‘Nashville’ star Chris Carmack solo EP serves up myriad genres
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Getting hit in the face with a beer bottle was all in day’s work for actor Chris Carmack, who endured the fictional trauma for a pivotal scene on the hit series “Nashville” (airing Wednesday nights on ABC). His character, country singer Will Lexington — returning to live performance after revealing he was gay and subsequently plummeting from the Nashville music scene — was completely caught off-guard by a bigoted bar patron and his beverage. It made Will more determined than ever to have his voice heard.
“I have a real, true desire to understand Will and portray him as compassionately and accurately as I can,” Carmack said during a recent phone conversation. “It’s an important story line. I’ve heard through social media that his story is connecting with a lot of people. We’ve heard from fans who say that the character gave them courage to come out to their families. I never knew my craft would influence people’s lives. That’s a huge responsibility and one that I take very seriously.”
ABC’S ‘Nashville in Concert’
Featuring: Clare Bowen, Chris Carmack, Charles Esten, Will Chase, Jonathan Jackson, Aubrey Peeples
When: 8 p.m. April 30
Where: Rosemont Theatre 5400 N. River Rd., Rosemont
Also known for his role as Luke on the hit series “The O.C.,” Carmack has carved out a whole new audience via “Nashville,” which led to the release last December of his first album, the EP “Pieces of You.” He’s also currently on tour with the “Stars of Nashville,” a live concert featuring cast members from the series, which arrives April 30 at the Rosemont Theatre. (This summer the tour heads to the U.K. for its first international gigs).
Q. The album is not a hardcore country album. Was that an intentional departure from the music of Will Lexington?
Chris Carmack: It’s not about getting away from anything. I wrote these songs before I was on “Nashville,” actually. This was all about me visiting my musical past.
Q. Can you provide a few more details about that musical past?
CC: I grew up playing jazz sax. So music’s always been a big part of my life. I played in a blues band in Los Angeles for a while. I did some open mike nights and got offers to do some acoustic sets around town. I also come from a musical family. My mom played piano and sang when she was growing up. I asked for a saxophone one day because Lisa Simpson was playing the sax and I loved the sound of it. [Laughs] I was also in the drama club at school. Man, I think I did a lot of real uncool things now that I think of it, but I did convince half the football team to be in the spring musical!
Q. The songs on the EP criss-cross myriad music genres.
CC: I didn’t want them all to sound alike. So when I’m writing and recording I’m always thinking I’m gonna make this one a bit more jazzier, this other one a bit more country, or that one a bit more R&B or that one more Americana. I really wanted a variety of genres on the album. So when I went to record the album I was nervous there wouldn’t be a strong continuity among them. But turns out there’s a very strong continuity, lyrically and thematically.
Q. Does playing Will Lexington and singing Will’s songs affect how you write music?
CC: When I started playing Will I said I’m gonna go write a few songs that are a little more country and capitalize on this experience. But in the process of doing that, I felt like I was creating another character that wasn’t me. So If I was gonna do a project like this album I wanted it to be the real me. I wanted it to be very intimate, very exposed, very real. It’s that honesty that connects with people. Not everyone will like these songs, but I’m proud of them.
Q. You said this project is very personal for you. In what ways other than the songwriting?
CC: Music is something I’ve always wanted to do. So I’m going to investigate and take whatever possibilities that come my way both during the show and after it’s done. What I’ve learned is that the music business is just as hard as the acting business. This album is independently produced and released. My sister Kate did the cover art. My fiancée [Erin Slaver] is the hidden face in the coffee stain on the front of the album. Nothing has happened without me being the one to greenlight it or fund it or make the calls to keep the process going. It’s really hard and exhausting to do it that way, [Laughs] and not entirely profitable. If a label wants to step in and come up with a plan, I’m all ears!
Q. When you sing as Will, do you approach it differently than when you sing as yourself?
CC: At first, very much so. Because when Will’s character first came on the show he was the s—kicking man. So when he did sons like “Tough All Over” or “Showman’s Life,” I wanted him to have a little gravel around the edges. Now Will has really grown as a character and I’ve had to disguise my voice less in his performances. But I do still keep them separate for the most part.
Q. Who are your musical influences?
CC: I listen to a lot of old blues artists, Muddy Waters. And Buddy Guy is a musical hero of mine. He’s electric to watch.