Brett Eldredge Doesn’t Have It All Figured Out Yet [Interview]
Brett Eldredge is whole-hog embracing being the country singer who talks about mental health and anxiety. Several songs on his new Songs About You album were born from feelings of being less than. In fact, the "You" in the album's title may very well be his anxious alter-ego.
That's not to trivialize these at-times-crippling emotions. For the most part, Eldredge has been smiles and good vibes throughout a 12-year career that's included five No. 1 hits and three more Top 5s. An astute observer (or some hindsight) finds breadcrumbs to indicate a struggle for good mental health. For example, he once told Taste of Country about a troublesome lack of sleep, but did it in a way that brushed away any worry. That was before. In 2022 the "Songs About You" singer is most at ease talking about it, as long as he sets the terms.
"Sometimes I even bring it up, like, 'Man, I'm kind of nervous right now,'" Eldredge tells Taste of Country Nights' Evan Paul. "Like, who cares? I used to think I was going to throw up in front of people. The what-ifs show up in your mind, but like, 'So what if I do, it's a good story.'"
At least two songs from Songs About You (June 17, on Warner Music Nashville) were born from his ongoing battle with anxiety, but neither come across that way. A Brett Eldredge neophyte may mistake both for breakup songs — they certainly work that way. A short, sincere conversation reveals he does have an alter-ego to help him turn anxiety into accessible art. Enjoy "I Feel Fine" as a moody song of empowerment or package his tips for self-improvement and let this song — and others — guide you toward self-improvement.
Taste of Country: This is your seventh album release. What's different on album release day and what's the same?
Brett Eldredge: Good question. The same is you try to get the message out to all the world. You've been working this long on the record ... you poured your whole heart into this. You want it to matter to everybody. That's always how I'll feel on record days. A little bit of anxiousness, like, "I want for every person to hear this."
"I had to run towards the things that scare me and breathe through it and let the feelings be there instead of trying to push it away."
I guess the difference is being like, "OK, but I did really great on this and I feel really great about it. I got a great team around me, and I've made an incredible record, so I'm going to do everything I can and try to step back from it as well. So there's a balance. I used to just go full-on. Now I'm like, "I know this is great. I know my fans are gonna love it. I'm going to breathe a little bit and enjoy this instead of having some expectation that it has to be this number on the chart or it has to be this." I'm able to take a little of the pressure off and enjoy it a little more.
The song "I Feel Fine" is probably the biggest pivot for you. Can you unpack that song for me?
It feels like it's straight out of a movie scene, which I wanted. It feels like an intro to your favorite, edgy movie or series on Netflix or something. It's all about living your life despite the external and internal things that try to bring you down. It's really about being there for yourself and standing up for yourself and finding that confidence and swagger. And giving yourself the power. You give away the power that you have a lot of times, to other things and thoughts that show up in your head when you're overthinking life or whatever.
I shot the video and I'm sipping a whiskey and smoking a cigar. That's a character in my head, whenever I have those things start kind of weighing down on me. I put that character in my head to say, "You know what, there's no stopping me. I'm here, baby."
"Get Out of My House" sounds like a breakup song. Is this a breakup record?
I wouldn't say it's a breakup record. I like to write songs with a lot of different meanings. This song, you could totally take it as a breakup. But you can also take it as, kind of that concept again of the house being your mind. The real estate that you give things in your head — I used to just let things weigh me down so much, and I would go to bed, and I couldn't sleep. I was like, "Why am I doing that? That's not helping me at all. Get out of my house."
As you've begun talking about your struggles with anxiety, have people started to come to you for advice on how to deal with their own anxiety? And if so, does that cause you more anxiety?
(Laughs) That's a good question because it's true. Because once you become the guy talking about it, you're supposed to have it all figured out, and I don't. I definitely am a thousand times better than I used to be. I have a lot more tools now. I think you learn tools, but that doesn't make the anxiety go away, ever. We all have worries, whether you struggle with anxiety or you just have moments of worry sometimes. Some have it worse than others, but it's very human to have anxiety. It's just to what level it is and how do you deal with it.
For me, it's being able to give myself the space when I need to. Creating structure in my life, like getting up, meditating in the morning and not looking at my phone right away. Putting limits on my social media to where I can only be on for a little while and I get locked out; journaling and going to bed every night at the same time, although when I'm on the road that's tough.
Also, re-training my mindset. I used to have panic attacks on interviews even. I could have got a panic attack from this at a certain time, just because it's really important to me and I'm not really nervous about the interview, but I'm going to be triggered because I had one interview where I had a panic attack in, so every time my mind remembers, when I see a camera, it thinks — just like you get into a car crash or whatever — you're thinking about that. So I had to run towards the things that scare me and breathe through it and let the feelings be there, instead of trying to push it away.
Who in country music has been a real ally for you during your difficult times?
Keith Urban was always really — he had a really good mindset in how he was approaching things. He was always so supportive of me and my career. John Osborne (of Brothers Osborne) and I, he's openly talked about and he's starting to talk about mental health now, which is really cool. Dan + Shay are both good buddies of mine, and we also talk about the realities of all of this. It's not very natural to do some of these things and make music. A lot of artists are introverted and you're not used to being thrown out there, and all of a sudden you've got to figure that out. It's a lot of fun, but it's a lot of pressure, too.