
Janson admits he was hesitant to ask Shelton to be on the album and relied on his A&R person to make the request. “I didn’t want to go to Blake directly because I don’t like to put my real friends in compromising awkward situations just in case they didn’t want to do it,” he explains. “So they just made the ask and it was an immediate yes. I sent him the tracks, he sang in a studio and sent them back to the studio at my house and that was it. We just mixed it in and it’s fantastic.”
Janson is on tour this fall and is excited about performing songs from the new record. He admits when it comes to fancy production, he’d rather keep it simple like his musical heroes.
“I’m not real big on flashy lights and smoke, I think the music has to speak for itself and mine always has thankfully,” he says. “I want to play like Merle Haggard did it, go in and set up some instruments and play some songs. I get super stressed-out when people start talking about lights and staging and production and how it should look. It triggers something in me that I don’t want to even do it, but when all that’s left away from my mind and I just have to think about writing and singing, then I’m good. So that’s all I focus on. Is my family safe? Are they healthy? Can I write and sing? That’s all I need. The best thing is being alive and being Christian, being married and happy in my marriage, and having healthy kids. That’s it.”