Growing up just outside of Greensboro, North Carolina, Chris Lane loved country music from an early age. But back in his youth, as he consumed records by the likes of Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, he couldn’t tell you what drew him to the genre. Now that the 33-year-old is bona fide country artist himself, though, it’s crystal clear.
“I realized I loved it because of how it made you feel, the stories in the songs — how a song can take you to a specific place in your life and so many happy memories,” Lane says. “My ultimate goal was to have songs like that.”
He’s well on his way there: Lane’s 2016 single “Fix” hit No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart, and his first two albums — that year’s Girl Problems and this year’s Laps Around the Sun — both debuted in the top 10 of the Top Country Albums chart. Now, having kicked off his headlining Laps Around the Sun Tour on Thursday (Oct. 18), he’s hoping to evoke those same feelings with his audience together in person. (The original first two shows that were scheduled for Oct. 12 and 13 had to be postponed due to Hurricane Michael.)
“People feed off that energy, there’s no doubt about it,” Lane says. “I just wanted to set a certain vibe and find those certain songs.”
As he began writing Laps, Lane says he wasn’t feeling the typical pressures of a sophomore album. Instead, he wanted to make the kind of classic record he grew up listening to, which meant embracing the parts of his work that felt authentic to him and shaking off the ones that didn’t. While he showed off his skillful falsetto all over Girl Problems, hitting those high notes live night after night burned him out, so he cut back. Instead of keeping up the pop sheen of the previous LP, he pursued a rawer sound and brought guitars to the forefront. Most importantly, he says, he focused on writing the kind of evocative lyrics that transport captive audiences.
“At the time, I was still figuring out my whole sound and exactly the kind of artist that I wanted to be,” he explains. “I don’t think I absolutely figured it out on my first record.”
It helped that he got to study his idols up close. Last summer, Lane opened for Chesney, where he observed how songs like Chesney’s “I Go Back” connected with crowds and got motivated to dig deep with his own tunes. It wasn’t long before he recorded “Take Back Home Girl,” a Tori Kelly duet that serves as the album’s first track and plops the listener down in a scene straight out of Friday Night Lights.
“I feel like that was a good jumpstart into this next record,” Lane says. “For me, the second verse took me straight to Friday night high school football, my girlfriend in the stands watching. That strikes such a happy moment in my life, that song takes me there and I loved it from that moment.”
Lane kept his live show in mind when selecting the rest of the songs for Laps Around the Sun, anticipating how each track would fit into his sit and what kind of reaction it would get among fans. He considered almost 300 songs to cut before deciding on 14.
With songs like the title track and “Sun Kiss You,” he says he’ll “keep the summer vibe” going through the tour’s December dates with bright guitars, sway-along melodies and lyrics about the good times. (“Beach ball with a picnic table/ Paper cups full of platinum labels/ Shots, umbrella, blue shade,” he sings in “Sun Kiss You”). Other tracks put a clever spin on relationship cliches, like the flirty “I Don’t Know About You” or the “New Phone, Who’s This,” which he describes as one of his favorite songs he’s ever recorded. “It could have gone to cheese-town right away with that title,” Lane says with a laugh. “But [the writers] painted that picture perfectly … It’s the ultimate breakup song.”
Other moments are more somber: The album’s poignant closer, “Hero,” strips back the production and puts the focus on his heartfelt vocals as he tells three different tales — a heartbroken girl, a boy without a supportive father and someone seeking Jesus — that all relate back to the song’s powerful title.
It’s the kind of storytelling he’s excited to bring to life on stage, and the kind felt he needed for his second album. Says the singer: “I wanted people to hear that and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that from Chris Lane.”