When Chris Lane recorded his first LP, Girl Problems, he and producer Joey Moi decided to double down on the skill that they believed could help the North Carolinian stand out in the crowd: his ability to slip easily into falsetto, a technique that rarely makes its way into the country catalog. Well, easy to sing in the studio, anyway. Hitting those high notes nonstop on tour proved to be a different story.
“The first time around I was literally figuring it all out,” Lane says with a laugh, sitting on the couch at Moi’s Nashville studio. “Then I had to go out and sing that way every single night, and I realized that it wasn’t the best decision.”
Becoming the Justin Timberlake of country music might have been an intriguing idea, but it wasn’t exactly a good one to execute – and, as it turns out, wasn’t in tune with what Lane was most comfortable with, either. Growing up in North Carolina it was Kenny Chesney, not the Man of the Woods, who drove his musical tastes, and he wanted to regain some of that spirit in his sophomore LP, Laps Around the Sun. The album is 14 songs of swampy country-pop meant for porches, docks and sunburnt escapism, delivered in a more natural tone.
Like his frequent tourmates Florida Georgia Line, Lane learned to prioritize performance over perfection, and instead of songs like his first hit, “Fix,” he veered toward those that better suit the beer-drinking, high-school nostalgic festival crowds. Listen to his play-on-words single “Fishin’,” which evokes Craig Campbell’s “Fish,” or his duet with Tori Kelly, “Take Back Home Girl,” which lands somewhere in the middle of the R&B influence of his debut and the small-town sensibilities of Laps Around the Sun, which was recorded with a live band. Currently breaking into the Top 10 of Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart, “Take Back Home Girl” is poised to be the biggest song of his career.
Lane mentioned Kelly on a lark as a potential duet partner when the song was in its early stages – but didn’t think she would actually say yes. “I feel like she took what was already a good song and made it even better,” he says. “It was really cool to collaborate with somebody in a different genre, and who has a different take on what you would normally hear. And I didn’t think Tori Kelly was so far of a stretch that it wouldn’t sound right on country radio.”
From the island tinge of the title track to “Sun Kiss,” Lane’s shooting for the sweet spot where country music hits the beach and mixes beer with rum – a tactic that serves Jake Owen, Zac Brown and Chesney well, and suits the North Carolina edges in his drawl. And after Girl Problems – an album Lane describes as “very progressive” – he realized he was in a rush to revive that coastal connection.
“It’s my happy place,” he says “Some of the best moments in my life have been standing out on the water or on a boat. That’s just where I’m the happiest, so this time around I was like, ‘You know what, I want to record songs that embody that, and take me to that place.’”
Lane’s also aware that escapist music can serve a role in time where political and social tensions are running unbearably high. “There’s no doubt that we are living in a crazy time,” he says. “A lot of people’s music is healing, and a lot of people use music to to get over that hump and to make their day better, or to feel certain emotions, whatever they are. And that’s the beautiful part about what we get to create.”
With songs like the syrupy “New Phone,” he’s not afraid of guilty pleasures, and he’s also not afraid to take some risks, like the album’s closer “Home,” a more tender and unexpected ballad. But for Lane, Laps Around the Sun is about learning to drop what he thinks might work best, and embrace what feels good.
“I’ve never really been a serious person, but I always just wanted everything to be perfect,” Lane says. “I think for my first record, I based a lot of the songs on feel, as opposed to lyrical content. But this time around, I wanted both, and I wouldn’t settle for anything less.”