Chris Stapleton’s newest album Starting Over—out this Friday, November 13— was finished in February, just before Covid-19 forced everyone into lockdown. So, what’s he been doing since?
“I started riding a bicycle,” he says. “I’m 42 years old and decided it’s a good idea to start riding a mountain bike. It’s been good—just a kind of release. In no way am I going to switch careers or anything.”
Stapleton says that biking helps “turn off part of your brain,” clearing space for the creative process to take place. Since the release of his first solo studio album, Traveller, in 2015, the singer-songwriter’s hearty, bluesy singing and poignant songwriting have made him one of the most popular voices in music. (Traveller was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year, and went on to become the best-selling country album of the decade.) In 2017, after his breakout success, he released another couple of albums (From A Room: Volume 1 and From a Room: Volume 2) that followed suit: stories about finding grace and gratitude in living and loving hard, authentically told and powerfully sung.
Though Starting Over explores some of the same themes, Stapleton says that instead of drawing on what he calls his “sack of songs”, the album contains mostly new tunes. In that way, he says, it’s more “a slice of life than some previous efforts.” But it still mixes beautifully stark songwriting with blues, country, and rock melodies, allowing Stapleton’s sturdy, propulsive vocals to carry the show. It’s not hard to imagine Starting Over keeping you company for however much longer this lockdown lasts.
With his All-American Road Show tour pushed to 2021 because of the coronavirus, Stapleton has spent most of his time this year at home outside of Nashville with his wife Morgane and their five children. GQ spoke to him there last week, his voice dialed down to its steady Southern roots, about the new album, and getting back on the road.
GQ: How’d you get into biking?
Chris Stapleton: I hadn’t really ridden a bike since I was a kid. We’ve got some trails [on our land]. My birthday was coming up, and my wife was like, “What do you want?” I was like, “I think I want a bicycle.” The property we live on is really hilly. My goal was, “I’m going to get up that hill and I’m gonna come back,” and then it expanded over time. My son’s got a bicycle so he gets out and rides with me.
How has this pause affected your work or creative process?
It’s a vast change just in the amount of movement. I haven’t necessarily been as proactive and aggressive as a lot of my counterparts in trying to figure out new ways to work, perhaps in the hopes that we can get back to the way we used to work [laughs].
But it’s good to be still. I have a far greater appreciation for what I have gotten to do for a living: traveling and seeing the world, seeing people and playing for people. I have a far greater appreciation for that than maybe I ever have. I miss it deeply. I’m sure you’ve heard people bitching about the road or being road weary. I’d give anything to be that tired [laughs]. And I was never one to really bitch about it.
I hope we come out on the other side of this with a deeper appreciation for some of the freedoms that we got to enjoy, some of the things that we just really, truly took for granted. For me, working is that. Playing live music. It’s an itch I don’t get to scratch. There’s an energy of people in a room listening to music, and you get to play music for those people, and that’s when music truly lives. The making of the music is great and it’s fun, but the life of it is that. I look forward to that coming back to life.