Brett Eldredge Dives Deep Into Big-Band Horns, Sultry Love Songs on His ‘Songs About You’ Album [Exclusive]
To understand how Brett Eldredge approached the making of his new album, Songs About You, you have to look back at Sunday Drive, his last album, which came out in 2020. Sunday Drive found Eldredge at his most vulnerable: Both sonically and emotionally, he dove headlong into new territory on that record, and the response to the record proved to him that he was on the right track.
"I went deeper than I ever had," Eldredge tells Taste of Country, "so for Sunday Drive to take off in a way that just, people were so deeply connected with it...it gave me a lot of confidence to be able to expand on that, into what would be now this record."
"Confidence" and "vulnerability" are two words that Eldredge uses a lot when speaking about Songs About You. He followed his inner compass throughout the making of the album, so much so that in early 2022, when he thought the album was complete, he decided to go back into the writer's room, just to see if there was anything better and deeper that he could include on the track list.
"I was just like, 'I wanna try to go a little bit deeper and see if I can beat any of it,'" he remembers. "And I ended up beating the entire album in, like, two months."
That means that he closed out 2021 with one batch of songs earmarked for the album; after the first two months of 2022, almost the entire track list had been replaced with new material. "Want That Back" was a keeper from the original list, and so was "Where the Light Meets the Sea," a song that Eldredge actually originally wrote five years ago for Sunday Drive, but ultimately nixed from that album.
But the bulk of the record was re-imagined, Eldredge explains, to reflect his increasingly self-sure mindset of bold experimentalism. For example, in early 2022, he was fresh off his annual Christmas tour and the album cycle for his latest holiday record, 2021's Mr. Christmas. With that material fresh in his mind, he realized he wasn't ready to say goodbye to the swanky, big band musical motifs that fit so well onto his holiday projects. He wondered if he could find a way to marry some of that style with the singer-songwriter-informed country vibes of his non-holiday material, and the result was Songs About You's album opener, "Can't Keep Up."
"'Can't Keep Up' has incredible horn arrangements that are very New Orleans-y, a little bit. You feel like you're walking through the French Quarter in some ways. And I actually had the same guy that arranged my Glow and Mr. Christmas records do the horns for it," Eldredge says. "...Getting to have a huge horn section on this record changed the energy in general, I guess. It just brought a whole 'nother level of excitement to the song."
The horns aren't necessarily omnipresent on Songs About You — "There's three songs with horn arrangements on this record, I believe," Eldredge notes — but they add character and color to the project as a whole, and if he gets the opportunity to work with a horn section in a live capacity, the singer says he'd take the chance to throw some horns on some of his songs that haven't historically featured them — even older stuff.
"I mean, I could put horns on 'Don't Ya,'" he theorizes. "There's a lot of ways I could go back to some of my stuff and re-imagine it. Because even through the course of time of when my music first came out, that kind of music has been a big part of who I am, and it kind of fits into the swagger of some of that stuff."
Does that mean that the horn section will be joining Eldredge when he heads out on his Songs About You Tour this summer?
"You know, if we get this thing to blow up the way I think we can, I would sure love to bring a few," the singer replies with a laugh. "That's a whole other bus! And a lot of stuff. But I think this record's gonna do pretty good, so that could end up being a thing. I would love that."
Sonic experimentation is only one component of the vulnerability Eldredge accessed while he was making this record; another is the track list's wealth of love songs, especially songs that are perhaps a little sexier than anything the singer has released before. Eldredge points to "What Else You Got," which he says is a step sultrier than any of his previous love songs.
"There have been some songs that have been intimate, but never straight sexy, where it's you and that person and you can feel the layers," he recounts, adding that he related to the love songs on his new record in a way he never has to songs he's put out in the past.
"I'm not necessarily in love but the idea of it is something I'm open to for the first time, I think, ever," Eldredge explains. "I'm very open to sharing this journey with somebody, somebody that sees the good in me and I see the good in them."
That mindset shift made it easier for Eldredge to get specific, and personal, with his love ballads.
"[It] made me be able to get a little bit more vulnerable with the love songs, other than just a feel-good love song or a sexy love song that's intimate and goes a little more into the steamy stuff — whatever. I'm not afraid to say those things! It's a beautiful thing," he continues. "This is a deeper dive into the love song that I definitely never have come close to touching."
He finishes the album with a track that's equally intimate in a very different way: "Where the Light Meets the Sea," the one song on the album that's five years old, which he wrote out in California while creating his Sunday Drive album. Eldredge says he decided not to include "Where the Light Meets the Sea" on that record because he was afraid it might compete with the title track and not wind up getting the spotlight he wanted it to have.
"It's heavy in a good way," Eldredge says of the song, a piano-heavy meditation on the eventuality of death — and a prayer for a peaceful transition to the next stage or chapter, wherever that may be, after our time on Earth is over.
Before the record came out, when the singer would play the songs for people at his record label or on his team, his management office always dimmed the lights in its listening room when "Where the Light Meets the Sea" came on.
"Because people almost always cry when they hear it," Eldredge says. "It broaches on the inevitability that we all aren't here forever, and you know, we're all looking for hopefully taking this somewhere else.
"Really, we're all searching for heaven, and I think it's a search for yourself," he continues, after a pause. "It's a search for where the light meets the sea, of always longing to go out there and look for that. The human aspect of that is so interesting to me, and very much something we all go through. I just think it's so relatable. It's heartbreaking and comforting at the same time."
Songs About You arrives on Friday (June 17.) Eldredge's Songs About You Tour opens on Sunday (June 19) with a stop in Wheaton, Ill., before kicking off in earnest on July 22.