Chris Sligh Rises Above His ‘Broken’ World
Former 'American Idol' contestant Chris Sligh released his new album, 'The Anatomy of Broken,' this week, his first under the Christian label, Word Records. The disc features songs the South Carolina native wrote or co-wrote about the ups and downs of life, a lot of it inspired by the therapy he is going through to tackle some of his own emotional pain.
Growing up, Chris never had any interest in heading in the direction of a music career; he attended Pensacola Christian College in Fla., to study law. Accidentally discovering his love for music, Chris transferred to Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., where he majored in voice performance. Despite having no previous formal instruction, the Contemporary Christian singer-songwriter proceeded to wow his instructors and was invited to audition for both the Juilliard School of Music and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, which he then decided were not part of his fated journey. Chris never finished college -- he was expelled before graduation after he broke school rules by attending a 4Him concert.
Before becoming a Top 10 finalist in season six of 'American Idol,' the self-deprecating star had tried out for the popular talent competition twice before, never getting past the first round. Once he was finally able to audition for the judges, he slayed them with both his personality [where he said his ultimate goal was to make David Hasselhoff cry, referencing the season when Taylor Hicks won and the actor actually shed tears] and with his vocal ability by singing Seal's 'Kiss From a Rose.'
Chris' first post-'Idol' album, 'Running Back to You,' was a major success, but creative differences with his record label led to a parting of ways. The old adage of "when one door closes, another bigger one opens," definitely came true. Last year, he signed a deal with famed Word Records, based out of Nashville. In the meantime, Chris was furiously writing for himself, as well as for other artists. In fact, one of the songs he wrote, 'Here Comes Goodbye,' ended up as a multi-week No. 1 hit for Rascal Flatts last year.
The Boot recently sat down with Chris at his record-label offices, to chat about his new album, 'The Anatomy of Broken,' being on 'A.I.,' impending fatherhood (his baby girl is due next month!) and writing a Rascal Flatts smash.
There are quite a few songs on the new project about being "broken." How autobiographical are they?
This record was based around this thought that we're all broken people. We all have messy lives, and that's not something to be ashamed of, that's something to be happy about, because we're all in the same boat. Even the most put-together person is screwed up. I read a quote one time that said, "Every one of us, no matter how good or bad our parents were, have to live in spite of our parents." The last six months, I've been in therapy dealing with issues from my childhood. As I've been dealing with stuff in my life, I've realized that all of us have these problems. My parents were great people, but ultimately I have stuff to overcome. We all have stuff that we have to overcome, and some people's stuff is more evident and some people's stuff is easier to see. To me, what this record is about is community. It's about saying, "I'm going to allow myself to be loved, and I'm going to love, because ultimately I'm broken [and] you're broken. My brokenness isn't any more bad than your broken. It's just different."
Your new single, 'Only You Can Save,' is one of the many inspiring tracks that stemmed from a personal experience.
'Only You Can Save' talks about me missing a chance to help a homeless guy on the side of the road. It was a hot July day, and I was sweating and just exhausted. It was one of those things that happened so fast and then as I drove away, I was struck by this feeling -- I literally felt God's hand go, "You really missed a chance to help someone there." So, I wrote a song about me messing up, and it's interesting that my first single [from this album] is all about me messing up and not doing what God told me to do. [laughs] But I think that that's the point of this record -- that we can be honest about our failings, while at the same time being happy about the things that we see as successes. There's something very special about a community of believers finding community with people who don't believe in the same way, but yet we can find common ground because we're all messed up.
You were raised in a strict Christian household, but you got away with a bit of rebellion ... at least in your occupation, right?
I grew up not being allowed to listen to any kind of pop music, including Christian pop. In fact, I got in trouble during my last year in high school listening to a group called A Capella. My parents were very, very conservative, and so when I went to college, I was a bit repressed. I went in as a pre-law major. It was bad enough -- my parents were missionaries and my grandfather was a missionary, two of my uncles were missionaries and my other uncle was a pastor -- so it was expected that I was going to go into the ministry. I went to my parents in my senior year in high school, and I said, "I don't think I want to go into the ministry." That was a little heartbreaking for them, but they asked, "What do you want to do?" And I said, "I want to be a lawyer, I think."
How did you end up in music?
My first year of college, I discovered Michael English, and I was listening to his music, even though I wasn't allowed to, because it was against the rules of the college. I was walking down the hall of the school, humming the song, 'Holding out Hope to You.' This guy is walking down the other side and he hears me humming. He comes over and asks, "Hey, were you singing Michael English?" I was like, "I don't know what you're talking about." He said, "I'm starting this singing group if you want to come and try out, we're going to do a quartet." I went and tried out, and looking back, it was so cheesy. It was southern gospel, but a little edgy, as edgy as southern gospel can be. [laughs] We would go and sing at all these Sunday school classes around the campus ... so I started writing songs for the group and discovered I liked writing songs.
What's something about your run on 'American Idol' that fans might not know?
The funny thing about 'American Idol' is I've never really thought of myself as a singer, I was just trying to find a way to do what I want to do for a living, I didn't think I fit the mold at all -- vocally and obviously not physically. It was this freak accident of nature that I made it on 'Idol.' I think they put me on because they thought I was going to be funny, because I was going to be a joke. You go through all these different levels -- you try out, then you see all these different producers, and when I went in to see [executive producer] Nigel [Lythgoe], [affects a British accent], "I've seen this act before. You're going to take off the fat suit and your hair's going to come off, isn't it?" I said, "No, I'm just going to sing, if that's OK?" [laughs] They really hyped my audition about two weeks before, because I had given a good audition and plus, I was really funny, but they never showed me singing. I think they set it up so they could see America's reaction, and if they liked me, they were going to keep me. Everyone thought I was going to be bad. I don't look like Justin Guarini. I'm a chubby version and less black than Justin Guarini. I was the most shown contestant ever before the Top 24, and it was just stupid. I had friends who weren't ever shown, and they were probably better singers than I am.
One of the things they tell you during the audition phase is, "If you want to be seen on TV, give us something interesting." So, I literally gave them line after line after line. Like the line that I did, the Hasselhoff line, when I walk in and say, "I just want to make David Hasselhoff cry." I had 15 lines that I had prepared, and I just thought the David Hasselhoff line was the funniest one, because anything having to do with Hasselhoff is awesome. [laughs]
You wrote 'Here Comes Goodbye' for Rascal Flatts, and suddenly had a No. 1 song on the country charts. How did that come about?
When you're a Christian singer, it's really hard to write breakup songs when you're married. I was writing with a guy named Clint Lagerberg, who's a good friend of mine. We knew Flatts were recording, and he said, "Hey, let's write a song for Flatts." They kind of have a formula that works very, very well for them, and the nice thing about [lead singer] Gary's voice is that he has one of the few in country music that has that range of an octave-and-a-half. That's the nice thing about writing for Flatts -- you can write real pop songs, when other times when you're writing for other people, you have to write less than an octave range. So we wrote it specifically for Gary. As soon as we wrote it, we knew it was really special.
Gary and Jay [DeMarcus] have both come up and said, "That's my favorite song that we've ever done." That's encouraging, but who knows, he probably tells every songwriter that. [laughs] The whole thing with Rascal Flatts was exciting because it was like, "Oh, he can write songs. I guess he's not just a singer off 'American Idol.'"
You're going to become a first-time dad very soon. Can you share some of the details -- due date, sex of the baby -- and how do you feel about becoming a father?
October 18 is the date. It's a girl. Her name is Kira Lennon. If we had a boy, it was going to be McCartney Charles, so my wife let me have a Beatles [name] either way. It's a little bit freaky thinking about becoming a dad. I had a song on my last record called 'Potential,' and basically the lyric of the song says, "Does everybody feel this way? I'm getting old, but never growing up." To be 32 years old and not feel like a grownup, and suddenly having to act like a grownup because I'm having a kid is somewhat scary. But it's becoming more and more exciting. Sarah's belly is getting bigger and bigger, and she just got that line where the abs separate which is so awesome. It's becoming more and more real, where I talk to [the baby] every night and just tell her how excited we are for her to come. I sing to her, although my wife doesn't think 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is a good song to sing to an unborn child. It's scary, but at the same time, it's really, really exciting because I want to be better parents than my parents were, and obviously, my child is going to have to live in spite of me, and I understand that.