Songwriter Session: Chris Janson
Singer-songwriter Chris Janson will perform, offer insight into his creative process, and share stories behind songs from his new album, Everybody. Janson wrote his singles
While Taylor Swift was busy on her pre-album launch media tour, we caught up with the singer to get her thoughts on taking time off, her favorite Music City eats, and the idea behind 1989’s wildly popular debut single, “Shake It Off.”
Did you have any idea “Shake It Off” was going to be such a huge hit right out the gate?
One of the main things Max [Martin] and I wanted to do when we went into the studio is to make something that didn’t sound like anything either of us had ever done before. I hadn’t played around with a horn section or Motown vibes, and neither had Max, so we built this song from the ground up, and it turned into this very obvious chorus. I couldn’t believe it had never occurred to me to say, “haters gonna hate, players gonna play, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake it off.”
The video took three days to shoot, but what was the process like to coordinate all those moving parts from concept to completion?
When you’re shooting a music video before a song is even out, I approach that with a very high level of paranoia because I’ve never done things like that before. I’ve always put out a song and then shot the video, like, two weeks later. So going into this, it was very much a mission and a project and a secret kind of hush-hush thing, so I had to know what director I wanted to work with right off the bat. There was no sending out the song and getting directors to write treatments. I knew I wanted to work with Mark Romanek. I knew that would be my dream guy, and if he could in any way clear his schedule or make some room or meet with me, I knew he would be the one I would want.
So I played him the song early, and after one listen, he said, “I’m in. I want to be a part of this. This song is insane.” That was another really good indicator for the song for me. I was really excited when that was his reaction, because [Romanek] is very busy and has moved onto working more in film…and he hadn’t really ever done an artist concept before. He’s always thought of the concept and presented it to the artist, so this was a new working process for him. I told him that I wanted to make this song about a big, giant dance metaphor—like, “how you dance is how you live your life”—and this metaphor about fitting in and not fitting in but not caring if you don’t fit in because eventually you’ll find who you fit in with.
What did you have to bribe them with to keep that a secret for so long?
Basically, I just gave them a very, very long talk. And I asked them really nicely and somewhat desperately to please keep this secret for me, because I said it’s the biggest secret I have right now. And it’s all I have right now. “Please don’t tell anyone about this. You weren’t here. You can scream it from the rooftops after this is over. But please, please be the exception. Be the one group of people in this day and age who can keep a secret.” And they went and did that.
Do you ever take a day off?
I’m one of those people who, in my mind, I classify it as “a day off” if I just have five hours free. Because I don’t like to feel overworked and I don’t like to be one of those people who complains about how exhausting their job is. People who whine about that are, I think, statistically less fun to be around. You cannot live your life this way. I classify my days off as what other people consider workdays, but it keeps me sane, which I guess is the main goal at hand here.
We hear you tell a lot of people in New York what to do and eat in Nashville.
Most of my friends—or even people I’ve met once at a party—will reach out and say, “give me a Nashville guide.” Seth Meyers and I were just talking about that, and he emailed me asking me what to do. And, basically, I’ll give this very comprehensive, broken down, organized guide: “If you’re looking for this type of experience, try this and this and this. If you’re looking for shopping experience, go this, this, this. If you’re looking to experience more of a touristy bar situation but if you’re looking for sore of under-the-radar speakeasy type of situation, go here, here, here. If you’re looking for this type of music, go here, or if you’re looking for this type of music, go there.” So honestly, I could keep you on the phone for an hour telling you about my recommendations for where to go to in Nashville.”
You recently bought a place in Manhattan. Are we in danger of losing you to NYC anytime soon?
I’m not anyone who can be anywhere permanently. Things get very, well, "social" when I’m in a place for more than three days. I’ll go out to a restaurant in one of the cities I’m in, and all of a sudden there are lot of people around, lots of paparazzi on planes heading to where I am. I just sort of have to, at this point in my life, hop around, which I’m comfortable with doing. I don’t really have any reason not to hop around right now.
What Nashville restaurants are you loving?
I stick to the things that are old favorites for me. I love ordering sushi from Virago, I love Fido and the Hillsboro Village area. I love 12 South—everybody loves 12 South—but there’s also something good there. For me, when I’m in Nashville, I do a lot of cooking and a lot of ordering in now, because usually I just want to spend time with my mom and dad. Oh! The Silly Goose is another one that I always order from.
You have a bit milestone birthday—your 25th—coming up in December. Any plans for that?
I think I’m scheduled to be on a transatlantic flight on my birthday. That kind of says everything, doesn’t it? I should probably think of something to do other than a big TV performance in the UK. But I think that I go into game time mode [when launching an album]—I have a birthday every year, but I don’t get to promote a record every year.
So really, this entire fall is like your ongoing birthday party.
Yeah, I’m just really excited about this entire season—this fall and this winter.