Photo Credit: Curtis and Cort Photography
Grew up in Fort Lauderdale, FL, raised by a single mom who wanted you to be a country singer. You craved to be on stage and started acting. Which actors inspired you when you were young?
Patrick Wilson was a huge inspiration for me growing up. I always admired his ability to be a transformational actor. He was a graduate of Carnegie Mellon which was a huge reason it became my dream school!
After receiving your Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from your dream school, Carnegie Mellon University, you moved to New York City and continued acting professionally. You were cast in a show about the one night when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins came together for a one-night jam session on December 4, 1956, at Sun Records in Memphis. How did this role as Johnny Cash eventually influence your career as a singer?
This show was THE turning point in my career that put a guitar in my hand for the first time. The casting team could hear my country music influences vocally but the role needed to be a guitarist. Growing up with a single mom we didn’t have money for a guitar or lessons, but I knew if I said I couldn’t play guitar that would be the end of my opportunity. So when they asked, I said “I’m not the best..”
I went home that night, got a guitar from a pawn shop, practiced “Ring of Fire” for hours every day and sent a video to them a week later. I stayed with that show for nearly 2 years. I can honestly say the two biggest influences that I still feel from my time are the want to make every song have a strong story and the love to add rockabilly whenever I can.
You went on to tour through Europe on the Norwegian Cruise Lines, reprising your role as Johnny Cash. What are the unique challenges of performing on a cruise liner?
The biggest challenge of working on a cruise liner is the distance from reality. You’re on a ship that has everything you could want — food, gym, shows, traveling the world, new people…the list goes on and on. But it’s not reality. You’re away from family and have no connection to the outside world for days at a time, constantly in these beautiful destinations, but always leaving before nighttime. Don’t get me wrong, it can be the most amazing adventure and opportunity, but you can get tricked easily into thinking you don’t need anything more than what ship life offers. For me, though it was a means to an end, that job helped me save up enough money to move to Nashville!
And have to ask, what is your opinion of Austin Butler as Elvis in the Oscar nominated picture?
I was ready to HATE the movie and his performance, haha but honestly, he was ELVIS! The thing I think most actors struggle with is which Elvis do you play? Young Elvis? Karate Elvis? Hawaii Elvis? Vegas Elvis? Elvis was iconic for different reasons to different people. So even when someone does a great job of embodying one of the Elvis characters, people will still have their critiques because they remember him differently. I think he was so good at painting a true picture of him in every stage of his life, but the real selling point — what held it all together — was his STAR quality. Elvis had that indescribable power that few have ever been able to recreate, but Austin did.
One of your favorite Cash songs is “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.” What stands out about the song about a Native American man who was also an American soldier?
What always stood out to me about the song was far more than just the story told in the song but the story that goes with its writing and release. Johnny Cash was passionate about the message of “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” which tells the story of Ira Hayes, a Pima Native American who was one of the Marines that raised the American flag on Iwo Jima in World War II. Despite his heroism, Hayes faced discrimination and poverty after returning home. Cash’s record label, Columbia, decided not to promote the song for fear of what his more conservative fans would think. But Johnny Cash did what he does best and made his own path. Since Columbia wasn’t going to promote it, he personally bought back copies of the record from Columbia and hand-delivered them to radio stations, hoping to get the song on the airwaves. The song still didn’t perform well at the time but he didn’t care and would sing the song live countless times at shows.
The reason I love the song is it showed who Johnny Cash was. He was a trailblazer in country music, paving the way for other artists to use their music to address important issues. Yes, he will always be known for his middle finger rebel attitude, however, that rebel attitude allowed him to be a better Christian. One who actually spent his life doing what Jesus taught, giving back to those in need and standing up for those who can’t.
Nashville. First came a tornado that destroyed your rental home, leaving you homeless. A few weeks later the pandemic hit. Many artists have shared how those trying times taught them life lessons that strengthened their resolve to continue their careers. What was one life lesson that you learned going through those difficult times?
Before Nashville, I had been living all over. City to city, even country to country. When I came to Nashville I had promised myself that I was going to make this place my home. The pandemic and tornado hit almost immediately when I moved so at first, I was ready to take it as a sign that this shouldn’t be home for me. Luckily, due to the closures of the pandemic, I had a lot of time to sit with my thoughts. What I learned or I guess realized was I was wrong. They were signs that if Nashville is going to be my home I’d have to plant deeper roots. Ones that can’t be taken out by a storm or pandemic. That’s what I have done since. The tornado took my home, but not me. The pandemic took many lives, but not mine. I do not take that blessing lightly and believe that God has a bigger plan for me still and it’s my duty to make the most of every day because of that.
Cosmic Love, Amazon Prime’s reality series that followed four individuals as they attempted to find their perfect spouse via astrological matchmaking. “Chris E. is certainly a big presence in the house. From the beginning, he was a romance-a-holic with that Mr. Casanova charm. Basically, every stereotype of a Pisces.” Your take on how our signs affect our lives?
I still have a lot to learn about how our astrological signs affect our lives, but I feel my takeaway from the experience is that your birth chart gives you an opportunity to learn more about yourself. It does not decide your life but it can help you make your own decisions for your life.
Performing acoustic sets and at writers’ rounds across Music City along with being a performer in Ranch Hands Cowboylesque to teaching line dance and two-step at the Nashville Palace. A fun story from teaching dance to newbies?
One of my favorite line dance stories is from this past Halloween. I showed up in an inflatable dinosaur outfit. It’s like a 7-foot inflatable costume and I went out there and line danced. I was tripping over my tail the whole time!
“Swipe Right on Me,” “On The Inside,” “My Kinda Place,” and “Lie With Me.” How have your friends/supporters influenced the songs you’ve released?
I’d say the best part of the music that I’ve released is that I’ve had the best team who have given me nothing but support. With every song, I get to hear their feedback and I take that feedback and let it shape all of my future songs!
Now releasing “Time On You,” a love story. What inspired the write?
I wrote “Time On You” after talking with a woman that I was dating at the time. It can be really tough to date and be a full-time artist because you have to spend a lot of time and effort constantly writing, performing, plugging your music and working. Bringing somebody else into that life can be really hard, but we were on the phone one day talking about weekend plans and she said ‘it’s okay if you’re too busy, I understand,’ but I wanted her to know that even though I was incredibly busy, she was a priority to me. So I told her don’t worry I’m gonna spend some ‘time on you.’ I just kind of wrote that idea down. I had a write a week later, explained my thoughts and the song came pretty easily after that.
What’s ahead in 2023?
New music and shows. The past couple of years have been about learning, listening, and growing. I have a lot of new music that I’m really proud of and with all that music, the goal for this year is to set up a bunch of shows and bring that music to fans!
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