Interview with Daughtry: No Surprise

Spring is finally approaching, and Chris Daughtry is back home in North Carolina taking advantage of the last few days he has left in town before getting ready to hit the road once again on a headlining tour with friends Lifehouse and Cavo. Today, after asking permission to put me on speakerphone, we are chatting it up while he drives to an appointment nearby. It takes him 30 minutes to arrive—that, or he was graciously indulging me while sitting stationary in his car at some point. Only being able to hear his voice and the sounds outside of my own bedroom window, it remains a mystery. It’s surprising that he’s even out, considering he has been spending the majority of his time at home in his sweatpants, never leaving the house, which he divulges with a chuckle (having a beautiful wife of 10 years and two children, I don’t blame him for being a temporary homebody). Oh, the splendor of well-earned free time and relaxation. For someone of Daughtry’s caliber, such leisure is no doubt scarce, and when it arises, savored. The ruggedly handsome southern boy with the often shaved head and meticulously scruffy face will shortly have to part with his sweatpants and begin the second leg of Daughtry’s tour in support of their recently released sophomore effort, Leave This Town. The tour will commence in Baltimore on March 18 and end in Trenton on June 20, right at the cusp of spring’s dissipation into summer.

The creative process for this album was definitely less rushed than their debut, and flowed easily for Daughtry and his bandmates (more on them later). They began writing and recording demos about two months into their first ever tour, as Daughtry became more and more antsy. For him, everything usually starts with a guitar and a melody, with lyrics rarely hitting him first. “There are occasions, very rare the occasion, that I pick up a guitar, and lyrics literally come right out, with the melody, and it’s kind of like I struck gold, you know what I mean?” Strong examples are “Home” off of Daughtry and Leave This Town’s “You Don’t Belong,” which are both extremely honest “because there’s no thought process behind it, there’s no trying to be clever, there’s no trying to figure out a rhyming scheme or trying to dissect it.

“Those are certainly moments as a songwriter that we wish would happen a little more often. But when they do happen, it’s like a gift from God.”

Nearly every day that Daughtry had off, they found themselves engulfed in the process, though a lot of those songs did not get used, and will never see the light of the day. It ended up being a way of getting out ideas, whether on the bus or in the dressing room, that subsequently “spawned” others. Once tour had ended, the band took some time off in Los Angeles and continued what they had begun. The entire album became much an “unconscious effort.” There was never a decision to make a specific kind of album or song, and the title stemmed from one of Daughtry’s favorite songs that made the cut, called “September,” which he identifies with very much on a personal level, and especially enjoys playing live.

The songs on the record are a collaborative effort between Daughtry, his band, and outside sources who he has strong connections with, including Mitch Allen, Brian Howe, and David Hodges. Another is Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, who Daughtry considers “probably one of the best songwriters out right now” in his opinion. “By the time we went to tracking the record, we had like 70-something songs written. Fifty of them were crap, but we had 20 really good ones to record,” he explains. “It was about making the ones that were very cohesive together as a piece of work, and put them together. Then we found out there was kind of an ongoing theme with the songs.”

Although Daughtry, 30, is recognized these days as the fourth finalist from the fifth season of American Idol who formed a now multi-platinum and Grammy-nominated supergroup, it took quite some time for this side of him to emerge and gain acceptance in his own mind. Until high school, Daughtry was purely a fine artist, and someone who dreamt of becoming a comic artist or an actor. Why on earth would he want to get into music? That would completely screw with his identity, and it would be “confusing” for those who knew the unambiguous southern boy in his early adolescence. To him, singing was just an enjoyable hobby. Starting at the age of five or six, and continuing as he became older, he enjoyed singing along to everything that caught his ear (including Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams—“It’s all about singers to me”), whether in his room or outside mowing the lawn, kind of like his own private version of karaoke. He was comfortable with that, and considered himself to be pretty damn good at imitating each particular singer, but he never took it seriously or understood the golden instrument he possessed that would someday bring beautiful music and happiness, the world over.

“I wasn’t comfortable with doing that in front of anyone,” he explains in his soft-yet-husky southern drawl, which at times isn’t a drawl at all, but rather speedy. “I didn’t consider myself a singer, I didn’t see myself as a musician, I was an artist. I was always drawing, and that’s what people knew me as.”

Eventually, Daughtry connected with the person who would wake him up to the fact that he could legitimately sing. One day, a high school buddy who he shared a class with was playing guitar, and Daughtry opened his mouth, deciding to sing along, completely stunning his friend. “He stopped and was like, ‘Dude, are you serious?! I didn’t have a clue you could sing!’ And I was extremely nervous that I even did that,” Daughtry admits. It was in that moment that he was handed an opportunity to sing for his advocate’s musical side project. “He pretty much twisted my arm,” Daughtry adds. He began attending rehearsals, and consequently falling in love with his newfound talent, while being taught how to play guitar and write songs, which “were crap,” but helped continue to shape his destiny. “All of a sudden, I felt like that was who I was, and probably who I’ve been, and never even realized it.” Soon he began doing school talent shows and musicals, which contributed to building his confidence and teaching him the ropes. The rest is history; or rather, Daughtry. “Once I became more and more into music I was very much sucked into the whole ‘90s grunge era. One of the records that really inspired me as a songwriter is Live’s Throwing Copper,” he explains. “As I got older, I was introduced to a lot of stuff that I felt like I missed out on, like Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection, Zeppelin, you know, people that, being so young, I felt like I just kind of skipped over.”

Thankfully, Daughtry‘s parents never, ever, discouraged him from what he wanted to do with his life, despite the fact that he decided against attending college due to his musical aspirations. They always made me think that whatever I wanted to do would always happen, no matter how long it took.” Daughtry’s wife became his “biggest cheerleader” later in life, pushing him when he needed it, eventually encouraging him to try out for Idol.

In 2006, Daughtry was formed. Although they lost touch for awhile, Daughtry has known guitarist Brian Craddock since 1997 or 1998. They met through the guitar store where Craddock worked in Charlottesville, Virginia, while Daughtry was living in the area during his teen years. Craddock also often opened for Daughtry’s old band. A friend reminded Daughtry about Craddock, they got in touch, and he was just who Daughtry needed. Daughtry knows drummer Joey Barnes from playing the same music circuits, and they both currently live in Greensboro, North Carolina. “We did a battle of the bands, and not to brag, but, we stomped ‘em!” laughs Daughtry. “So, we kind of got in touch through that.” As far as bassist Josh “JP” Paul and second guitarist Josh Steely, they were discovered during the audition process. There was so much immediate chemistry between the five musicians, that the people working on their first photo shoot together for Daughtry noticed right away, assuming that they had been together for about three years, not 24 hours. “It kind of just feels like we’ve always known each other. So it’s one of those things that we probably wouldn’t be able to duplicate if we tried,” he says thankfully. “Those things don’t always happen. We’re very fortunate.”

Daughtry believes that if his band mates—especially Steely and Barnes—were not musicians, they would be quite successful stand-up comedians, because they’re “non-stop hilarious” and constantly keep everyone entertained. Craddock is an exceptional songwriter, producer, and graphic designer. JP is not only the most talented bass player that Daughtry has ever met, but also a “jack of all trades,” who often wakes up four hours before everyone else, even after three hours of sleep, and is sitting in the front lounge of the bus programming different beats and songs both for Daughtry and others. “He’s all the time music,” Daughtry brags. “He sleeps, eats, breathes [it].” I think if I allowed him, he could have gone on for hours about his partners in crime, and the kinship he feels with them. The respect he has for them is immense, and oozes out of him. He went on to tell me that “snuggling on the couch” is a favorite pastime, as well as watching a lot of Dave Chapelle and movies, especially Pineapple Express the last tour, which for Daughtry is due to comedic actor Danny McBride.

As far as live shows go, favored towns include Greensboro (North Carolina), Charlottesville (Virginia) and Little Rock (Arkansas), due to the vigorous crowd, which ended up being one of the best cities they played on the entire first leg of their tour. They also enjoy good ol’ lighthearted fun. “Anytime have a band open for us for the first time, we like punking them at the end of the tour, last night on tour. It was Cavo on the last run, and right between the song they just played and their last song, we dressed up in these tights, and it was very ‘80s inspired,” Daughtry explains with much amusement. “We set up right behind their backdrop. So when they were done with one song, we lowered the backdrop and kicked into ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane,’ and killed their sound, so they couldn’t play.” As instructed, I looked the video up on YouTube, and lo and behold, there, to my delight, were more than just the reported tights, cowboy boots and naked chests. Also present: red bandanas, cowboy hats, open vests, eyeliner and come hither stares, that would undoubtedly make Brett Michaels a proud papa.

Joking aside, Daughtry’s live shows are great enough to have landed them on arena stages. With well-written songs and members who are very good at their respective instruments, why wouldn’t that be the case? In addition, they play well together, especially due to that aforementioned kinship, are honest about each other’s performance on a given night, and know when they hit the stage whether or not it’s going to be a good night. “I think it’s just an overall vibe kind of going around the arena or wherever we’re playing that day,” Daughtry says of the signals. “[Also] if we had good conversations with our kids, or our wives, you know what I mean? There’s no strife to worry about. There’s a lot of things that factor in; if we as a band are having a good day, soundcheck was good, our sound in our ears is great.”

Even though Daughtry himself is a Jack of all trades, right now he’s wholeheartedly a singer, songwriter, and musician, enjoying his band’s ride. “I’m very one dimensional as far as where my brain likes to put its focus. Once I find something that I am truly passionate about, I tend to put everything else on the back burner,” he laughs. “But I’ve been able to do everything that I’ve always wanted.” With that type of dedication and focus, it’s “No Surprise” that he’s made it this far.

Catch Daughtry on tour at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, on March 21 and Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum on March 26. Enter to win a VIP Package to see the Newark show here.