Brett Eldredge Shifts Into a Higher Gear on ‘Sunday Drive’

Brett Eldredge Shifts Into a Higher Gear on ‘Sunday
Drive’, Shop Ticket Snatchers

By any measure, Brett Eldredge
has had a very successful career: he’s scored eight Top 5 hits on
Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, including five No. 1s, he has
a thriving touring business (until the pandemic), and a devoted fan
base. And yet, he felt there was something missing.

So he did something rare for a country artist, he unplugged—
from the road, from recording and, literally, from social media. He
took time off to do a major personal and professional reset. And
when he was ready, he began writing again.

On Sunday Drive, his first studio album in three years for
Atlantic Records/Warner Music Nashville, out Friday (July 10), he
switches into a higher gear. Prompted by work he did on himself and
challenged by new producers (and co-writers) Daniel
Tashian
and Ian Fitchuk, he created his
most compelling set yet, full of musical diversity and heart. First
single, “Gabrielle,” stands at No. 43 and climbing on this
week’s chart.

The Illinois native, who recorded the album live in Chicago,
talked to Billboard about his media blackout, letting himself be
vulnerable and why he sees the album as a new path for the rest of
his career.

For several months as you started working on this album,
you stepped away from social media. You had a guitar, a flip phone,
a note pad and a Polaroid camera. Why did you feel such a drastic
step was necessary?

I was very well known for being somebody that was on social
media. I would wake up and I’d be singing into my phone and all
this crazy stuff. I love connecting with my fans in that way, but I
got to the point where I was using so much creative energy just to
do that it would wear me out before I got to the stage. I set out
to be an artist, a musician, and it was a great tool, but I
didn’t want to be known as just as some social media guy.

I wanted to put the focus on music and not that I get the
distraction of staring at your phone all day and what that did to
my mental state. I started to get very aware of that and how
anxious it would make me feel and and how distracted it would make
me feel from the real stuff in my life that I needed to feel and
experience and live through and also write about.

How did your social media hiatus affect what we hear on
the album?

The whole process kind of moved into my music as well, even down
to when I went to record the album and capturing the imperfections
and let them be what they were. I think social media is really
hard. We need to put some perfect life on there. And I got tired of
trying to live that perfect life. I wanted that imperfection. I
wanted to find that. That’s why I went down that route. It made
my music 10 times more powerful than I’ve ever experienced.

The album starts with “Where the Heart Is” in which
you’re clearly looking for a connection. Why make that the
opening statement?

The map of this whole album came from “Where the Heart Is.”
Putting that song first really puts into perspective what I was
trying to do, which was find the magic in the world again. I was
kind of burnt out on music and this life feeling dull. I’d just
been running so hard on the road for so long, then all of a sudden,
that’s your life, you know? I had to go find that magic that I
felt when I first moved to Nashville, when you didn’t get a peek
behind the curtain. Back then you just saw it for the beauty that
it was and you’re chasing down your dream.

This is your most musically diverse album, encompassing
many styles. Did you challenge yourself to stretch your
boundaries?

I think this is the most honest, real version of myself I’ve
ever been able to be. It was less like trying to be like, “Okay,
I want to have a song that sounds seventies pop here, one to sound
classic country and this one to sound R&B.” It was more
finding some really creative guys that see that I have so many
different influences. Let’s write these songs and let them be
where they are and then follow where my heart was going. We
weren’t even trying to make it a certain way. It’s just they
were allowing me to be the kind of the artist that I was always
hoping I would be able to find. Not that none of the [previous] records weren’t me, but I think it was finding my way to get to
this point where I was like, “Okay, I gotta pull all the layers
back.” It made me a little bit uncomfortable because it was out
of my comfort zone. That’s exactly what I needed.

On Good Morning America recently you talked about
mental health and therapy. The song “Good Day,” which came out
of your first writing session with Ian and Daniel, seems like an
outgrowth of that and trying to get your mind right.

Yeah. That’s the whole idea for everything with me. I was
starting to get self aware of the things that were holding me back
in life. Mindset is everything. I started to feel that negativity
in my mind at times. And I knew I needed to change [to] waking up
and say, “Even if everything’s stacked against me right now,
today I choose the day to be a good day and I’m going to put my
best foot forward.” That’s the first song we wrote together.
Once we got done, sometimes you walk away from a room hoping you
said everything you want to say in a song and I think we really did
with that.

The title track is the one song on the album you
didn’t write. How did it find its way to you?

I was an intern at Universal Music Publishing and I worked in
the tape room. It looked pretty much like a glorified dungeon with
a bunch of CDs all over the place. I was transferring CDS to MP3s.
I would hear all these songs by tons of different writers, hundreds
and hundreds of songs. This certain song popped out when I heard
it. I was just blown away by “Sunday Drive” by this guy named
Barry Dean that wrote there. [Dean wrote the song
with Don Mescall and Steve
Robson
].

It felt like this certain song was written for me, the way I
grew up and the way my relationship is with life and my family and
everything. Obviously I didn’t have a record deal yet. I didn’t
even have anything going on really. I was hoping one day I can get
known for my music and I can put this on an album. And lo and
behold, one day I do get a record deal. But I’m still not at the
spot in my life where this song makes sense, I still need to do
some more living.
The years kept going by and albums go by and this album came up and
that was a very reflective time in my life. And I was like, this is
the time. To be able to give a song life after 12 years or whenever
it was that it was written was so special to be able to share to
the world and share with the writers. It’s one of the most
special songs I’ve ever recorded.

You sound like you can’t wait to get on the road and
play these songs. How are you dealing with not
touring?

I started the year touring Europe and it was amazing. I had
these life-changing kinds of experiences and shows there. Not only
did I give myself freedom to make this music, I gave myself freedom
to get this incredible band and we’re playing music better than
I’ve ever played music before. We’re learning all these new
songs and the energy. I’m locked into a place now to where the
music on stage is following the music off stage to another level of
depth that I think will give me the opportunity to do this for
decades and decades to come because I know my heart’s in it
now.

By any measure, Brett Eldredge
has had a very successful career: he’s scored eight Top 5 hits on
Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, including five No. 1s, he has
a thriving touring business (until the pandemic), and a devoted fan
base. And yet, he felt there was something missing.
So he did something rare for a country artist, he unplugged—
from the road, from recording and, literally, from social media. He
took time off to do a major personal and professional reset. And
when he was ready, he began writing again.

On Sunday Drive, his first studio album in three years for
Atlantic Records/Warner Music Nashville, out Friday (July 10), he
switches into a higher gear. Prompted by work he did on himself and
challenged by new producers (and co-writers) Daniel
Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, he created his
most compelling set yet, full of musical diversity and heart. First
single, “Gabrielle,” stands at No. 43 and climbing on this
week’s chart.
The Illinois native, who recorded the album live in Chicago,
talked to Billboard about his media blackout, letting himself be
vulnerable and why he sees the album as a new path for the rest of
his career.
For several months as you started working on this album,
you stepped away from social media. You had a guitar, a flip phone,
a note pad and a Polaroid camera. Why did you feel such a drastic
step was necessary?
I was very well known for being somebody that was on social
media. I would wake up and I’d be singing into my phone and all
this crazy stuff. I love connecting with my fans in that way, but I
got to the point where I was using so much creative energy just to
do that it would wear me out before I got to the stage. I set out
to be an artist, a musician, and it was a great tool, but I
didn’t want to be known as just as some social media guy.
I wanted to put the focus on music and not that I get the
distraction of staring at your phone all day and what that did to
my mental state. I started to get very aware of that and how
anxious it would make me feel and and how distracted it would make
me feel from the real stuff in my life that I needed to feel and
experience and live through and also write about.
How did your social media hiatus affect what we hear on
the album?
The whole process kind of moved into my music as well, even down
to when I went to record the album and capturing the imperfections
and let them be what they were. I think social media is really
hard. We need to put some perfect life on there. And I got tired of
trying to live that perfect life. I wanted that imperfection. I
wanted to find that. That’s why I went down that route. It made
my music 10 times more powerful than I’ve ever experienced.

The album starts with “Where the Heart Is” in which
you’re clearly looking for a connection. Why make that the
opening statement?
The map of this whole album came from “Where the Heart Is.”
Putting that song first really puts into perspective what I was
trying to do, which was find the magic in the world again. I was
kind of burnt out on music and this life feeling dull. I’d just
been running so hard on the road for so long, then all of a sudden,
that’s your life, you know? I had to go find that magic that I
felt when I first moved to Nashville, when you didn’t get a peek
behind the curtain. Back then you just saw it for the beauty that
it was and you’re chasing down your dream.
This is your most musically diverse album, encompassing
many styles. Did you challenge yourself to stretch your
boundaries?
I think this is the most honest, real version of myself I’ve
ever been able to be. It was less like trying to be like, “Okay,
I want to have a song that sounds seventies pop here, one to sound
classic country and this one to sound R&B.” It was more
finding some really creative guys that see that I have so many
different influences. Let’s write these songs and let them be
where they are and then follow where my heart was going. We
weren’t even trying to make it a certain way. It’s just they
were allowing me to be the kind of the artist that I was always
hoping I would be able to find. Not that none of the [previous] records weren’t me, but I think it was finding my way to get to
this point where I was like, “Okay, I gotta pull all the layers
back.” It made me a little bit uncomfortable because it was out
of my comfort zone. That’s exactly what I needed.
On Good Morning America recently you talked about
mental health and therapy. The song “Good Day,” which came out
of your first writing session with Ian and Daniel, seems like an
outgrowth of that and trying to get your mind right.
Yeah. That’s the whole idea for everything with me. I was
starting to get self aware of the things that were holding me back
in life. Mindset is everything. I started to feel that negativity
in my mind at times. And I knew I needed to change [to] waking up
and say, “Even if everything’s stacked against me right now,
today I choose the day to be a good day and I’m going to put my
best foot forward.” That’s the first song we wrote together.
Once we got done, sometimes you walk away from a room hoping you
said everything you want to say in a song and I think we really did
with that.

The title track is the one song on the album you
didn’t write. How did it find its way to you?
I was an intern at Universal Music Publishing and I worked in
the tape room. It looked pretty much like a glorified dungeon with
a bunch of CDs all over the place. I was transferring CDS to MP3s.
I would hear all these songs by tons of different writers, hundreds
and hundreds of songs. This certain song popped out when I heard
it. I was just blown away by “Sunday Drive” by this guy named
Barry Dean that wrote there. [Dean wrote the song
with Don Mescall and Steve
Robson].
It felt like this certain song was written for me, the way I
grew up and the way my relationship is with life and my family and
everything. Obviously I didn’t have a record deal yet. I didn’t
even have anything going on really. I was hoping one day I can get
known for my music and I can put this on an album. And lo and
behold, one day I do get a record deal. But I’m still not at the
spot in my life where this song makes sense, I still need to do
some more living.
The years kept going by and albums go by and this album came up and
that was a very reflective time in my life. And I was like, this is
the time. To be able to give a song life after 12 years or whenever
it was that it was written was so special to be able to share to
the world and share with the writers. It’s one of the most
special songs I’ve ever recorded.
You sound like you can’t wait to get on the road and
play these songs. How are you dealing with not
touring?
I started the year touring Europe and it was amazing. I had
these life-changing kinds of experiences and shows there. Not only
did I give myself freedom to make this music, I gave myself freedom
to get this incredible band and we’re playing music better than
I’ve ever played music before. We’re learning all these new
songs and the energy. I’m locked into a place now to where the
music on stage is following the music off stage to another level of
depth that I think will give me the opportunity to do this for
decades and decades to come because I know my heart’s in it
now.

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