On The Road With Chris Carmack

Chris Carmack, who plays Will Lexington on ABC’s hit series “Nashville,” recently talked with Pollstar about touring, sanity and why he doesn’t name his guitars.

The actor, singer, songwriter, musician and former model dropped his first independent EP, Pieces of You, in December. He’s also appeared on several of the soundtracks released from “Nashville.”

The musical drama is in its fourth season and stars of the cast are currently on their third U.S. tour.  heads to the U.K. in June for its first international tour, which sold out so quickly more dates were added in London and Dublin. Along with Carmack, the U.S. tour features cast members Clare Bowen and Charles Esten. Will Chase, Jonathan Jackson and Aubrey Peeples appear on select dates. The U.K. excursion features Carmack, Bowen, Esten and Sam Palladio, with Jackson joining the tour in Dublin. The setlist for the tour is made up of original music and tunes from the TV series.

The “Nashville” tour started last night. Any opening night jitters?

I think there were, getting there and getting things set up. The whole show really is quite an ordeal when it comes to equipment and instruments. It’s a big operation. So we were really worried about everything working. I kicked off the show with one of my favorite Will Lexington songs and it’s one that I’m so comfortable with I just felt excited. I didn’t feel jittery at all.

So you opened the show?

Yeah, it’s a new feeling for me because every time I’ve kicked off the tour before I’ve felt butterflies in my stomach, which are a fun feeling. It’s all adrenaline. But I felt very in control last night and I think it bodes well for this very long tour that we’re on.

What goes through your mind five minutes before you go onstage?

(laughs) What goes through my mind five minutes before I go onstage is that I should really figure out the words to this song. (laughs)  You do soundcheck and you don’t always check all the songs and the scariest thing that can happen onstage is to forget the words to the song. I’m sure it will happen during the course of this tour but I would like it to be infrequent.

“Nashville’s” first international tour begins in June. How do you feel about playing overseas?

We sold out real fast overseas, which is great. They’ve been asking us to come over there for several years and they definitely backed up their demands when we went on sale. We had to add two extra dates to London and we added Dublin. It’s very exciting. Crowds are going to be crazy.

Do you do meet & greets on the Nashville tour and if so, what is it like interacting with the fans?

Oh it’s great. We usually do a meet & greet before the show where a few select fans come back and take pictures with us. It gets me really excited about the show and that may be something that helps quell the nerves as well. When we first started going out on tour I was so nervous it was insane but I felt so much more at ease after the meet & greets because the people we met were so excited to see us perform. I realized this isn’t a group of people out there rooting against us. This is a group of people out there rooting for us and it gave me a lot more confidence. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel as jittery as I once did because I know our fanbase is extremely supportive.

What steps do you take to prepare for touring?

This is the longest tour I’ve ever been on so I had to mentally prepare what I was going to pack and get performance clothes together and hanging bags and workout clothes, toiletries. I spent a couple of days wrapping my head around what I was going to need and then there’s the music preparation. We all had a few hours of rehearsal with the band a week before we left. That was last week and in the meantime I’ve just been practicing guitar trying to keep my voice in good shape. I played a couple shows in Nashville and I hosted my buddy’s bachelor party, which may not have been the best way to prepare for a tour but it was five days ago so I’m recovering.

What’s it like touring with the cast of “Nashville” versus working on the set?

We all really enjoy working with each other. On tour it’s such a much more intimate environment because we’re together 24/7 and we’re all together, which is not the case when we’re filming. If I don’t have scenes with Aubrey (Peeples) in one episode, I might not see her the whole time. I don’t have a whole lot of scenes with Chip (Charles Esten) so I don’t get to see him that often on set. We run into each other at events all around town and we play concerts together and I’m thankful for that because I’ve gotten to know this cast better than any other cast I’ve worked with and I think the shared musical experience is the reason.

You played at the Grand Ole Opry’s 90th birthday. What was it like playing at such a historic venue?

I think Chip said it best when he came up to me backstage with a look of awe on his face said, “Do you realize for the rest of the history of the Grand Ole Opry, we played at the 90th birthday?” (laughs) That was the moment where we went, “Wow!” The town, the Opry, they’ve opened their arms to us so warmly as a cast and allowed us to perform in some of [Nashville’s] most sacred venues and invited us to perform at some important ceremonies. It’s just a dream come true. It’s almost unbelievable that we there and able to take part in it.

What inspires you to write music?

It’s more of a compulsion. Being an actor in Los Angeles is a tough road to hoe, I’m afraid. There’s a lot of rejection. There’s a lot of mistreatment. There’s a lot of just not getting treated like a human being because you’re just one of the cattle. You have to have a creative outlet other than acting I think to stay sane and most of my friends who are actors do as well. Mine’s music and I would spend days at a time writing songs and searching my soul and almost treating it like journal entries and therapy in order to stay sane between acting jobs. I got to the point I actually built a home studio in my house. I was recording songs all the time. It was just something that I loved to do and always dreamed about making an album or something but I said to myself, “I’m not going to sacrifice the enjoyment of music for a career like I’ve had to do with acting.” Don’t get me wrong acting is still thrilling at times but as a career it can really wear you down. So I decided I was going to keep music to myself and then this job came along and offered me opportunities I’ve never dreamed of. I’ve had the opportunity to put my music out into the world without people messing with it, without people telling me this is wrong, that’s wrong. It’s an independently produced and released EP so the only person who had to think it was good was me and my producers. [I had] a lot of creative freedom and we had a blast making it.

Do you remember the first song you learned to play?

The very first song that I ever learned? Hmmm. On guitar?

Or saxophone. You play both, correct?

I do. Gosh saxophone was probably “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” On guitar the very first thing I had a friend of mine in high school teach me the chords to [was] “Karma Police,” which is a Radiohead song. It had a lot of chords in it so it was a good place to start. Oh actually, that’s not true. The first song I ever learned, I tried to play “Johnny B. Goode” at a talent show. I sang “Johnny B. Goode” and I played guitar then I had a sax solo in the middle of it. So (laughs) [it] might have been a little showy. And then the very first song that I really ever learned to sing well was a Keb’ Mo’ song called “City Boy.” It’s just a beautiful song and I decided I needed to learn how to really sing and that’s what got me into solo singing and performing.

I read that you play a handmade guitar.

I do. I played it last night. I bring it out on tour with me. I built an electric guitar modeled after a Strat but not quite like a Strat. I took a lot of liberties in the shaping and construction of it but it’s a beautiful guitar and it’s a joy to play. I built it on a whim thinking it was just going to hang on a wall but it turned out to play really well so (laughs) I play it.

How did you learn to do that?

Trial and error. Before I started I went and bought a cheap, crappy, old Strat off of Craigslist. I took it apart and put it back together a bunch of times and learned how to solder. I learned how the electronics worked and I learned all about capacitors and pickups. That was the big learning curve. The rest of it was woodworking, which I have not done fine woodworking before but I’ve done enough construction work on my own house to have a good handle on how to work with wood.

So could that maybe become a hobby for you?

Oh yeah. I loved making this guitar and I named it Number One because that’s the serial number. I made it with a buddy of mine and he [asked], “What are you going to name it?” I have a thing about naming guitars. They are beautiful and they are precious in what they are able to bring into the world but they’re not a living thing and I just couldn’t bring myself to give a name to it. So I named it Number One (laughs) and put a number one on it. I broke my very first expensive guitar that I ever bought because my strap snapped and it fell onto the concrete floor and shattered into a million pieces. I had this out-of-body experience where I could see myself from above yelling, “NOOOOOOO!” in slow motion and I sort of had this moment of how ridiculous it was because I was acting as if a baby had fallen into a fire. When I calmed down, I realized that it was just steel and wood and it could be replaced. It was that moment that I decided I was not going to become emotionally attached to my instruments. That’s kind of a life philosophy. I know a lot of musicians have irreplaceable instruments. I don’t mean to diminish importance to a musicians sound but I make choices to stay sane in life, as I said earlier. That’s one of the choices I’ve made because objects come and go.

My understanding is you listen to a lot of older music and you’re influenced by old blues and jazz. How did you get exposed to those genres?

My exposure came kind of later in life. I wish I had been exposed earlier but it was playing the saxophone that got me into jazz music. My saxophone teacher gave me some Charlie Parker tapes and some Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane. I started listening to that, which led me to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong and I lived in jazz for many years. Then when I started my interest in guitar, my dad also became interested in guitar. So the two of us were kind of learning together and his biggest love was blues, old school blues, like Son House and Muddy Waters and old Delta blues. So we started working on that together. That’s where I went down the blues rabbit hole and during that time I was listening to a lot of classic rock as well – Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, as well as some contemporary bands like Third Eye Blind and Matchbox Twenty. So by the time I was in high school I had a wide variety of music coming my way.

Do you have any plans for a solo tour?

Well, not at the moment. I might do a few dates in the summer. I’m going to be playing CMA Fest in Nashville. We just finished filming and now we’re on the road. I’m committed to the whole tour so that’s three weeks. Then there’s CMA Fest back in Nashville. Then we’re in the U.K. and hopefully soon after that we’ll be back to filming so it’s going to be tough to put together some dates if we get a season five pick up. My fingers are crossed.

“I would spend days at a time writing songs and searching my soul and almost treating it like journal entries and therapy in order to stay sane between acting jobs.”

Upcoming dates for “Nashville In Concert” tour:

April 23 – Grand Prairie, Texas, Verizon Theatre At Grand Prairie
April 24 – Austin, Texas, Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater
April 25 – Houston, Texas, Revention Music Center
April 27 – Atlanta, Ga., Fox Theatre
April 28 – Clearwater, Fla. Ruth Eckerd Hall
April 30 – Rosemont, Ill., Rosemont Theatre
May 1 – Detroit, Mich., Fox Theatre
May 3 – Washington, D.C., DAR Constitution Hall
May 5 – New York, N.Y., Theater At Madison Square Garden
May 6 – Boston, Mass., Wang Theatre – Citi Performing Arts Center
May 7 – Uncasville, Conn., Mohegan Sun Arena
June 13 – Manchester, England, The Bridgewater Hall
June 14 – Birmingham, England, Symphony Hall
June 16 – Glasgow, Scotland, Clyde Auditorium
June 17 – Bristol, England, Colston Hall
June 18 – London, England, Eventim Apollo
June 19 – London, England, Eventim Apollo
June 20 – Dublin, Ireland,  3Arena

For more information about Chris Carmack, please visit the artist’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and SoundCloud account.