Last week at the CMA Songwriters in Gateshead I had the pleasure of interviewing all four Songwriters before the show. I was really excited to sit down with Chris DeStefano who has a string of number 1s under his belt recorded by other artists and who had written some of my very favourite Country songs. After just releasing a single himself just a week before I was eager to talk to him about his songwriting career and where he was heading next and his performance in the round was incredible as he played hit after hit and showed off his many talents including rapping! Here’s what Chris had to say when we sat down to chat.
How did you first get into Country music and when did you decide songwriting was what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
I kind of grew up writing and singing songs, I grew up in New Jersey but I grew up way out in the Country in New Jersey which you know typically people think of New Jersey and think of a built up, “whole lot going on” kind of place but I grew up out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by farms and everything. I was always that kid who had a guitar with me, singing and playing songs whether they were songs I’d written or cover songs and it took me a long time to get to Nashville and without making it too long of a story I went to school for music and went to LA and worked on music out there and through my publisher I ended up taking a trip to Nashville and it came full circle for me when I went for the first time and realised wow this is a town which really centres around music and the song, kind of what I grew up doing, an acoustic guitar, a melody, a lyric. That was in about June 2010 and I immediately fell in love with it, so it was a little bit of a back door way of getting in to Nashville but it was home from day one.
So your full time job is a songwriter and everyday you go in writing songs for different people, so if for example you’re writing a song for a female artist how do you get into the zone, how do you change your mind set when writing for different people?
Well I think we just try to take an idea and just try to write the best song that we can around that idea. A lot of times you’re not thinking, lets write for a particular artist or whether it’s a male or female artist, it’s just lets write the best song we can. Other times we know that there’s a certain artist that’s really looking so we’ll focus in on crafting a song around that particular artist, it’s always a little bit different and it’s in the moment, as a professional songwriter you’re always cautious of who’s looking for songs and how you can focus in on that but I feel like always focussing on the song is first and foremost the priority.
Have you got favourite collaborators that you enjoy working with in particular?
Yeah I mean there’s quite a few, again Nashville is such a great community and we’re blessed to have not only the best songwriters in the World but some of the best people in the World, a great, great group of people. There’s a few people I collaborate with regularly and we get in a room and always have a great time and I feel like the best songs come from the most fun writing sessions where after you think how did we write that song, we just hung out for three hours and happened to get this song and sometimes it becomes a successful song!
That’s great, and a silly question now, what’s the strangest thing you’ve written a song about?
Good question! Well the first song that comes to mind was the first song I ever wrote when I was about six years old, I call him my brother I’ve known him since I was four years old, he’s not a blood brother but he’s as close to a brother as I’ve ever had and we were on vacation with our families and we wrote a song called Tuna Fish, I’m not lying! He’s still my best friend to this day and I was messaging him earlier as he was born in the UK and was a Navy pilot for twenty years and was a commander in the US Navy. He moved to the States when he was five, I was four and we joke about it to this day as we’re always trading stories of flying missions and everything he’s done, piloting the Hornet and F-35 Fighters and he’ll always be asking me about songwriting and producing so we share so many stories back and forth but we’re always reminding each other of that song Tuna Fish.
Haha! Have you tried pitching that song to an artist yet?
No definitely not! That might be the end of my career.
I’m a big fan of the song you wrote Little Toy Guns, can you tell me the story behind that please and about the writing process?
Thank you, sure! I wrote that song with of course the incomparable Carrie and my good friend Hillary Lindsey, in Nashville songwriting she is royalty. Hillary had this title Wooden Guns that she brought into the session, I had this musical idea that I brought in so basically the track, all the music you hear minus the vocal, lyric and melody. So we started throwing around ideas and Hillary had this idea wooden guns and we were talking about what the concept would be behind it and I remember us discussing it for a little while and Carrie said well what if the title was Little Toy Guns because fundamentally both ideas were talking about how powerful words can be and liking them to guns and it’s powerful “I wish words were like little toy guns” it has a big effect especially on kids and that was the perspective we wanted to write it from, this kid and this family that’s dealing with hearing their parents say some things that they wish they didn’t have to hear. It was a big song and I always talk about what’s really important, at the end of the day, that you feel like you’ve got something special. Singles are amazing and having all the acknowledgements and number 1’s is extremely special and we’re all very humbled by all that but the real winner at the end of the day is being a part of something that feels bigger than you.
What advice can you give to aspiring songwriters like myself and some of my readers?
I would say, write as much as you can, don’t worry about not finishing things if you feel like it’s not good, its ok to put something on the back burner and start something new. Always push yourself, try to remain inspired and not chase things, we’re all victims of that, we all get inspired by and affected by other music and it’s an important part of the process but I feel like to stay inspired and not chase things to the point where you’re disconnecting from what you really relate to. Me personally, I’ve been inspired by a lot in the past I feel like the most impactful songs have been the ones where I’m not chasing anything at all just letting it come through and enjoy it, enjoy the music, there is no advice you can give that will fill in the blanks for that just remain inspired and stay true to what you love. Does that make sense?
Yes of course, that’s great advice! Final question, what’s next for you?
Well I’m always writing, always producing but I just released a single last week which I’m really excited about called Wide Open and I wrote that song with Hillary Lindsey, Ashley Gorley and Dwain Whitmore and it’s on all the music services right now, Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music. It’s a real special song to me, I wrote it quite a few years ago but I feel like it really has resonated with me for quite some time so I’m excited to have released it and there’s going to be a whole lot more music coming. So now I’m trying to run parallel where I’m writing, producing but also releasing some of my music as well using the Ed Sheeran, Ryan Tedder business model so to speak. I just love performing and I hope you enjoy the show tonight, I love performing and singing songs whether they be ones I wrote for myself or other people.
You can listen to Chris’ single on most streaming sites like he said and it’s available to buy on iTunes. Check out our song of the day playlist on Spotify as we have added it to there!