WHETHER YOU’RE BLUE COLLAR OR WHITE COLLAR, WE ALL WORK. It’s a universal thread connecting us together. It transcends cultural heritages and upbringings, and there is a respect and understanding that comes with it. Montana-born and raised, Chance McKinney delves into our relationships to work and how we perceive the act of making a living with his forthcoming collection of music. An EP titled I is out now, and across its steely landscape, he constructs what he dubs “industrialized country.”
It’s a term not easily defined, as even McKinney grasps for the right words. “The musical approach is geared towards those who appreciate the things they’ve earned; it’s not an inherited music,” he says. “You won’t find Merle Haggard on this.” The working-man blues, a style of music which marries dusty outlaw, foot-stomping soul of the deep South and the rural lifestyle of the American heartland, are far removed from McKinney’s new release.
“Industrialized country is a country lyric and a country vocal mixed with metal guitars, pop structure and industrial layers,” he adds. The vague qualifiers shroud the upcoming release in mystery, but that’s what you’re gonna get with a McKinney release, throwing caution to the wind and galloping fearlessly into uncharted territory.
I, he promises, could flip the entire country music establishment on its head. He draws comparisons to the format’s proliferation of hip-hop-fused drum loops and synthetic beats, but make no mistake, this endeavor is far more grounded and true to real life. “The backgrounds are created by hammers hitting nails. We will build our loops with the things that people associate with work,” he says.
With the return of producer Kevin Lawson, who helmed much of McKinney’s former duo project Nathan Chance, the music aims to initiate not only a whole new subgenre of country but an unheard of business model. Of course, he remains tight-lipped about exactly what the next couple years hold, but his spirits are up. “You have to be pretty cutting edge to create an entire sub-genre,” he admits. Embedded within these ambitious stylistic parameters, there is only truth.
On ‘She Wrecked This Town’:
“From the time the hammer hits the dumpster to the tone of the song, there’s absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind where this guy is at in his life after she’s moved on. There’s no sign, no road, no store, nothing where he can turn and not be reminded of her. So, it’s either pack up and move on or go crazy. I have loved this song from the beginning. There isn’t a guy in the world who hasn’t experienced this exact feeling. To love and lose means you’ve put yourself out there. That willingness to hurt this bad is what defines a good man. You’ve gotta risk it for the biscuit. Sometimes it works out… and for those times it doesn’t, “She Wrecked This Town” is there to define those feelings and let you know you aren’t alone.”
Themes of love and heartbreak ground and focus the EP, dealing in “real-life problems and experiences,” he stresses. “This is about people with practical problems, not pop culture problems like ‘oh, shit my phone isn’t the newest iPhone X….’” From the ruptured conflict (and eventual reconciliation) of “We Good” to the bottoming-out of “She Wrecked This Town,” a song which is exactly what you might imagine it to be, McKinney defies convention in every conceivable way. Another sterling cut called “Everybody Wants You” employs brokenness through the lens of undulating affection from the outside looking in. “There is this unbelievably beautiful girl that everyone oogles, but this dude’s only concern is that ‘I can’t get you back.’”
It hasn’t been an easy journey to this moment. “My whole process has been in response to bullying. Everything I’ve done is to prove people wrong. I know you’re supposed to do it for the love of music, but I’m cut from a different cloth. I don’t mind being told what to do, but I don’t like being told what I can’t do.”
Bullied in his early years, McKinney employs his pain as fuel to propel him forward. Before he even finished high school, he became a three-time National Champion javelin thrower and an All-State basketball player, while also holding down a 4.0 GPA. His college studies at Washington State University brought more triumphs as he went on to take a Division I All-American title and graduated Summa Cum Laude in Mathematics.
It was a bit later that he seriously pursued his songwriting craft. Upon relocating to Seattle, he befriended local musician “Lonesome” Steve Mitchell who taught him a bulk of various skills, including song structure and chord patterns. That was just the beginning. Another musician by the name of Darren Wayne took those foundations and was able to unlock McKinney’s full potential. The two worked tirelessly on his debut album, 2006’s Hittin’ the Road, which set the pace for one of the greatest underdog stories in country music.
Along the way, McKinney teamed up with a slew of other regional musicians, including drummer and friend Brian Bujucich, to form a duo called Nathan Chance. Things seemed to be chugging along nicely, and their work together Brought opportunities beyond their wildest dreams. They went on to share stages with the likes of such country staples as Kenny Chesney, Big n’ Rich, SheDaisy, Martina McBride, Little Big Town, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Loggins and Gary Alan.
2009 was another transitional year, however. Nathan Chance disbanded, and McKinney had a choice to make. Prompted by a close friend out of Nashville, he submitted one of his songs, an evocative piano ballad titled “Be Real,” into CMT’s Music City Madness competition. The weeks whizzed by, and soon, he rose victorious, taking the title that December with more than one millions cast across the country.
The doors flew open for him. McKinney began booking more and even bigger opening gigs. In the following years, he toured with and shared stages alongside Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Sunny Sweeney, Alan Jackson, Ronnie Dunn, Darius Rucker, Dwight Yoakam, Creedence Clearwater and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others.
His second album, Think About That, arrived in 2013. At that point, he continued pushing forward, a one-man machine, a jack of all trades. The project debuted at No. 63 on the country albums chart. That small victory led to even more high-profile engagements, including an appearance at the 2013 Watershed Music Festival. He returned to the open road, as well, often performing upwards of 90-dates across the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
2016 rolls around, and once again, he was on the fence about making another record. One early-spring songwriting session changed everything. “Down to Get Up” struck a chord in him, and he was reinvigorated to hit the grind again. Heading back down to Nashville, linking up with Kevin Lawson, his third record, Down to Get Up, took shape. This time, the album debuted at No. 41 on the country albums leaderboard. Still unsigned and unrepresented, McKinney as on to something big.
That’s nothing compared to his I EP, which he teases is only the tip of the iceberg of what’s coming. The release blends self-penned tracks and outside cuts, which “should not have been pitched to a guy like me,” he says. “So much stuff has lined up. Everybody outside calls it luck.”
He continues, “I had every reason to stop. Everyday, every year, I’m approaching this as if I’m going to be on the radio. Publishers came out of the woodwork and gave me stuff I had no right to, at all. Why? I don’t know.”
Whether the will of some higher power or just from the sweat of his brow, he is see the returns of his labor, owed in large part to his daring to forge his own path. Even his approach in the recording studio was untraditional. “We cut all the vocals first to a click track and an organ pat. As soon as I was done cutting final vocals, we erased everything else,” he explains. From there, the band will build the arrangements around his vocals, something that’s rarely, if at all, been done.
High on ambition, his steely determination thickening in his voice, McKinney always goes big — and never goes home. The I EP is a testament to his unwavering spirit, charm and impeccable talent behind a microphone. Music Row isn’t ready for what’s about to happen.