Entertainment Music Country Brett Eldredge Opens a 'Window of Magic' to Make His New Album: 'There's So Much More to Who I Am' Applying his exquisite voice to "Songs About You," the country crooner takes his music to new heights of emotion: "I just want it to mean a lot to somebody" By Nancy Kruh Published on June 17, 2022 04:10 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Brett Eldredge is renowned in country music as one of its finest singers. Yet, he says, it's taken him years to truly find his voice — that deep-from-the-soul power to say something meaningful with the instrument in his throat. "As a creator," he tells PEOPLE, "you hope that the music you're making is important to somebody, and that it's profound and it can change lives. That's what I always hoped I could do, because music has changed my life in so many ways." No doubt Eldredge has set a high bar for his music, but critics and fans alike agreed he cleared it in 2020 with the release of his last album, Sunday Drive. Now, with his latest album, Songs About You, out June 17, the country crooner has genuinely reached cruising altitude. Brett Eldredge's Songs About You. Warner Music Nashville The promise — and promise fulfilled — that he displayed on Sunday Drive is clearly at full peak on this new album, an exquisite 38-minute journey of meaning and emotion. In total, the 12 new tracks stand as bold testimony that Eldredge is now less concerned with chasing hits than chasing great music — not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course. Still, Eldredge admits he has spent far too long obsessing over chart positions at the expense of his own artistic yearnings. "Defining success has changed for me a lot since I started my career," says Eldredge, now 36 and a dozen years removed from his debut single, "Raymond." "When you first start, you're like, how many number ones can we get? Then you've got to follow that one up with another number one. And then it's got to be number one or else. And you're so grateful for them, but then you start getting worn out from it all. And then you start to see things a little bit different, like, well ... there's so much more to who I am." Brett Eldredge performs at the Songs About You album release party. Nancy Kruh Eldredge is well acquainted with the top, with seven No. 1s, from "Don't Ya" (2013) to "Love Someone" (2019), but he also has paid a price for the grind. In recent years, the artist has been open about his struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, often triggered by the pressure of performing. Call Him 'Mr. Christmas'! Brett Eldredge Embraces His Holiday Music Role: 'It Is My Full Passion' A side project, his 2016 Christmas album, Glow, reconnected him to why he'd fallen in love, as a boy, with the power of music — and the project's critical and popular embrace told him that he'd opened a new creative door. But walking through it first required some hard work on self-care as he tried to understand why his life felt so unmanageable. Over time, he's found a new way of living with the help of therapy and other healthy habits, including meditation, journaling, and frequent outings in nature. And he's finally turned down the volume on the critic who's fed his career anxieties the most. That, of course, would be Brett Eldredge. "I've gotten to this point where I'm like, oh, I am really good at this," he says. "I really do know what I'm doing. I mean, I don't know if you ever have it completely figured out, but I know I have a good instinct, and I'm gonna trust that instinct. I'm gonna trust that I am really good at this." Brett Eldredge. Cal + Aly The first fruit of this realization was Sunday Drive, an intimate, voice-forward album that showed what Eldredge could do when he finally gave himself full permission to follow his own muse. Despite its critical acclaim, the project had unintentionally poor timing, coming out at the height of the pandemic lockdown. Eldredge was unable to capitalize on the rapturous reviews with touring, nor did his singles — plucked from an album that is greater than the sum of its parts — do well on radio. Brett Eldredge Breaks Down Over 'Sunday Drive' Music Video: 'I Bawled When I First Watched It' Eldredge admits his disappointment, but he says, he refused to let it shake his confidence. "At the end of the day, I got to a place where it was like, I feel really proud of this music and I really feel proud of the person that I am," he says. "And yes, an older version of me would've said, 'I can't believe that song didn't even make the top 10.' The version of me now is, 'Ah, it's kind of a bummer that it didn't top the chart, but also, no one's making a song like that. I'm the only one that's doing that type of song, and that's my own thing." Brett Eldredge performs at the Songs About You album release party. Nancy Kruh Something else happened once touring resumed last year: He finally was able to experience audience reaction to Sunday Drive songs. "They weren't huge chart-topping songs, but the whole crowd was singing them," Eldredge says. "I've felt so much passion from the shows for that record, and that made it worth it. Maybe it wasn't my biggest record commercially, but I think it was my biggest record on an important level of – timing or not – this is the time to say it." Brett Eldredge on How Being Back on Stage Gets Him to a Better Place Mentally: 'We Need Each Other' Brett Eldredge. Warner Music Nashville The response only emboldened him for his next project, and he set out to pour even more of his newfound confidence into it. By the end of 2021, the album, his fifth, was complete, and he presented it to his manager, John Peets. "I felt really good about it," Eldredge says, and then, during the meeting, he suddenly didn't. "We're kind of going through all the songs," Eldredge recalls, "and I said, 'I want to try to beat some of this stuff. I'd love to have the opportunity to try to push myself a little bit farther.'" Peets signed off on Eldredge's self-imposed marching orders. "And when I pushed and I pushed, and I gave myself the space and time to think and to listen to life and feel things," Eldredge says, "I started finding this voice that I hadn't had yet as a writer and an artist." Brett Eldredge. Nancy Kruh He calls it a "window of magic," and it was open wide. Every day, he says, he was waking up to a new song idea. "I was in this place where everything was making sense to me now," he says. "I knew exactly where I wanted to go with this, and I was going there every single day. I beat the entire album that I had done last year, basically, in two months." He says this as a statement of fact, not a boast — but then, he has the music to back him up. Songs About You is a necklace of twelve gems, each with its own sparkle, from the unbridled joy of the first track, "Can't Keep Up," to the achingly sweet sadness of final track, "Where the Light Meets the Sea." Every single song was co-written by Eldredge — and both lyrics and melodies shine with masterful, evocative themes. Every single song also was crafted to fully exploit the potency of Eldredge's singular voice. The singer is acutely aware of the power he possesses in his vocal cords — "it's overwhelming, to be honest" – and he understands now that his particular vocal gift is his ability to move listeners. "I feel that's why I'm here," he says. "I feel like I have a voice that can connect in that way. There're a lot of things I'm not great at, but something I feel I'm really powerful at is being able to emote. So when I get done telling my story in my music, I just want it to mean a lot to somebody." In Songs About You, he's stacking the deck for that to happen. "I promise you there's not a wasted song in there," he says. Eldredge lights up as he talks about each song, particularly two of his favorites, "Hideaway" and "Wait Up for Me," the result of a last-minute, go-for-broke writers' retreat with Mark Trussell and his longtime writing partner Heather Morgan (who also lends vocals to several album tracks). Brett Eldredge performs at the Songs About You album release party. Nancy Kruh At the time, Eldredge says, he thought the album was finished — again — but he still felt an impulse to push, so he spirited Trussell and Morgan off to a remote ranch in Montana to sit by the fire and await inspiration. "It felt like we were hiding away from the world, just enjoying the moment of tranquility and peace," Eldredge recalls, "and 'Hideaway' came up, and it just really spoke to my soul." Beside the fireplace, Eldredge recorded a work tape with Trussell alone accompanying him on guitar. The track so captured the moment, the singer made the heretical decision to put it on the album, complete "with the fire crackling and the imperfections." "At one point in my life, I would not have had the instinct to say 'we're gonna go with the demo,'" Eldredge says, "but that's the most honest thing. You can't recreate the first time you're excited about something." "Wait Up for Me" is the result of a goal that Eldredge set for himself for the Montana trip: to write a "really intimate, personal, sexy song that spoke, one on one, to somebody." The track turned out to be as sacred as it is sexy, carried by Eldredge's warm, tender reading and a piano's restrained accompaniment — again, just the way the artist wanted it. "It is sexy, but in a way that's so much deeper than just like a sexy song that says 'light the candles' and do all that stuff," he says. "I was just so moved by writing that song." The emotion of the song, he says, is a reflection of how his own heart has changed through his recent self-reflection. "I'm much more aligned with who I am now," he says, adding, "I've opened myself up so much to love now. I'm not necessarily in love now, but I'm definitely making moves in that direction and allowing myself to feel those things." Before, he admits, he let his career stiff-arm his emotions. "So now it's so interesting to allow myself to feel things," he says. "And also, I feel like, OK, I am a good person to love. I really do feel like I'm a good guy. I'm proud of the person that I am, and I would love to share this journey with somebody, and I'm open to that now. I think this music really speaks to that more than I've ever really done before. I really believe it, and you can hear the belief in these songs." And, Eldredge is quick to point out, you also can still hear his struggles: He knows he remains a work-in-progress, and his mental health still takes his constant vigilance. That's no more apparent than on "Get Out of My House" a song that is easily interpreted as an indignant end to a bad romance, but Eldredge says he actually was inspired by the bullies who like to take up residence in his own brain. "You have the choice," he says, "to let those things either weigh you down or you can say, 'You know what? I'm not letting these worries, these thoughts control me. Get out of my house! You're not getting any real estate in my head.' And that doesn't mean it's always perfect, but this whole record kind of has that feeling of kicking things out and finding what's important and taking control." Perhaps that's why Eldredge hopes listeners "go along for the whole ride," rather than cherry-picking tracks off the album. He thinks about the classic stylists he grew up listening to — Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole — and how they taught him about the sanctity of album music. "I want to hear somebody that has something important to say," he says, "so important that they're grabbing you by the shirt and saying, 'I've got something to sing to you. I've got a story to tell you, and you're gonna want to hear this.'" At the moment, Eldredge is feeling that same sense of urgency as he considers where he'll go next with his career. "I think this record is still leaving a lot of room to grow because I've just started to lean more into my influences and lean more into myself," he says. "I've only got a window of time to do this. I'm still young, but there is a window of time where I get to say something about my life and about others' lives. And I want to take that window and I want to make every minute of it count. I have a lot more to give in this life, and I have a lot more to say. And I have a lot more amazing music to make."