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Music City

It’s mid-afternoon in St. Louis, and Chris Lane is on the phone. In a few hours, the decidedly pop-leaning vocalist will be taking the stage at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, warming up the crowd for Nelly and his good friends Florida Georgia Line. As he notes with a chuckle, “Nelly’s from here, so it could get wild.” The good-looking North Carolinian, who just topped the charts with the slightly steamy, dreamy come-on “Fix,” is slated for the first slot of the massive duo’s three stadium shows with Backstreet Boys and Nelly this summer. But to Lane, time spent with Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley is strictly old-home week. Long before the collegiate baseball player was swept up by Big Loud’s Seth England, the 32-year-old was playing the same local bar circuit as FGL, proving to himself that chasing the dream wasn’t so crazy after all. Steeped in old-school R&B and a fair measure of swooping boy-band gestures, producer Joey Moi crafted a dizzying bit of euphoria for Lane’s Girl Trouble. With “For Her” hitting the Top 20 and an album of ebullient grooves to draw from, Lane is ready for a summer making music and chasing the next adventure.

Playing stadiums is a big deal.  
After college, I thought I’d be playing baseball in one of those stadiums, not music. Goes to show you. 

Any thoughts about going into places like Boston’s Fenway Park and Minnesota’s Target Field. Those are slightly bigger than most venues.
There’s only one of me, so I’ll try to move around a little more. Just try to cover as much ground as I can, and still give a good show. On the first weekend out with FGL, their catwalk is so much longer than what I’m used to, I wore myself out. Pacing is important, and so is getting the breathing right. I move around a lot, and singing the way I do, it takes a lot of air.

That falsetto in and of itself is a pretty athletic proposition.
We landed on the falsetto thing by accident. Most country songs don’t have that. But I’m a big fan of Usher, Backstreet and Justin Timberlake. I was in the studio one day, and I sang this lick from Usher, I think maybe “Nice and Slow,”  and my producer was like, “ What was that? You never did anything like that before.”  About a week and a half later, my manager Seth sent me “Fix.”  That song really changed the course of everything; we went down a little different path and shifted to what you hear. And obviously, what’s happened on the radio with that song...

Nobody in country is doing that.
Yeah, and I really like hitting that falsetto. I just need to work on my breathing, making sure I have enough air. Working out helps with lung capacity.

So what makes a song click for you?
The way I hear music, the feel of the song, is what makes a song for me. I like the lyrics, you know, and it’s important—especially with a song like “ Live Like You Were Dying,”  But those come along only every once in awhile. So I try to write as many songs as I can, but songs that feel good.

Being at Big Loud, you’re in fast songwriting company.
Yeah, Rodney Clawson and Craig Wiseman. They threw me in with the big dogs, who’ve written 20, 30 #1s—and some of my favorite songs. It’s exciting, and it’s scary. You’re wanting to not say something stupid, so they’ll never write with you again, so you get real quiet. 

Craig is a great guy. I’d think he’d have some wisdom for you.
“Just relax.” They could all tell I was very nervous. He’d say, “It’s just a song—you don’t have to worry about it. Don’t worry about the best possible line, just say what’s on your mind. Even if it’s not the best thing, it might spark us to think of something.” And then, once you get to know them, it gets easier.

You’ve evolved the way kids used to, playing in bars, playing other people’s songs.  
I didn’t know what to expect when I moved to Nashville. I was in a cover band, booking shows for myself. I’d never written a song with anyone except my buddy, who wasn’t a professional songwriter either. But I was playing a lot of the same clubs as FGL. I’d finally put out my own CD, and it wasn’t great, but I’d moved on from playing covers. There was some word of mouth about it; managers and labels were coming in.

That’s how I met Seth, who came and brought Craig and Joey, who’s now my producer. Seth didn’t just say what he was going to do; after he laid it out, he started showing me by his actions. There were Florida Georgia Line dates coming up, a small tour—and he put me on them with nothing really going on, stuff like that.

Have you taken any of the discipline you put into baseball and applied it in music?
The music business has been a lot of hard work. Every day of the week, I’m going to write or whatever else they need me to do, whether it’s radio visits or shows. But as a songwriter, every day I’m really trying to push myself, trying to make every song better.

And you’re a student of the game.
I’ve been able to open for FGL and Nelly and Kenny Chesney and tour with Rascal Flatts, all last year. I go out front every single night to the soundboard, and I really watch what they do. I see how they put their show together, study the pacing, see how they manage momentum and connect with the fans. I really look at what they do.

Do you have a moment like that in your show?
There’s a song called “All About You,” and it does create a moment in the show where I can sing to someone—one person—and in that moment where you’re connecting with that one person, everyone is connecting with you through them.

What would you call your musical style?
Country’s always been where my heart is, but it’s so broad right now, it’s all over the place. I love what Chris Stapleton is doing, and Sam Hunt. I still listen to Garth Brooks a whole lot. I bought my mom those box sets he put out, but then I stole’em. And...

I like a lot of Chris Brown too.

You’ve got an album called Girl Problems. When was the last time you had girl problems?
Probably high school [laughs]. I dated a few girls in college, but I was playing baseball, and it never turned into anything. Now I’m so focused on my career, I don’t have time. Maybe that’s my problem—I don’t have a girl.

 But you do have goals.
My next goal is to get another song out there. This is a year of firsts for me, starting with a #1 single. But even beyond the music, there’s other things. I played Augusta National for the first time, and it was incredible. It isn’t music, but it makes you go, “Wow.”