Q&A: Chris Daughtry
Daughtry barnstormed across the U.S. this summer as the band neared the end of its marathon tour in support of fifth studio album, Cage to Rattle. It’s been a long road from American Idol for bandleader Chris Daughtry, but his voice sounded no worse for wear as he spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen by phone from Portland in advance of Daughtry’s Oct. 4 concert at the Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel.
You were playing just about every night in August before taking a break over Labor Day Weekend. Does the band sustain itself on fan energy at times like that?
Yeah, I mean, I think that always kind of becomes the energy source no matter how long we’ve been doing this. I always say, “That hour and a half you’re out there is what makes everything worth it.” You could be having the worst day ever and as soon as you get out there and feel that energy and the excitement, it kind of recharges you. A lot of times I’m not sure how we got through it (laughs), and, uh, especially on some of these three-in-a-rows, or whatever, where you’re doing it every night and that third one is like, “How was that even better than the first two?” A lot of times it’s the fans.
Is there a sense of exhilaration that comes with the final stretch of a tour? You’ve basically rounded third and are heading towards home plate.
Luckily right now we haven’t been out for months on end. We’ve been, I think, touring a little bit smarter in the sense that we’re home more than we’re on the road. It’s a healthier balance.
You didn’t book any shows over Labor Day Weekend this year.
(laughs) Oh, that just happened to … we got lucky this year, as we just finished up and went home for it. Yeah, we didn’t really plan that one out. It was definitely nice to be home. I think just being smarter about it and not being out for months on end is how we keep our own sanity and energy up.
Do you think you’ll still be closing sets with “Purple Rain” by the time you get to the Hard Rock Hotel?
We’ve been doing that for a few years, actually. It seemed to be a little cliché right after he had passed, but we had been doing it for years up to that point so we just kind of kept it in there. Some nights it doesn’t seem like the right time to do it, and most nights we just go right into it. That fans seem to love it too, so I don’t see why not. We’ll probably keep that in there for a while.
I think by now it’s past the point of having cliché trappings. Eric Clapton’s been closing his shows with it too.
Oh, that’s cool!
He really soars while soloing. I imagine it gives Josh (Steely, Daughtry guitarist) some room to stretch out a little bit and express himself.
Oh, absolutely, absolutely. He definitely has a good time during that slot. It gives him some room to get off a little bit. (laughs)
What does Prince mean to you, artistically?
Man, I was a fan ever since I was a little kid. As a matter of fact … you know, I’ve lost a lot of heroes in this journey in music, and people that inspired me. That was the first time it ever hit me … it was unexpected too. I read the news and I just started bawling. I don’t even know why. It wasn’t like I was friends with him or anything like that. I guess me meant more to me that I realized, as far as his influence on me as a vocalist and just listening to him as a kid. All of that nostalgia comes into play. I was fortunate enough to meet him a couple times but we never had any kind of meaningful conversation or anything like that.
He was omnipresent. Even if you weren’t thinking of him you couldn’t escape him, at some points in time.
Yeah. His influence was more as a singer. I’m definitely not anywhere close to the musician he was.
He can be an influence on several levels. One of them is simply growth and evolution.
You’re playing at least half the songs from Daughtry’s latest album in your most recent sets. You’ve evolved since those songs were written, before they were recorded.
Oh, 100 percent.
Have fans take to the material from Cage to Rattle in the year since its release??
Yeah, it’s crazy. When this record first came out we were terrified at the prospect of opening with such a high note—a very different song for us, which is the opening track on the record, “Just Found Heaven.” No energy, whatsoever. Just, it drops out and it’s piano and a vocal. We were just like, this is either going to really backfire on us, or it’s going to work out like I see it in my head. I always saw it as kind of moody, moving into the energy of it all as opposed to blasting everybody’s ears with something that’s big and loud. It just turned into this super spiritual experience where it feels like it’s both captivating and it has this huge release to it. At the same time we were scared of playing too many new songs. We started with two or three and we kept adding a couple here and there. I think we play more of that record than any of our records live. That’s not always the easiest thing to do with a band like us, especially when we had our biggest hits back in the day. It’s kind of risky. You feel like you’re going to lose the crowd, and the fact that I play “Home” by myself, without the band, in the middle of the set and not saving it for the end, and nobody’s leaving, that’s a good sign. It’s been overwhelmingly incredible, the reception that we’ve gotten on this record. Maybe not as much commercially, but the way the fans reacted to this as opposed to Baptized or Break the Spell, I think it’s exactly what we hoped for, exactly where we want to be.
I think people want music they can chill to right now. I think if you released “White Flag” five years ago it would have sounded different. It’s like you removed any kind of bombast to minimize the effect of it being overwhelming. It brings you into the mood of the song rather than pummeling you.
Yeah, exactly. We’re older, too. Tool just released their new record and we love listening to that stuff. It’s in our bones. It’s in our blood. We love listening to big and heavy guitars, and we know there’s a place for them too in our own music. We don’t like beating people over the head with every song. When a song like “White Flag” comes along, or “Back Home,” and you’re able to do that and it doesn’t seem so overindulgent, or like you said, pummel people in the face with it. It has a mood and maturity to it, and it still accomplishes that big rock that we love. And it goes over better than any song in the set. (laughs) Lately it’s gone over quite well. We do a chant in the middle of it with the crowd, and they get involved with it. I think it kind of takes an unknown song and makes them feel a part of it.
What do the songs mean to you when you’ve written, recorded and performed them on tour? What are we talking about, a three-year arc? Do you feel you’re a different person than the guy that wrote them?
I do, but at the same time I feel like I’m still dealing with a lot of those struggles I was dealing with when I wrote them. You know, a lot of that self-doubt. Pure human emotion. Things we deal with on a daily basis. Am I good enough? Should I be doing this? That whole … I’m kind of over this now, but during the time of making the record it was like, “Am I relevant?” Or “Is this even what people want to hear from us now?” All of those things, as human beings, we deal with on a daily basis. Am I doing enough? Could I be doing more? All of this stuff still plagues us, I believe, and these songs are kind of therapeutic in a way in how I see them helping other people. And the fans. How are they connecting with them in their own way, in their own personal way? All the songs tend to take on new light as they go on, but for me … it’s easy to kind of go through the motions after performing a song for so many years, or whatever. It’s easy to do it and feel like you’re not really doing it, not really connected to it. For some reason I still feel really connected to these songs from this record that we perform live. It feels really good that we created something that feels like it’s only grown over this two-, three-year arc of touring on it, as opposed to “I’m sick of these songs. Let’s go write a new record.” It’s taken on a new life for us as much as it has for the fans.
Yeah, there’s an indication, or a sense that you get of a person that’s been struggling but closing in on resolve, even if he’s not quite there yet. It feels like you’re relaxing.
Yeah. I think I even take a different approach with the way some of these songs are presented live, as far as the meaning behind them. “Backbone” originally came from me looking at social media and thinking that everyone else’s life was better than mine, and realizing their life sucks too. (laughs) Now I come at it from a place like, we should be pointing a finger. We should be raising each other up, elevating each other as a society and a people, and standing together and having backbone together. As a songwriter I tend to find different meaning in my own lyrics, what I meant when I wrote it versus how I feel about it now. It’s amazing how they can take on completely different meanings and still have the same impact.
It had been five years since you released your last album of new material, Baptized. You took the opportunity to stretch out, playing Judas Iscariot in Tyler Perry’s televised musical The Passion in 2016, but the musical landscape has changed drastically since you were on American Idol and even since you started touring for this album. How do you see yourself adapting to the future in a five-year plan?
That’s an interesting question. Yeah, that five-year gap was a weird one. We toured on Baptized then we toured on (It’s Not Over. … The Hits So Far), then we wrote the new record and toured on that. I definitely don’t want to take five years between this record and the next. I’ve already been doing a lot of writing over the past year and have gotten some solid ideas on how we want to approach the next chapter of Daughtry and touring, and direction and so forth. But as far as wanting to branch out, I’ve got a Spider-Man comic cover coming out Oct. 30, so I’ve been back dabbling a bit in comic books.
That follows a Batman cover from several years ago, right?
Yeah, yeah. I like that idea of doing a couple of covers a year. I have no interest in doing interiors, but I definitely love that medium and that art form so much. My first love before I found music was comic book art, and I’d love to do more TV and film it that opportunity arises.
Did you create your own logo for Daughtry?
No, but the one we have now is the first one, for me, that feels like a logo. We got a designer to create that because before it felt like the logo was whatever the label chose to do, whatever font, for that record, and it just never felt consistent. We created this logo I think before the greatest hits record, and we want to stick with this one. It feels like something that doesn’t have to change per record, and we had never done that before. It’s always weird when it’s your last name, too, because it doesn’t lend itself well to some amazing logo like Pearl Jam, with the little stick figure and the hand, you know what I mean? I feel like it just reiterates the fact that I wish we had a better band name.
I have a mental picture of you in school at some point figuring out “Daughtry” lent itself well to a band name and starting to work on logos.
I wish I was that forward thinking! To be honest it didn’t occur to me. My boss at my job right before American Idol always called me by my last name. It was kind of like military, he just called everyone by their last names and it just kind of stuck when it came time to decide what the project was going to be after Idol. I didn’t want to just go with a name …
Then again your last name isn’t “Pickler.” … and it worked for Bon Jovi, “so let’s see how it works out.”