“I was just thinking a lot about what it means to be the modern cowboy, and I think a lot of people were getting it wrong.”
Greyson Chance has unveiled the music video to his incredible new country-rock anthem, Boots.
The American singer-songwriter – who hails from Oklahoma – revisits his country roots in the visual, portraying a modern day Johnny Cash decked out in black leather as he brawls with an outlaw in a more traditional cowboy ensemble.
When we spoke to Greyson, he said the track and its accompanying video were inspired by the Western aesthetic being popularised in recent years by people who – in his words – can’t “shoot their whisky quite right”.
“I was just thinking a lot about what it means to be the modern cowboy, and I think a lot of people were getting it wrong,” he explains. “Anybody can wear a cowboy hat, but it doesn’t make them a cowboy. What I understand maybe a bit better than other people, being where I’m from, is that it’s not about the clothes. It’s about the attitude.”
We caught up with Greyson to discuss the single, the reaction to his recent critically-acclaimed sophomore album Portraits and the time he embraced his inner Superman in a bar brawl. (It was totally justified.)
How has the past year been for you? You released your second album Portraits and went on tour…
It’s been perhaps the most whirlwind year I’ve ever had in my career, but it definitely feels reminiscent of older times, when I was going in and out of gigs and doing a lot of touring. Honestly, just getting to go out and play for crowds every night, seeing fans – and kids – responding to it in the same way that I did when I was writing it, is truly a dream come true. I don’t know if I ever really saw this longevity for this album so it’s really quite beautiful.
Portraits was very different from your debut – how has the reaction been from fans?
One of the biggest hopes you have as a songwriter, is you really want people to take the stories and songs and be able to apply it to their own life. That’s what I’ve seen within the responses. At the time I was writing it, I was going through incredibly human emotions. I was stepping into, in ways, a new career path. I was leaving behind something very secure and I wrote about that, that nervousness. I was also coming out of a breakup and was trying to navigate that. I was also trying to navigate my youth. I think within the response, I’ve seen fans resonate with it a lot because I think the record is inherently human.
How would you say you’ve changed since you recorded Portraits?
Yeah, it was last year this time that we were kinda finishing it up and putting the ribbon on it. Right now, I’m writing a new record. Portraits was really just a snapshot of my life in 2018. I was writing about what I was going through, my experiences, and it was basically a year in review. The writing on this next record is similar in the fact that it’s just telling my year, the things that I’ve gone through, how I’m noticing my relationships evolving as I’m travelling so much. I think I’m just realising that that’s the type of songwriter I am. So I don’t necessarily know if I’ve changed, I just think my life is a bit different than it is to last year, and I’m just writing through it. Honestly, that’s like my glass of wine, to y”know, calm me down. That’s how I get through all this bullshit.
I definitely think we can see a change on your new single Boots. It’s much more uptempo than anything else on Portraits – what inspired this new direction?
The song, at its core, is a cultural observation. For me, it was a culture observation of this over-usage of Western imagery in pop culture. I’ve noticed it within this past year. It all started with my friends and I back from Oklahoma. I hire a lot of my friends to work on my projects and on my team. We were walking through LA at the beginning of the year and we were laughing because you would see these kids our age, these hipster kids, and they were wearing vintage Wrangler, hats and Western-wear. We knew, because we’d already been through those vintage stores in LA, that they were probably buying this shit for like £200 for a pair of Wrangler jeans. We were laughing because we can find that for like five cents in a dumpster in Oklahoma City. It was this idea of watching pop culture really embrace Western, but I don’t think they really understood the authenticity of it. I was thinking, ‘What would Johnny Cash be like if he was 20-years-old, walking around in 2019?’ I don’t think he’d be wearing the hat, the chaps and the big flashy boots, I think he’d probably be wearing a lot of leather, probably a Chelsea boot with black suede. He’d be smoking cigs and driving a motorcycle. I was just thinking a lot about what it means to be the modern cowboy, and I think a lot of people were getting it wrong. I’ve never had a record like this, where I’ve just spoken to something, this directly. It was just really fun, I had a good time in the studio recording it and it just all come together. I don’t know if any of that makes sense Sam, I’m sorry! It’s 10am, which is quite early for a musician.
One of my favourite lyrics is “these punks in California who think that they can punch” – what’s the story behind that particular lyric?
Anybody can wear a cowboy hat, but it doesn’t make them a cowboy. What I understand maybe a bit better than other people, being where I’m from, is that it’s not about the clothes. It’s about the attitude. A good cowboy, a good Western guy, he’s going to have this sharp attitude, an excessive loyalty to the things he loves and he’s going to be a little wild. I will for sure wear the hat, but I’ll also be the person to throw a punch in the bar… and I have been that person. I don’t know if these people can shoot their whisky quite right. I don’t know if they can hang in the places I typically find myself.
So Greyson Chance has thrown a punch in a bar before?
I’ve been in a few fights Sam. I’ve been in a few fights, and I still think they were all very justified.
Alright c’mon then, tell me one of these stories…
I witnessed a guy trying to drug my friends’ drink in a bar, and it really pissed me off. I was drunk enough, I went in and I punched him. He was a lot stronger than me and he hit the shit out of me. [Laughs] My friends were like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ They pulled me back and I got kicked out of the bar. I still think I did the right thing. There are other stories that aren’t as great as that one.
We witness this side of Greyson in the Boots video. Why do you and the cowboy beat the shit out of each other? What did he do?
The fight represents a lot of what we just talked about, but Bobby Hanaford – the director – and I talked about this a lot, it has a bit of a bigger meaning. It feels like the fight of authenticity. That’s what it represents. The antagonist character seems a bit flashy, a bit fake. He stills looks very fashionable and chic! But I think the way we tried to portray me was a bit more stripped-back, like we talked about with the black leather, somewhat monochromatic. The whole idea of the fight is trying to fight for authenticity. If you notice in the video, he’s about to beat me down, I’m about to be defeated and that’s where I go out for that last punch.
I’m not sure what you can tell me, but what can we expect from this upcoming album?
Well, let me think about it here. Sonically, it feels definitely in the same world as the last record but it feels like… I don’t know. I think perhaps it maybe is a bit more musical than anything on the last record. It definitely has, and this is Teddy Geiger’s influence, I’ve been so obsessed with electric guitar lately. She’s such an incredible player so she’s added a lot. My goal with this album is the exact same as the last one. I wanna make something that I’m proud of and I think I’m doing it. The biggest difference between now and when I was recording Portraits, is that I’m now back on a major label. That brings a lot of different things into the picture, but I’m still very focused on how I felt when I was writing Portraits. I can’t tell you too much, but you’re going to be getting it quite soon! Sooner than a lot of people think…
How is 2020 shaping up for you?
I think it’s going to be a lot of the same. Listen Sam, at this point, I’m going into my 10th year of music and the fact I’m still here, throwing punches no pun intended… I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to keep on singing for my fans. At the shows this past year, I’ve been making a deal with the audience where I say, ‘If you keep on buying tickets for this show and keep supporting my music, I will write and play for you until the day I die.’ That’s what 2020 is looking like. Unless I have a heart attack and croak, I’ll be doing the exact same thing.
Boots is now available on iTunes and streaming services – watch the video below.