Interview: Charlie Worsham Is Still Hungry — But He’s More Content, Too
It's been four years and a few months since Charlie Worsham last released new music, but he's been anywhere but gone.
You can find him on Eric Church's Heart & Soul collection, which arrived in April; on Carrie Underwood's My Savior gospel album, an Easter 2021 release; and on Okie, the 2019 record from Vince Gill, with whom Worsham also toured for a time. He's a former temporary member of Old Crow Medicine Show, too, having stepped in after guitarist Chance McCoy left the band in 2019.
"I sort of got this cosmic pat on the back through Vince and Old Crow ... and the balancing force that is my wife [since 2018], Kristen," Worsham reflects, "that was like, 'Dude, you're playing on people's records, you're singing harmony with your hero. You're doing this, and whether or not the timing of your big hit song happens the way you want it to, you're gonna be doing this as long as you want to do it.'"
In 2020, Worsham earned an ACM Specialty Instrument Player of the Year nomination, largely based on his work with those other acts. As a solo artist, meanwhile, he's been touring and playing live in Nashville, holding down a regular gig at the venerable Station Inn and hosting his popular Every Damn Monday concert series. In fact, he has played all but one song on his new, six-song, Jay Joyce-produced EP Sugarcane live in recent years (the exception is "Half Drunk," a song he wrote during the COVID-19 pandemic, for obvious reasons).
"The way that my music story is unfolding for me is so much richer than it would have been if I'd had all the things I wanted the year I signed my record deal," he reasons. "I've had some time to grow up; I've had some time to understand myself and to build my life around something other than a chart position. I'm not in control of this, and I'm glad that, at this point, I've at least come to understand that part of it."
Though Worsham remains signed to Warner Music Nashville, he's yet to score a major country radio hit. His debut album, 2013's Rubberband, landed in the Top 15 on the country albums chart, and its lead single, "Could It Be," also went to the Top 15 at country radio; a second single peaked in the 30s, and both his sophomore album (2017's Beginning of Things) and future singles failed to chart.
"It's not lost on me that most people in my position would have been dropped by now," Worsham says, who is adds that he's "grateful" for his label's continued support. He's clearly got fellow artists supporting him, too, and during a conversation about his new music, Worsham references the "permanent place" in the country music industry he's earned through his near-decade as a major-label artist and a sought-after musician.
And yet, he says, he doesn't always feel so secure. "There is a voice in my head — I call him my roommate ... and that is the voice that says, 'You don't have your hit song yet. That's what gives you a seat at the country music table,'" Worsham shares. He's gotten better at telling that little voice off, though, because "if I went back and told 13-year-old me what I did this week or last week, or any given week of the last decade, 13-year-old me would not believe it — would lose his mind ..."
"While I do recognize that there are factors outside of my control, that may shape how my role in country music looks and feels, what I don't worry about at this point is ... I'm going to make a living making music that I genuinely love and believe in, and making my own records, too," he continues. So, sure, he's hungry for chart success and a hit song, and still hopeful that both happens for him someday — but he's chasing it less.
"I feel like, in a healthy way, I've detached my expectations from it," Worsham says of releasing Sugarcane — out Friday (July 16) — "because I have a quiet confidence within that knows how good the music is, knows it's the best record I could have made. And it's still proud of the other records I've made, because they were they also were the best records I could have made."
Nonetheless, Worsham digs into his career insecurities and frustrations in "Fist Through This Town," a song that's quiet — restrained, even — in its anger. The artist says it's the first time he's been able to get that honest about his feelings regarding the struggles of trying to "make it" in the music industry, and how those experiences affect not only him, but others, too — specifically, his wife.
"I'm not necessarily just angry about the card I got dealt; it's that girl in the second verse — it's seeing somebody you love not get a fair shake," Worsham says, adding that once he learned not to mask fear with anger, he was able to understand that there was sadness wrapped up in there as well.
"Anger and sadness are two sides of the same coin. They're both very important and useful emotions that we don't often enough give space for ...," muses Worsham. "I think that what you hear in "Fist" is the evolution of my understanding of anger.
"It's no longer just about me," he adds, "and it's no longer just about being angry as much as it is: Anger honors injustice, and injustice is really sad."
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