“I don’t know that there is anything I love more than songwriting, especially with great songwriters,” actor, singer and songwriter Charles Esten tells MusicRow during a recent phone call from Glasgow, Scotland. “There is something about songwriters that I just love being around. They are emotionally intelligent, they are generally extremely funny, obviously they can tell a story and they are steeped in that musical tradition.”
Since arriving in Music City five years ago to star as tortured musician Deacon Claybourne on the popular series Nashville, Esten has taken advantage of his proximity to Nashville’s creative community to not only enrich his portrayal as Deacon, but to grow as a songwriter in his own right. This Friday, July 7, Esten will celebrate the release of 52 singles over the past year via social media, as part of his #EverySingleFriday series.
Esten and his Nashville cohorts including Clare Bowen, Chris Carmack and Jonathan Jackson are also on the road, recently playing to more than 11,000 fans at Glasgow’s The SSE Hydro as part of the Nashville In Concert Series. On July 23, the tour’s U.S. leg will launch in Orlando, Florida.
Though the majority of each concert is dedicated to songs featured on CMT’s Nashville, the shows also offer a performance outlet for the accomplished singer-songwriter’s own music.
“They could say, ‘This is a Nashville [concert]. We want you playing Deacon songs and that’s it.’ But they actually requested for us to sing some of our own music. It gives the audience a little more insight into us as artists, and none of our own music is that far from our characters. Chris Carmack will play the blues in a way that Will Lexington never has. I probably rock a little harder than Deacon, but none of it is jarring.”
Unlike Carmack, Esten has yet to release his own album, though for the past year, Esten has also accumulated a series of compilations, including nine of the #EverySingleFriday songs in each compilation.
“There is not one single one that I released just because I had a box to check. Every single one is a song I’m proud of,” Esten says. “And, it’s 2017. In some sense, what is an album anymore? Unless it’s specifically and intentionally a thematically coherent project, it’s just a number of songs you put together, including the ones you consider singles because you think they will pop the most.
“For me, I just said, ‘Why don’t we make them all singles and put them out?’ People are used to watching me once a week, maybe they would be interested in listening to me once a week. They might think, ‘What’s coming next week?’ and on Thursday, you’d want to know what he’s going to release the next day. Sure enough, that seems to be what has happened. They keep checking back in each week and they end up going to get the next one.”
Esten’s #EverySingleFriday releases run the gamut, chronologically and emotionally. “Kindergarten Days” was penned when his youngest daughter, who will soon be a high school senior, was graduating kindergarten. Esten wrote and performed the song for his daughter’s kindergarten graduation ceremony.
“Over the next few years, parents would ask me to perform it for their kids’ graduations. I didn’t have a recording of it, so I thought I’d record it and release it at the time kids are graduating,” Esten says.
Other tracks, including the first installment in the #EverySingleFriday series, “Through The Blue,” draw inspiration from the dramatic gains and losses experienced by his Nashville alter ego.
“Walking in the boots of Deacon, he hasn’t had it easy. In my life, I’ve been through different things but right now I’m as blessed as I can be. I have three happy, healthy kids and a dream job, and you can definitely write from that place, but there is something special about having this alter ego if you will that really battles these things. It’s definitely inspired so many songs, you can go right down through them.”
For Esten, the series is also a way to keep giving fans new music despite his packed schedule on the set of Nashville.
“I’m not able to tour like other artists. Though I’m touring right now because this season of Nashville is over, throughout the year, I’m only able to get out a certain number of days. But what I do have are days free here in town where I’m not working on the show that day, and incredible songwriters.”
Esten says he is considering keeping the series going beyond the one-year mark.
“I might end up doing 54 instead of 52, because I’ve been releasing compilations and that would round it out. Fifty-four would get me to the sixth nine series. To be honest, there’s a part of me that goes, ‘Are you sure you’re done? What if I just keep putting them out?’ I might put out an album or an EP, or maybe I’ll take a breather and start it up again.”
The decision to push himself to release new music each week also benefits the fans he sees in the audience at each Nashville tour stop.
“A year ago, I didn’t have a catalog, but now, I look out and people are singing along and that blows my mind.”
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