Hot Chelle Rae Finds Success With Simplicity

It’s easy to get a Hot Chelle Rae song stuck in your head. It’s not so easy to write one.

The breezy lyrics and infectious melodies that have come to define the pop band might seem simple, but guitarist Nash Overstreet says there’s an art to coming up with uncomplicated hooks that compel everyone to sing along.

“When you really get into it and you investigate the whole writing craft, you realize how difficult it is to write something so simple and so memorable that everybody in the country can know it as soon as you sing two lines from it,” said Overstreet, 25. “We’ve learned so much through this process, honing that skill and learning from producers and co-writers. We’ve just had a ball doing it.”

Photo: Anna C. Jones
WorkPlay, Birmingham, Ala.

“There’s a lot of sacrifices you make for the better of the song,” added drummer Jamie Follese, 19. “I won’t necessarily get to play the most crazy drum part, but it makes the song a lot better.”

The four friends from Nashville, Tenn., formed Hot Chelle Rae six years ago. They burst onto the scene this year, selling over 2 million copies of their smash hit “Tonight Tonight,” and dominating radio airplay with their follow up single “I Like It Like That.” They’ve been touring non-stop and were recently named new artist of the year at the American Music Awards. The band released a new album, Whatever, Nov. 29.

Whatever is Hot Chelle Rae’s sophomore effort. It includes collaborations with hip-hop duo New Boyz on “I Like It Like That,” Demi Lovato on the ballad “Why Don’t You Love Me,” and rapper/producer Bei Maejor on the song “Radio.” Lead singer Ryan Follese, 24, even plays kazoo on the track “Downtown Girl.”

Maejor has worked with artists including Ne-Yo, Trey Songz, T-Pain and Wiz Khalifa. He thinks fans are connecting with Hot Chelle Rae’s music because they push the limits and use strong, familiar melodies.

“I heard a quote before … ‘Simplicity is the essence of elegance.’ That means that simple is dope,” said Maejor. “There’s definitely a hard line between making it simple and catchy and simple and stupid, and I think they definitely make it simple and catchy.”

The band, which also includes bassist Ian Keaggy, feels confident they have laid the groundwork for longevity by focusing on fundamentals. Maejor said he was sold on their talent at a recent concert when their live show sounded exactly like their record.

They learned from their parents that it takes hard work to make it in the music business. Overstreet’s father is Grammy-winning songwriter Paul Overstreet, who has written mega-hits for country stars including Randy Travis, Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton and The Judds. His brother, Chord, is an actor known for playing Sam on the hit TV show “Glee.” Ryan and Jamie’s dad, Keith Follese, has penned songs such as Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That,” Faith Hill’s “The Way You Love Me” and Lady Antebellum’s
“Lookin’ for a Good Time.” Keaggy, 24, is the son of Christian singer/guitarist Phil Keaggy.

“The fact that they know this is a legitimate business that you can succeed in helps so much with the support level we get from our families,” said Overstreet. “Having parents that are successful in the field that you’re in definitely makes you strive for greatness.”

Ryan remembers being nervous the first time he played a song for his parents, but as soon as they found out he wanted to do music, they completely embraced it.

“It was amazing growing up being surrounded by music, having home studios, bouncing ideas off your parents,” said Ryan. “I spent my college money on making demos.”

Being exposed to the vibrant music community in Nashville also proved beneficial. Ryan and Overstreet met country crossover star Taylor Swift in 2009 when they co-wrote and produced the rap spoof “Thug Story” she performed with T-Pain for the CMT Music Awards.

This summer, Hot Chelle Rae got a major boost when Swift asked them to be special guests at one of her four arena shows in Los Angeles.

“She actually called me the night before we came out and did ‘Tonight Tonight’ with her at the Staples Center,” said Overstreet. “She was like, ‘Hey, I’m having these special guests come out like Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber, Jason Mraz,’ and first of all, that’s like crazy company to be in. So I’m like, ‘Wow. Yeah, done. We’ll figure it out.’“

In March, the decidedly pop band will be opening shows for the country star on the Australian leg of her “Speak Now” tour.

“It seems like the lines between genres now are so blurred, and thank you to her for helping to do that,” said Ryan.

Photo: AP Photo
American Music Awards, Nokia Theatre L.A. Live, Los Angeles, Calif.

Hot Chelle Rae will also be headlining their own “Beautiful Freaks” tour, kicking off February 10 in Metarie, La.