The last time Chris Daughtry played a show in the Charlotte area — back in July 2015 — it’d been one year and eight months since the band bearing his surname had released a new album.
Daughtry wasn’t really on tour then; that particular concert at Carowinds Paladium was among just a handful of one-offs the group was booking here and there. In fact, the frontman was about to move his family from uptown Charlotte to L.A. and was talking about “taking a little break” before starting work on a new record.
As it turns out, his stopover in Los Angeles was short-lived — the Daughtrys only stayed a year, before moving again, to Nashville. But the “little break”? It lasted a lot longer than anticipated.
“Well, I definitely achieved that goal of taking a break,” the 38-year-old North Carolina native said with a hearty laugh, during an interview with the Observer to promote Daughtry’s first album in nearly five years: “Cage to Rattle,” out since late July. “I didn’t realize it was gonna be like a break break. ... I think we were definitely burnt out from (2013’s) ‘Baptized’, that tour, for sure. But we had plenty of time to recover between albums.”
Daughtry, who will perform next Wednesday night at Ovens Auditorium, filled us in by phone this week about the new album, why it took so long, and how a simple text message to Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl led to an “incredible” night — and an unexpected revelation. (The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.)
Q. So, apparently you guys are having a little trouble figuring out where you want to settle down, huh?
(Laughing.) Yeah, we can’t seem to stay in one place. We’re in search of utopia. ... I moved to L.A. for other purposes, wanting to branch out and diversify a little bit. But we never bought a house there. We were kind of renting, and we just never really did feel settled. It was a year of feeling in limbo and not sure what was next. Then after being there for a year, we were like, “Hmm, maybe that wasn’t the right move.” (Laughing.) And Nashville felt like a lateral move with the music and whatnot, so it worked out — especially with making this last record. ... We like it here (in Nashville). But I do miss Charlotte. Actually, I was just talking about that with my wife about an hour ago. We miss it very dearly.
Q. Why’d you move to L.A. in the first place?
Part of that was because I was dabbling a little bit in the acting. But it didn’t really take off at the time like I thought it was going to, or hoped it would. (Daughtry’s acting resume includes supporting roles in TV movies in 2015 and 2016.)
Q. Was that frustrating?
Yeah, but I don’t want to paint a false picture. I didn’t go after it that hard, if I’m being honest. ... I wasn’t out beating down the auditions every week and things like that; I was basically there in case (an acting job) fell in my lap. Which is terrible logic, by the way. (Laughing.)
Q. So what did you do while you were out there, instead?
I spent a lot of time writing and working on music for what started as the greatest-hits record (“It’s Not Over...The Hits So Far,” released in 2016); I was working on some new songs for that. And that parlayed into the making of “Cage to Rattle.” So some of the songs that are actually on the record are three years old. But then we got offered another tour, and that took some more time, and then I moved again, to Nashville. By the time we found a producer (multi-Grammy Award-winner Jacquire King) and really set sail on the making of the record, there were a bunch of scheduling conflicts with everybody: Our producer was already committed to a couple other projects, and then we got offered another tour to go out with Nickelback, so we went out that summer after we had already gotten started on the record — that put a little wrench in the spokes as well.
Q. Did you get superantsy at some point about how long it had been between new records?
Oh, well, yeah, that definitely happened. I was definitely at peace with the idea of taking the break, because I think it was very necessary. But at the same time, after a couple years, I was like, “Holy (expletive), we should probably think about putting something out.” Because if you think about the time it takes to make the record — and mind you, we didn’t even have a producer yet. ... So that started freaking me out a little bit, because the last three years flew by. I couldn’t believe that it had been since 2013, when (the single) “Waiting for Superman” came out. I felt like, honestly, someone shifted time and didn’t tell me about it, and I woke up and three years had gone by and I’m like, “Oh my God, what happened? I don’t even recognize half of what’s on the radio anymore. What happened to us? We disappeared!” (Laughing.)
Q. How did you approach the assembly of “Cage to Rattle”? Did you think, “OK, we need at least a few songs we can release as singles so we can get played,” or were you more of the mindset of, like, “Let’s just do what we do and hope for the best”?
I think it was a bit of both. We set out to make a record that we were really proud of, and we let the label deal with what’s gonna be “the radio song,” with whether they think they have something. Which is one of the reasons we wanted to go with Jacquire King. We wanted that kind of indie sensibility that we think he brings to the table. So yeah, there was a little pressure of, like, “We’ve gotta have something on the radio,” but at the same time, I wanted that kind of indie rock vibe that I thought that he could bring like he did with the Kings of Leon records. ... That said, it was a frustrating record to make — we had never worked together, and all the scheduling conflicts and just one thing after another felt like it was prolonging the making of it. There were moments where I felt like I had to just throw my hands up in the air and give in to the process. You want someone that’s not gonna do exactly what you say, or go along with your gut instincts all the time — that’s why you have a producer. You have that outside voice, that someone who’s not afraid to say, “Yeahhhh, but that sucks.” (Laughing.)
Q. And he wasn’t afraid to do that?
No, he wasn’t. I don’t think he ever said those words, but at the end of the day, I think he’s an artist as well and wanted to put his stamp on it. And at the end of the process, I look back and I’m very proud of it. I think it’s the exact record we needed to make.
Q. On another note, I saw on your Instagram that you got to hang with Dave Grohl recently. Looked like it was at the Foo Fighters’ show in San Jose last week?
Yeah, it was incredible. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, and we found out that they were playing in town. We just happened to have the day off there; usually we don’t get so lucky to have cool shows on our days off, or we have days off in places that don’t have cool shows. And so I was like, “Ahhhh, let me just text Dave.” But I hadn’t talked to him in awhile, and I was thinking, you know, I was gonna get like a “Who’s this?” (Laughing.) And he was like, “Aw, yeah, come on out to the show!” So we all went, and we were just thinking we were gonna get a few minutes to say hello or whatever, but they walked us to the dressing room and just left us there. We walk in, we’re like, “Oh! We’re just able to hang?” And we hung out for about two hours before the show. And I’m like, “You guys have a show to put on, right? You’ve been in here telling stories and shooting the (expletive) for two hours-plus and you’ve gotta go out and play now?” And by the way, they don’t play a short show — they play 2-1/2 to 3 hours. I’m like, “How do you do this and walk out and still have a voice?” And (Grohl) goes, “What better way to walk out on stage then after you’ve been hanging out with friends and laughing and having a good time? You’re already in a great mood.” ... We usually hang out with our guests after the show. It’s always this quiet before the storm for us in the hours before the show. So I think that was an interesting takeaway, that maybe we shouldn’t take everything so seriously. I mean, taking it seriously, but not really. You know what I mean? We’re very fortunate that we get to go out on stage every night. Anyway, when he said that, I was like, “That’s pretty sound logic there.”
Q. How was their show?
Oh, it was ridiculous. I mean, I can’t believe that a band that’s very rarely on any kind of Top 40 radio — at least in the last 15, 20 years — is out there doing stadiums. This was an arena, but they’re selling out stadiums. That’s pretty inspiring.
Q. OK, so here you’ve got a rock god who sends you back out onto your tour excited about being rock stars. At the same time, rock continues to go through a tough time, as evidenced by the fact that — like you mentioned — even a band as big as Foo Fighters is very rarely on Top 40 radio. As a rock guy, is that discouraging?
Yeah, we talk about that all the time. Is it discouraging. It was definitely cooler when rock was accepted in Hot AC and Top 40. With that being said, you go see a rock show live and you realize very quickly that people are still wanting that, and crave that. That’s the takeaway. So it means we’ve gotta tour more. (Laughing.) It means we’ve gotta play more live shows. But it’s undeniable when you see that energy and the crowds are loving it. I think there’s an overall desire for it out there, and hopefully that’ll swing back around on the radio, and be reflective of that.