Chris Young spent his 30th birthday celebrating a bit of the old and a touch of the new.
Specifically, the Tennessee-born country star received word that his 2011 album Neon — a record that yielded the No. 1 singles Tomorrow and You, as well as three previous singles, 2013's Aw Naw and the 2014 hits Who I Am With You and Lonely Eyes — had all achieved gold status in sales. The same day, Young turned a fifth studio album in to his record label. The as-yet-untitled work is already being represented on country radio by a chart-scaling new tune called I'm Comin' Over.
"Grinding out the end of my 20s and going into my 30s, it was pretty cool," says the co-headliner of this year's Red, White & Boom festival at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. "We brought things in really, really good.
"I'm glad I'm Comin' Over is the first single, because it's a good sonic bridge between what the last record (2013's A.M.) sounded like and what this album is going to sound like. There is some different stuff on there, and I mean not just in the songs we recorded. I mean in the sound of it. Even what I did with my vocals is a little bit different. But so far, so good, I guess. People seem to be liking the single."
The upcoming album will also feature a guitar cameo by a country veteran (Vince Gill) and a duet with a comparative newcomer (Cassidy Pope). But perhaps most important, the record represents the latest growth spurt in a hitmaking career that has expanded in increments, not in a sudden blast of chart popularity that usually signals a short career shelf life.
"Obviously, being able to go in and make a record that I'm really happy with and am really excited about, one that I got to be a co-producer on and that I wrote most of the songs for is really big for me," Young says. "But everything else is going well, too, especially from the touring side of things.
"I went over and had a big couple of shows in Australia and had some fun down there. I did some stuff in South Korea and Japan, too. This fall we're going to do a headlining tour. On top of that we're also going to be over in Europe for three weeks. Everything over there is already sold out, so we're at a really good place right now."
Young is no stranger to Kentucky audiences. He co-headlined a concert with hitmaker Lee Brice (a performer at the 2014 Red, White & Boom) last winter in Corbin. Locally, he made three consecutive visits to Rupp Arena opening shows for Alan Jackson and Josh Turner in 2010, Rascal Flatts and Luke Bryan in 2011 and Miranda Lambert in 2012. Such bills, along with the collaborations on his forthcoming album, reinforce the healthy state of collaboration Young said has always existed in country music.
"I think you've always had that through the history of country music," Young says. "That's something that is definitely there and you see continuing. I mean, it's such a big opportunity for all of us to work together, like at CMA Fest (the CMA Music Festival held in Nashville earlier this month) or at any of the awards shows. Everybody wants to hang out and see people that they know.
"Nashville is a big town, but it's also a small town. There are not a whole lot of places to hide. If you're in country music, you're going to run into everybody else. You get a chance to open for each other and play with a lot of people. You get to know everybody that way. That's something that runs true, for sure."
As for the duties his career calls upon that rely strictly on his own contributions, Young feels blessed. They make for a hectic work schedule, but one with enormous rewards that extend from the accolades of fans to his records to the still-present thrill of concert performing.
"I don't know if there is any way to describe all of this other than it is truly what makes me happy," Young says. "I'm really lucky. I say that all the time, but it's true. There is a lot of hard work, a lot more behind the scenes work, that goes on than a lot of people realize. But the gigantic upside is every day that I wake up, I'm working on stuff that has to do with music. I just feel really, really lucky to still be doing that.
"We talked a little bit about my career having a kind of a slow growth arc instead of a spike up and then a spike back down. I really count myself lucky for that, too. People don't always get to have their career work that way. I'm almost 10 years into my label deal and I feel like, in some ways, this is only the beginning. There is a lot of room for me to grow."