Singer/songwriter/producer Chris Cagle has been of the most consistent, hit artists on the country charts for six years now. His first two albums (Play It Loud and Chris Cagle) were both certified gold, and his latest a;bum Anywhere But Here on Capitol Records, is approaching gold. Cagle has enjoyed top chart success with such singles as ‘I Breathe In, I Breathe Out’ (which went to #1), ‘Laredo,’ ‘My Love Goes On And On,’ ‘What A Beautiful Day,’ ‘Chicks Dig It,’ and from his latest album, ‘Miss Me Baby’ and ‘Wal-Mart Parking Lot.’
In addition, Cagle may be on the verge of having one of the biggest hits of his career. Waiting in the wings to be released as a single, is his title cut ‘Anywhere But Here,’ which is a powerful, emotional ballad that Cagle believes will be a career song for him.
However, despite this success, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for this country star. Back in the ’90s, Cagle struggled for years before he landed his first record deal. And in the past two years, he’s had to recover from physical and personal issues (including a divorce), which led to severe exhaustion and the loss of his singing voice. In fact, Cagle had to rest his voice for a full three months (with no speaking or singing) in 2004, before he could begin work on his latest album.
In an exclusive new interview, Cagle spoke about the songs on his latest CD, plus his successful vocal cord recovery. He also talked about how he got his start in the music business, and how he co-writes and co-produces his albums. Lastly, when asked, he gives advice to new artists and songwriters who are trying to break into the music business.
Here is the Q&A interview with Chris Cagle. He was very pleasant and personable to speak to, and he was also willing to speak very openly (and sometimes bluntly) about his career and about the music business.
DK: Your vocals sound excellent on your new CD. How did you recover from your vocal cord problems?
Cagle: I had some nodes on my vocal cords. My doctor ordered me to rest my voice, with no singing or talking for 90 days. It was a tough time for me. As an artist, losing your vocal cords is a potentially career-ending condition. But fortunately, I was able to make a full recovery, and sing well on the new album. Also, I’ve learned to sing in a more natural way. The thing that’s changed with this record compared to my first two albums, is the dynamic of the vocal. I’m not just singing hard at everything. I’ve been learning, listening to people like Conway Twitty, and there were times during recording when I’d think, ‘Yeah, that’s natural. That’s what you want.’
DK: Back in 1994, you moved to Nashville from your hometown of Houston. I read that you met legendary songwriter Harlan Howard when you arrived in Nashville.
Cagle: I met Harlan Howard at a restaurant. I played him songs and he said I sucked. He gave me advice — he told me to write 50 more songs and then play him the latest 10. That’s what I did, and he did end up publishing one of my songs.
DK: You’ve written most of your own hit songs. Did you write all the songs when you first shopped for a label deal?
Cagle: Yes. I knew I had to have some potential hit songs, when I was shopping for a deal. Three of the four songs on my demo-shopping CD turned out to be key songs on my first album: ‘Laredo,’ ‘My Love Goes On And On’ and ‘Play It Loud.’
DK: I noticed that you have co-produced all three of your albums. That’s impressive that your label (Capitol Records) gave you approval early on, to let you be your own producer.
Cagle: The original demos on my shopping CD were well produced, so the label had the confidence in me to produce my album. I was honored that (Executive Producer) Scott Hendricks gave me that creative control. It meant the world to me, that such a great producer as Scott, who has done so much for country music (producing Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Trace Adkins and many others), would have the faith in me, to give me that creative control. As it turned out, we were able to produce that first album at a very reasonable cost.
DK: Do you like producing your own albums?
Cagle: There’s a lot of responsibility when you’re also your own producer. It’s my ass on the line when I record a new album and I’m also producing — all the blame is on me if the album doesn’t do well. But producing it yourself is the way to get the record right. Also, I’m fortunate to have Rob Wright as my co-producer on all three of my albums. Rob is brilliant – he’s great to bounce ideas off.
DK: How do you like to write your songs? Do you have a certain writing process?
Cagle: When I write songs, I just sit down with my guitar. The music (the chords and rhythm) usually comes first, then I write the melody. Then I try to make the words fit the music. What I try to do, is listen to the music and the mood. The key is being well-read, and being a great listener. Most of my songs are written from personal experience, but are not necessarily autobiographical. The song could be about a moment that happened, which was special or unique.
DK: Do you consider yourself more of a songwriter than a singer, or vice versa?
Cagle: I consider myself a singer and songwriter equally. I wear two different hats. Also, I know that I’m lucky to be able to write songs and make a living at it. Writing ‘Miss Me Baby’ was therapy for me. I like getting paid to write songs instead of going into therapy. ‘Miss Me Baby’ is a song that I wrote out of vengeance. It was one of those situations where I thought I hope that whoever she dates next can’t get it right, and she just thinks of me.
DK: I really like ‘Miss Me Baby,’ and I also like your title cut, ‘Anywhere But Here.’
Cagle: I’m very proud of “Miss Me Baby.” I also love ‘Anywhere But Here.’ I didn’t write this song, but it really captures what I felt and experienced. I think it will be a career song for me – my biggest record yet. ‘Anywhere But Here’ is a song that I just flat-out lived. When I had to face my issues with alcohol it was tough to do. There were times I did it in a quiet, hidden manner. That song just knocks me out. There’s something about that song that just slays me.
DK: Your new album does include several songs by other writers. How do you look for outside songs?
Cagle: What I do, is that I call my favorite writers, and I ask them to play me their newest songs. I don’t go to pitch meetings anymore. The songs I hear from publishers are usually songs that have been passed on already.
DK: I see that you’re back on the road, touring and selling out shows. And with your album delivering hit singles, it seems things are really going well.
Cagle: I’m on my first tour in a couple years. It’s great performing in front of fans again ‘ they let me know that I was missed. I’ve also been writing songs while I’m on the road. As for my career and current album, I think I’m right where I’m supposed to be, where I need to be. I try to learn to be content in all things. I know you have to work as hard as you can, and make it happen for yourself.
DK: Lastly, do you have any advice for young artists and songwriters who are trying to break into the music business?
Cagle: Yes. If you’re an artist, definitely keep your publishing. Publishing is a powerful thing to hold onto. If you’re a songwriter (and not an artist), you may have to give up some of your publishing. But get with the bigger writers if you can, to collaborate and work with them. Get with the big writers who already have someone at their publishing companies, who are pitching songs for them. That way, you will have someone indirectly pitching your songs, too.