So much for the audition…
His new album, DAUGHTRY, on 19 Recordings/RCA Records fully delivers on that promise, but what's most striking about the North Carolina native's debut is the skillfulness with which he blends his hard won attributes: The rugged voice tempered by an even sturdier sense of place. The audacious appetite for risk reflected in his hardscrabble on-the-road writing sessions with proven rockers -- some of them his own formal idols -- like Brent Smith of Shinedown (Chris even covered one of their songs on Idol), Mitch Allan of SR-71, and Hinder producer Brian Howes. Emboldened by riveting collaborations such as "What I Want," "It's Not Over," "There And Back Again," and the probing "All These Lives," it's evident Daughtry possesses a durable songwriting presence of his own.
Helmed by Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, All-American Rejects), the album thoroughly mines Daughtry's instinctive ability to deliver accessible music at every turn, veering from pop gems to tight-fisted rock anthems. Chris particularly rises to the occasion on one of the songs penned solely by him, the stunning ballad "Home." "That song means a lot to me in so many ways," he says. "It's also one that I wrote even before I did the show, though it somehow seems to capture how far I've come along." More proof of Daughtry's uncanny ability – as one LA Times critic recently put it - to "find the story" in every song he attempts.
Daughtry has also assembled his very own band (aptly called DAUGHTRY), signaling that the charismatic vocalist is more than willing to put it all on the line. He committed to an intense audition process right from the start, determined to achieve that crucial bond between members. Daughtry summoned his keen instincts when meeting and choosing the players who would eventually become his band, tapping into both the interpersonal chemistry and musical compatibility of the guys who would eventually make the cut.
"I began my music career as a songwriter, but I've always believed in the power of a band. The great moments are when you're able to capture that extra special connection between members that you can't really define. That's what I'm striving for. We've found the right guys and I'm really excited about the prospects of what we can do. We didn't have time to feature them on the album but I can't wait to hit the road with them." For Chris, who drew consistently rave reviews on the summer-long Idol 5 jaunt, mixing it up with his own players will give his live show an even greater dimension. "There's nothing like the camaraderie of a band. That feeling that you're surrounded by a group of people who feel closer to you than just about anybody. It makes such a difference in the music."
And as for the music - poring over songs in some hotel room "at 3:00AM with guys who only a year ago I was dreaming about meeting one day -- well -- it still blows my mind sometimes," he says. The combustible process produced a hefty batch of 21 songs for Daughtry to draw from. "I never wanted to dictate a set path when we started working with the writers," he says. "They are all so different, so awesome in their own way. One of them would fly in and we'd have a go-around and something would start from that." He wrote three songs with Brian Howes, citing the resulting "What I Want," as the kind of "out-of-the gate, upbeat rocker people will expect from me. I remember we liked it so much we listened to it in the car after the session. Brian is great, so full of ideas; he's like a one-man library of music." The song also piqued the interest of acclaimed rock guitarist Slash, who dropped by the studio to thread his legendary guitar work into the blistering mix.
Another song Daughtry fans should immediately relate to is the first single and blazing rocker "It's Not Over." "It's one of my favorites. I did it with Greg Wattenberg (produced Five For Fighting, and does A&R for Wind-Up Records). It's about relationships that you ultimately screw up but swear you're going to get right the second time. That feeling when you keep doing the same thing thinking you're going to get a different result, still, you keep trying." Daughtry was also eager to write with Brent Smith, frontman for Jackson, Florida band, Shinedown. "He was great to work with, not to mention that I've stolen a few moves from him on stage as well." The two are both huge Chris Cornell fans, and penned what Daughtry refers to as one of the "heavier" songs on the album, "There And Back Again."
The range of material suits the disciplined vocalist. "I've never believed a song has to have a rock edge, or be part of one genre or anything like that to be viable. I've been writing songs since I was 16, and my goal has always been to approach the process with an open mind. Songwriters I really admire are people like Robert Plant or an Elton John, who aren't setting out to write a rock song everytime -- but a great song that stands on its own no matter what. I also believe it's what you do with the song that matters, as well."
Chris recalls a moment from his Idol experience where he realized he was winning over rock fans purely on the power of his edgy interpretations. "I'll never forget I was invited to this hard rock radio station weenie roast, and I thought 'should I go, they'll probably sneer at the whole Idol experience.' I went anyway, and was thoroughly embraced by everyone there it was such a great feeling. Rob Zombie came up to me and told me he watched the show and loved what I did. Now that was really an honor."
The singer also cherished the experience of consulting with BMG U.S. Chairman Clive Davis, also known for his legendary commitment to good songwriting. Davis has even been known to choose some of the songs for the final Idol rounds. "He was a great guy. Very good at seeing the entire picture," says Chris. "I brought in my guitar and played 'Home' for him. I couldn't believe it was Clive Davis sitting two feet from me as I sang. He said some very encouraging words to me."
Such encounters have made Chris aware of how he might be able to help struggling musicians who have yet to be discovered. "I'll never forget what it was like. To go from playing in front of 50 people to an audience of thousands. I'm always trying to hook up bands I've played with, encouraging whoever I can. It's why I work so hard to make these songs unique. I owe to those who've supported me and to those still trying to climb up that ladder."
It's that same passion, that sense of communal all-for-one-ness Daughtry so empathetically telegraphs to his fans that he poured into the making of the album. "Yes we were in crunch time, making it," says Daughtry. "But I never got the feeling I was going somewhere creatively that I didn't belong." Pure Daughtry. You get the feeling he's still "an event unfolding," wrote one critic, about his ability to extend his reach with every performance. A sensibility he's magically been able to capture on the new record.