“This is my shot at redemption,” says Chase Bryant. “This is the second chance I never thought I’d have.”
In fact, by all objective measures, Chase Bryant shouldn’t be here right now, and yet he’s never sounded more alive, more vital, more himself than he does on his extraordinary new album, ‘Upbringing.’ Recorded in the aftermath of a season of darkness and despair, the record is a searing, honest portrait of struggle and resilience from a songwriter finally learning to love and trust himself, flaws and all. The music here is raw and exhilarating, captured live for the most part with an all-star band under the guidance of writer/producer Jon Randall (Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley), and the performances convey a kind of comfort and ease that Bryant’s spent much of his life in search of. Though the journey to this moment nearly put him in the grave, Bryant’s stronger now for his struggles, with a clear head, an open heart, and a remarkable full-length debut to show for it. Some may call it a comeback, but truth be told, it’s really more like a homecoming.
“In a way, I feel like I’ve been working on this record my whole life,” Bryant reflects. “I had to go back to Texas to make it, but it was inside me all along.”
Born and raised in rural Orange Grove, Bryant grew up dreaming of a life in music, inspired in part by his grandfather, who performed with Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings, and his uncles, who co-founded the chart-topping band Ricochet. Those dreams came true faster than Bryant could have anticipated, though, and fame and success arrived with a hefty price. By 21, he already had two Top 10 singles and tours with the likes of Brantley Gilbert and Tim McGraw under his belt, but it all felt inauthentic, like he was playing a character with expectations he could never live up to. The harder he pushed back, the worse things got, and soon, Bryant barely recognized the man he saw in the mirror.
“I was a very confused individual,” he confesses. “I was cocky. I was arrogant, I was sick. And that led me down a pretty dark hole.”
Rock bottom came in a gas station parking lot, when Bryant’s anxiety and depression led him to put a loaded .357 revolver to his head.
“I was sitting there begging for some kind of intervention,” he recalls. “I said, ‘God, if you’re real, I need you to help me, to show me what I’m supposed to do, because otherwise I’m done.’ I felt like I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
When no sign arrived from above, Bryant screamed that he was sorry and pulled the trigger. He opened his eyes a few moments later, certain he was dead and waking up on some alternate plane of existence only to realize that something miraculous had happened, that he was somehow still alive. Opening the cylinder on the revolver, he found only five bullets instead of the six he was sure he’d loaded. The empty chamber had spared his life.
“For the first time, I felt like somebody had heard me crying out for help and stepped in,” says Bryant. “It made me realize that my life wasn’t supposed to end that day, that I still had a purpose to live for.”
And so Bryant began the long and arduous road to recovery, checking into a mental rehabilitation center and enrolling in intensive therapy. He spent the next several years facing his demons head on, learning to be comfortable in his own skin, to make peace with being alone, to be okay with not being okay all the time. In search of perspective, he eventually left Nashville altogether, moving back to Texas and purchasing an old ranch house that had been in his family since the 1960s. There, far removed from the trappings of the music industry and all the baggage that came with it, Bryant felt a weightlessness he hadn’t experienced since childhood, a release from the pressure and expectation that had dogged him ever since he landed his first record deal at the age of 15. Surrounded once more by the beauty and tranquility he’d known in his youth, he started digging back into the records that had lit him up in high school—albums by Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, and Pat Green—and reconnected with the joy that had drawn him to music in the first place.
“Listening to that stuff brought me right back to being a kid with big dreams and endless possibilities,” says Bryant. “Suddenly music was fun again. It was freedom and escape and connection. That’s when I started picking up the guitar and writing.”
With the floodgates open, Bryant entered one of the most prolific creative periods of his life. This time around, though, he wasn’t writing for the radio or the charts; he was writing for himself and anyone else who needed to hear what he had to say.
“I wanted to be that empty chamber for somebody else,” Bryant explains. “I wanted to help people realize that they’re not alone in this fight, that somebody’s out there listening and has their back.”
The resulting songs were grittier and more honest than anything Bryant had written in the past, drawing on decades of southern rock and classic country with lyrics that favored simplicity and directness over polish and flash. Deep down, Bryant knew the music called for a different approach in the studio, too, and when his old pal Jon Randall signed on to produce, the two decided to embrace album’s Texas roots and record at Austin’s famed Arlyn Studios. Backed by drummer J.J. Johnson (Gary Clark, Jr., Tedeschi Trucks Band) and guitarist Charlie Sexton (Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams), Bryant performed much of the material live on the floor, capturing the unmistakable energy and catharsis of the moment as he poured his heart and soul out into the microphone.
“Sonically, this record is who I’ve always wanted to be,” says Bryant, who later added bass and keyboards to many of the tracks himself. “Going into the sessions, we had no arrangements, no notes, no nothing. It was just three guys in a room making an album without any bullshit.”
That much is obvious from the rousing title track, which cuts to the chase at the very top of the album. “I ain’t changing who I am / ’Cause I’ve always been this way,” Bryant sings with infectious self-assurance. “Like me hate me love me leave me / It’s in my DNA.” Like much of the record, it’s a song about coming to terms with who we
are and where we’re from, about recognizing that our pain and disappointment and shortcomings are not signs of failure, but proof of our humanity. The waltzing “High Drunk And Heartbroke” nods to Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson as it grapples with loneliness and self-medication, while the dreamy “Think About That” meditates on memory and regret, and the bittersweet “Even Now” aims to cut its losses and move on in the wake of a toxic relationship. Even the album’s lighter moments, like the driving “Cold Beer” and sensual “Selfish,” hint at deeper universal truths that bind us: the need for connection, for release, for love.
“I know there’s going to be people who want to ask how I got from my radio hits to the music I’m making now,” says Bryant, “but the real question is how I ever got to that place to begin with. These songs are the real me, and at the end of the day, I don’t care if they’re big and I don’t care if they’re hits because I can finally look myself in the mirror now and see the person I’ve always wanted to be.”
It was a close call, but Chase Bryant is still here, and he aims to be for a good long while.