Chris Stapleton is renowned for his soulful voice and powerful music. While whiskey may be a recurring theme in his songs, the singer-songwriter is not a heavy drinker anymore. In a recent interview with GQ, the country-soul sensation confessed that he once engaged in a personal drinking challenge and ultimately surrendered, leading to a transformation in his lifestyle.
Stapleton discussed feeling like he had to have alcohol so that he could understand the songs he was writing, such as “Whiskey And You,” “Might As Well Get Stoned,” and of course his biggest hit, “Tennessee Whiskey.”
“I like to tell people that I got into a drinking contest with myself in my 20s, and I lost.” Undoubtedly, he was not the initial aspiring country artist to think that self-destruction was a necessary condition for establishing credibility.
When Stapleton was just 23 years old, he drove his Jeep Cherokee to Nashville, the vehicle that ‘literally started him down the road to superstardom’ to fully pursue his musical dreams. Striving to embody the traditional image of a country singer during his initial years in the city, he participated in excessive drinking, after entering an industry where drinking can sometimes seem like a requirement of the job.
Now 45, he has been largely sober for several years. His upcoming album, Higher, includes a song titled “The Bottom,” which addresses the thought process that accompanies excessive drinking.
“I didn’t have to go to rehab, but from a 45-year-old-man health perspective, a doctor’s gonna look at me and go, ‘Hey, man, probably cut out the drinking,’ and I’d be like, ‘Okay, cool.’”
“I’d be lying if I said that I don’t like going out and playing a show to a full house of people. Especially when you’ve played for no people. That’s the drug,” he says. “But to be famous for the sake of being famous….That was never the main want.”
The ‘main want’ of what he came to Nashville for was not to be a star but to be a writer. Stapleton mentioned how the notion of writing songs was not the part of the industry he wasn’t familiar with. “What was foreign to me was learning that when George Strait sang a song, he didn’t necessarily write it,” he said. “When I found out that there was this golden job where someone would pay you to sit in a room and make up songs…I thought, ‘Man, that’s the greatest job in the world.’”
During the pandemic, the Stapletons began going to therapy together. “It was a way to kind of help us navigate what the world was, what that meant to our family, to our business,” he said.
“When you’re younger, you feel like you have to do certain things in order to occupy some of these spaces, to make yourself feel like you’re legit. You want to feel things. You want to be able to write about things authentically,” he says. “If somebody working a different kind of job drank themselves to death in the name of being better at that job, it wouldn’t make sense to anybody. We wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, he must have been the greatest electrician who ever lived.’”
Eventually, he realized that his relationship with alcohol wasn’t healthy and decided to get clean for his health and the sake of his powerful voice.
It’s easy to see why many emerging artists and songwriters in the music industry might feel compelled to drink to “fit in,” particularly when numerous country music legends were notorious for their struggles with substance abuse. It’s the agony of these battles that often yields some of the most profound songs, but this can mislead artists into believing they must experience that pain themselves to keep pace.
Stapleton has undeniably debunked this notion, setting an example that should ideally dispel the myth that drugs and alcohol are indispensable in the music industry.
As Stapleton gears up to release his next album, Higher, on November 10, we are excited to hear his new powerful songs!
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Take a listen to Stapleton’s heartfelt “Whiskey and You” below!
A comment on the Youtube video reads, “I drink because I’m lonesome. And I’m lonesome because I drink. This line every alcoholic or addict relates to. It’s brilliant.”