Jaws dropped all over Music Row and the broadcasting industry when Clay Hunnicutt gave up his high-level programming job at iHeartMedia to become the head of Big Loud Records, a label that had never released any music. With the Oct. 30 arrival of flagship artist Chris Lane‘s label debut, “Fix,” through Play MPE, the rest of the business now has a chance to hear why Hunnicutt took such a radical leap. It was “Fix” that cinched the deal.
“Chris was going to be the primary artist, and they said, ‘Well, we’ve got this song, and we want to give you an idea of where we might head,'” recalls Hunnicutt. “It was like the first-take rough, and I’m like, ‘OK, if we’re doing that, I’m in.’ That’s where we took off.”
It’s actually not where Lane started when he joined the Big Loud family. The North Carolina-bred artist had built a -foundation by touring the Southeast, and after drawing attention from several companies, signed with Big Loud for management and was well down the road on a project that was a little more predictable. His 2014 single “Broken Windshield View” matched a Tim McGraw vocal tone with Southern-rock guitars and bro-country imagery.
But during downtime at a 2015 recording session, Lane broke into a random song in high falsetto. No one remembers for sure what it was — Usher, The Backstreet Boys, Justin Timberlake or Nick Jonas have all been mentioned as possibilities — but Lane’s tone was intriguing to producer Joey Moi (Florida Georgia Line, Jake Owen). And it sparked a complete change in direction.
“It definitely was a defining moment for me,” says Lane, “because that ultimately led us to finding ‘Fix.’ “
Lane represented a change in direction for “Fix,” as well. The song has a dance-ready groove that leans toward The Bee Gees or Maroon 5, and country wasn’t even on the radar when it was written in February.
“It was never supposed to end up anywhere except my record,” says blue-eyed-soul singer-songwriter Abe Stoklasa (“The Driver”) with a laugh. “Sometimes things don’t work out the way you planned.”
When Stoklasa showed up that day at Nashville’s Major Bob Music, songwriter Jesse Frasure (“Sun Daze,” “Crash and Burn”) had a couple of music beds to mess with, including one that started with a waterfall guitar before it worked into a clubby sort of backbeat. The track had no title or words, but Stoklasa and co-writer Sarah Buxton (“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” “Stupid Boy”) started throwing out ideas. It wasn’t long before they headed down a trail that envisions love as an addiction.
“The song gets pretty druggy,” says Buxton, “but it’s not about that. It’s ‘I want to be your addiction. I want to be the person that you’re obsessed with and I’m obsessed with you.’ We all know that feeling.”
“Fix” runs in that direction from the start. They rhymed some unconventional phrases in the opening stanza — “love medicinal,” “make you feel invincible,” “I’m more than recreational” — as they borrowed ideas from the culture’s growing acceptance of cannabis.
“I think I had weed on the mind,” says Stoklasa. “We were just talking about it that day, about it being legal some places and some places not, and I think that’s where that came from.”
As the chorus exploded, they referenced a “Walter White high” — invoking the name of the meth-cooking character in AMC’s Breaking Bad — as they worked their way toward the hook, “I’ll be your fix.”
“We didn’t know what the actual tail of the chorus was going to be until we got there,” says Buxton. “I kind of remember writing up to it.”
By the time they finished it, “Fix” incorporated images of cocaine lines at a nightclub and the phrase “good shit,” all of which was considered OK because, after all, it wasn’t supposed to be a family-friendly country song.
“We were writing for me, so we didn’t care,” says Stoklasa. “If I’ll say it, we can say it. You know, it’s not a big deal.”
The song was finished and captured on a demo that day, and the writers each turned it in to their publishers. Since Buxton is on staff at Big Loud, manager-partner Seth England heard it. By then, Moi and Lane were looking for songs that would fit his falsetto, and England recognized “Fix” as the perfect vehicle. It took a little persuasion to land the song, though, since Stoklasa was trying to keep it for his own potential deal, and England wasn’t able to share information about the label or Hunnicutt’s involvement.
“He was kind of adamant on saying, ‘Trust me, we have things in the works. We can’t talk about them yet, but this is something we’re passionate about,’ ” says Frasure. “And I have a track record with him.”
So permission was granted, though “We had to countrify it,” Moi says.
A big portion of that was putting real musicians in place of the demo’s synthetic atmosphere. Ilya Toshinsky perfectly recreated the waterfall guitar sound and added chunky rhythmic parts, while Russ Pahl laid on atmospheric steel. A number of words were changed to make it more PG for country radio, particularly “good shit,” which became “good ish.” And Moi coaxed an abundance of breathy breaks and whines out of Lane that they refer to internally as “sexhales.” It’s similar to the word-ending vocal cracks that Garth Brooks and Tracy Byrd used to heighten the country authenticity on their hits in the ’90s.
“I grew up listening to all of that,” says Lane, “so I’m sure I learned it along the way and just didn’t know what I was doing.”
Lane watched nearly every minute of every instrumental recording and overdub as “Fix” went down, including Buxton’s background part, featured prominently in key spots during the chorus.
“I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I loved it,” says Buxton. “Tears came to my eyes. It was like a bolt of lightning hit me. I’ve been a Chris Lane fan ever since I heard it, so I’ve been trying to tell all my co-writers that we need to be trying to write for Chris Lane, and they’re all like, ‘Who?’ I’m like, ‘You just wait!’ “
The Big Loud promotion staff had the same reaction, most of them leaving other jobs to take a role with the upstart company based on “Fix,” which also became the foundation for Lane’s debut EP, due Nov. 13.
“It feels good to see so many people so passionate about my project,” says Lane. “No pressure at all, right?”
The pressure he feels is justified, but “Fix” at least establishes his own artistic lane.
“In hindsight, hearing more of the Chris project, ‘Fix’ completely fits,” says Frasure. “It’s this soulful blend, and yet it’s so unique from everything on radio.”
Assuming it gets there. The add date is Dec. 7. It pushes the already-stretched boundaries of country even further.
“I feel like it’s going to be huge or it’s going to bomb because it’s so different,” says Buxton. “I do know once I heard Chris’ version, I was trying to get Abe and Jesse on the books like once a week.”
Presumably, to get another “Fix.”
This article first appeared in Billboard’s Country Update — sign up here.