Interview: Charlie Worsham on ‘Compadres’, playing Red Rocks and 2024 plans

It’s no secret that we’re longtime fans of Charlie Worsham here at Entertainment Focus – and now the rest of the country music world seems to be catching up.

With two full-length albums and an EP already under his belt, in recent years he’s been making a name for himself as one of the most well-respected and in-demand guitarists in Nashville, working with the likes of Eric Church, Dierks Bentley and Ashley McBryde. Now he’s back with his latest project ‘Compadres’, which features a star-studded line-up of collaborators including Luke Combs, Kip Moore, Lainey Wilson and Elle King.

Ahead of the EP release tomorrow, I caught up with Charlie to chat about the project, his summer on the road with Dierks – including playing at the legendary Red Rocks in Colorado – being nominated for CMA Musician of the Year, and what’s next for him in 2024.

We last spoke to you in April when you were over in the UK with Ward Thomas – what’s been happening for you since then?

Whoo! A lot has been happening. I spent the summer out with Dierks Bentley, had a ball with him. Been singing a little bit of my own music out there with him as well, which has just been lovely. We have a toddler now [Charlie’s two-year-old son Gabe] at home [laughs], which is really funny. Constantly laughing, constantly exhausted, but it’s worth it. And then I’ve got this ‘Compadres’ project, which in a weird way has kind of been 10 years in the making. It’s been such a fun way to tell more of my story here in Nashville, things I’ve been doing over the years, as a part of my peers’ stories, you know, getting to play on my favourite records that have been coming out. Whether it’s ‘Growin’ Up And Gettin’ Old’ with Luke Combs, and now him singing on my song ‘How I Learned To Pray’, or Lainey Wilson’s ‘Bell Bottom Country’, which I love, and having her sing my favourite Patty Loveless song [‘Handful Of Dust’], us together. She’s sort of like the Patty Loveless to my Vince Gill. So life is cool. And, yeah, it’s been a good year.

What was it that drew you to the idea of a collaborations project?

Yeah, you know, in 2020, when touring went away for a minute, fortunately, recording sessions were still able to happen. And so I ended up just playing more sessions. It’s something I’ve always done on the side and loved doing because to me, the ultimate goal above anything else is just to play as much music as I can and play with the best musicians that I can and in the studio, you get to do that. And my buddy Jaren Johnston, who’s part of the Cadillac Three, also produces a lot of records, and we’ve been writing buddies for a long time, but he just was calling me more and more and more to play on different records and Kip Moore’s record that just came out. And so I kind of realised one morning on my way to the studio, that this is the perfect day, if I could just snap my fingers and make the perfect day. The only way that this could be better is if we were working on my record.

So Jaren and I started having conversations and in a way ‘Compadres’ chose us more than we did it. And it was just a product of getting to know Lainey in the studio and writing songs together. Same with Luke. Same with Dierks, which, you know, I told you I spent the summer with Dierks, been doing that last two summers. And that was actually all because of a joke he cracked when we were working on his record that came out earlier this year – him saying he might need to hire another guitar player, and we were kind of joking. This was back ahead of the summer 2022. I was like, “My summer is not that busy, man. I’ll come pick with you.” And so it’s just been this really fun way to make all my friends a part of my story.

Was making the record a very collaborative process in terms of putting it all together?

Yeah, it really was. And it was also, given everybody’s crazy schedule, a process that we just made it work. You know, a lot of times we were flying by the seat of our pants. A couple of these vocals. I was never able to be in the studio at the same time as some of my compadres. But we would text throughout the process. On the flip side, a couple of these folks just came over to my house. Jaren couldn’t even make it that day. So Elle King came over to the house one afternoon and sang on ‘Creekwater Clear’.

Kip Moore came late at night one night, and the funny thing there is Kip doesn’t have kids, and of course we do. And he’s got these big ol’ heavy boots on. He’s stomping up the stairs [laughs] and our son’s bedroom is right up at the top of the stairs. I’m just thinking, “Oh Lord, please don’t wake up our son”. Which he didn’t. [But] you know, just him singing at 10 o’clock at night, in the music room in our house. So it’s exactly the way it I feel like it was supposed to happen – just an ongoing process and so much fun to make.

You mentioned you’ve written with Jaren quite a lot – what was it like to work with him as a producer on this project?

What’s that old story, the Goldilocks story, a little bit? There’s a parallel there. And what I mean by that is, when I made my first record ‘Rubberband’, I made it with my dear dear friend Ryan Tyndell. We wrote a bunch of those songs together and we co-produced that project. My friend since college Eric Masse was also a big part of that record, engineered it, has been a part of my record making process for a long time. But when you’re with your friends that you’re super-duper comfortable with, for me, I sometimes get so comfortable that I can become a little bit of a control freak. You know, that first bowl of porridge, if you will.

And then fast forward to my second record [‘Beginning Of Things’], I picked a bucket list producer to work with, Frank Liddell. And this was before I had played on a lot of records. You know, at this point, I’ve kind of worked with every producer out there, and they’re buddies now. Even Jay Joyce, who went from being a bucket list producer to not only have I had him work on projects for me [2021 EP ‘Sugarcane’], but I’ve worked on projects with him for Eric Church, and he’s just a buddy now. But at the time, on my second record, Frank Liddell was sort of untouchable in my mind. He had been a part of so many of my favourite records, that it had the opposite effect, you know, went from too hot to cold, right?

So the thing about Jaren is I know him well enough to be comfortable. But we also know each other just enough to where he can kind of give me a little bit of crap and I can give it right back. So he pushes me but I push back and it creates the just the right amount of tension to where I am putting my foot down sometimes, but he can also put his foot down. And I think that’s really where you end up with the best work.

Do you have a particular favourite song on this project?

You know, I would say my favourite guitar solo on the project is the one I play on ‘Handful Of Dust’. Favourite song as a writer to get to share with the world would be ‘Creekwater Clear’. My favourite lyric that I should be living every day, or kind of was already living sort of as a motto, is ‘Things I Can’t Control’ with Dierks because as a dad, you learn pretty quickly there’s a lot you can’t control. And I hope someday we can make a music video for it because Dierks’ whole thing is [does air quotes] ‘dude’. You know, it’s ‘dude’ touring, it’s this, it’s ‘dude’ or whatever, you know. And I want it to be the video opens, it’s morning, and just the school drop off line. It’s all of these wives dropping off their hungover husbands at dude daycare. And it’s me and Dierks just running a dude daycare for grown men who need to be nursed back to health.

But I have some favourite about everything. My favourite Lazarus moment, I would say, is ‘How I Learned To Pray’ – you know, a song that I thought had kind of had its its run and I was proud of already, but never dreamed it would end up being the song that’s really kind of raising its hand right now and getting a chance. Of course, ‘Kiss Like You Dance’ would be my favourite song to play on a jukebox. Yeah.

I did want to ask you about ‘How I Learned To Pray’ – how has it been to go back and revisit it 10 years on from its first release?

Yeah, you know, the great message for me, the lesson in it is that you just never know who’s listening. And what I mean by that is, when I first moved to Nashville, Eric Church’s first record, ‘Sinners Like Me’, had come out. That was the record that moved me to town and inspired me because I read in the liner notes on ‘Lightning’, “wow, he wrote this by himself”. And he wrote a song about somebody on death row, right, like not something you thought you could get away with at the time. And what I didn’t know when I put out ‘Rubberband’ was that that record was the same thing for a lot of people that moved to town. And two of the people that moved to town at that time were Lainey Wilson and Luke Combs. And getting to know them, I learned what I never knew, which was the role that record played in their early days in Nashville. So it’s been a really sweet sort of cosmic pat on the back. And I love hearing Luke’s voice on that song and hearing it reimagined. I love for folks who’ve been following me for a long time to sort of get a new chance to fall in love with that song. And then for people who didn’t know me before, it’s a great way to say “hey, this is me, here’s where I am. Here’s where I’m going. But also, this is where I’ve been.”

Would you want to do a Compadres Part 2 in the future?

Without a doubt. Yes. Because, you know, fortunately, when we rang everybody’s phone, everybody picked up, we got everybody we had hoped to get for this. But I have a long list of compadres that I’ve spent years making music with. And my goal is that it becomes my own personal version of the Now That’s What I Call Music series. I want to see ‘Compadres’ version eight nine, ten someday, and I’m already plotting ‘Compadres 2’. I’ve already got a draft of what songs I’d cut and who I’d call to sing on them. So absolutely.

Can you give us any clues as to who those might be yet?

I would just say you know, it would be a continuation. If you look on the records that I play on, the people that I collaborate with the most, it’d be people like that. Like one of the people I really want to make more music with is Ashley McBryde. She was out with us, not this past summer but the year before. And she called me to be a part of her ‘Lindeville Live’ presentation at the Ryman. Somebody I’ve been a compadre with since I moved to town 17 years ago is John Osborne. You know, we go way back, I’ve got to do a song with him someday. So there’s a lot of people like that, that make a lot of sense. You know, Cadillac Three. Gosh, he’s [Jaren] already a part of it. But not singing and picking just yet.

Speaking of John Osborne, I also wanted to ask you about the ‘Kiss Like You Dance’ video – was that as fun to make as it looked?

[laughs] It really was a fun day. And sweet John was exactly who you want to be the cameo in your video. Although I will say, and I know John to be, I mean, he’s a tall, imposing dude, but he’s also a teddy bear. Like if you know him, he’s just the sweetest guy. You know, nothing’s gonna happen except the best laugh you’ve ever heard and some funny stories and the best hugs ever. What a great dude. Just a mensch, you know. But yeah, him playing a bouncer was scary. He was very convincing in that moment. But we had a blast. You know, I live over in East Nashville. And we shot the whole thing in East Nashville and Kip and I, we were actually fake drinking. We were drinking sweet tea that looks like whiskey.

We’ve had our share of late nights in particular. First time I went on tour with Kip, I remember we had two nights in Chicago on that tour. And for whatever reason my bus became the place to hang that night. I swear we had like 30 people and buses are designed for 12 people. So we had a full bus that was just bouncing. And I remember we had to pay a cleaning fee when we got back to Nashville [laughs]. So Kip and I know how to throw it down, for sure.

You’ve mentioned being out on tour with Dierks this summer so I wanted to ask you about two things – playing Red Rocks, and getting to be part of the Hot Country Knights [Dierks’ 90s parody country band]…

Two of my favourite questions and things to talk about. Red Rocks had been on my bucket list for a long time and couldn’t have imagined a better first experience there. Not just playing one night, but two nights, Ashley came back and opened one of those nights. It’s really a magical place. And we always have fun on the Dierks gig and Hot Country Knights is a big part of that. Because no matter how the gig goes, you know at the end of the night, you’re gonna go run backstage, throw on a wig, and do a bunch of cheesy 90s synchronised moves together and sing your favourite 90s country songs. And therein lies one of the great lessons to be had in being around Dierks, which is he takes what he does seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he’s constantly channelling his inner 13 year old self. And I have learned in all my time playing music that I am at my best when I am hanging out with my inner kid. And that’s how it felt at Red Rocks.

And the other thing, I don’t want to give away any spoilers for people who are going to play their first Red Rocks or anything, but one of the things you can’t prepare for is most audiences go back. This audience goes up, and it keeps going and going and going. And it truly sounds great. It really is a great sounding place for music. So, definitely, I can’t wait to go back and sign my name on the wall and all that stuff.

When you were saying about your idea for the ‘Things I Can’t Control’ video – I think the husbands at ‘dude daycare’ need to be played by Hot Country Knights members…

I think you’re right. Yeah. Maybe we nurse Doug [Douglason, Bentley’s Hot Country Knights alter ego] back to health. Yeah, I love it.

I also wanted to say congratulations on your CMA Musician of the Year nomination! How was it finding out that you’d been nominated?

Well, talk about a heck of a week. So I played Red Rocks two nights in a row, and then I wake up the morning after the second show at the hotel in Denver. We’re about to fly back home. And I wake up to the news I’ve been nominated. And I’ve been practising my CMA award speech since I was 10 years old. And I can’t think of a better first nomination than this musician category. Because before I ever sang a song or ever tried to write a song, I was a picker. And I was a liner note nerd. I would read those names and those were my heroes. You know, we’d go to see Vince Gill in concert and of course, he’s my hero. But it was the people in the band too that were my heroes, and I knew them all by name. I knew the other records that played on. And I wanted to be a part of that community. And so to be honoured and recognised and respected by the community that I have so much respect for is truly humbling.

I did want to ask you one more thing about ‘Compadres’ – what’s the thing you learned from making that project?

Oh, what a great question. [pause] What did I learn making ‘Compadres’? [another pause] Well, I wouldn’t say it’s the first time I learned this, but I learned to trust myself. And to trust that I can sing, to trust that I can play, to trust my instincts. Because we recorded this with a really small band, just drums and bass and another guitar player. And there’s a couple songs where it’s just drums and bass, and then it’s me. And to send those texts and make those calls. You know, it wasn’t like Warner [Charlie’s record label] picked up the phone and called Luke’s manager, I was texting Luke. I think trusting myself in that way, you know, trust that I do have that respect. I think that’s been something hard earned. And it’s taken me a long time to see myself the way that others have seen me for a long time. And so that’s been both a lesson and a gift.

What’s next for you after this?

Well, I’m so glad you asked. Because last week, actually, I’m here on Music Row, and like a block back that way is my publishers building. I’m here at Warner, my label home, but Sony Music Publishing has been my home now for about half as long as Warner’s been my home as a recording artist. And I have a great publisher, my buddy Josh, we spent the whole day last week him, my manager and myself, playing and listening to songs. And it’s funny, some of these were songs that are outside songs others wrote, and some of them were songs I wrote, and half the ones I had written, I forgot I’d written – he found the songs. And you know, that’s something I’m learning, talking about learning to trust yourself, is just to wake up and make the music that’s in my heart that day, it’ll find a home. The songs I forgot I’d written, I was writing my next record. If I had to go in tomorrow, I could make my next record now. It’d be the best record I’ve ever made. I’m still writing for it, but I plan to record it really soon. And it’ll be a mix of songs I’ve written, and a mix of songs I didn’t write. But more than that, it’s a story that’s a part of who I am, that I’ve been figuring out how to tell for the last few years. And I didn’t even know how far along I was until the other day listening back to the songs.

And so I’m really excited about my next record, and really excited to find a way to get back to the UK. I’ll probably spend another summer touring with Dierks. I’m hoping to manifest that I’m opening the shows as well as playing in his band, because the goal is always to play more music. And the only thing better than playing in Dierks’ band for an hour and a half every night is to play an extra half hour of my own music that same night. But I certainly want to get back across the pond. I had so much fun earlier this year with Ward Thomas, and we’re looking at every possible chance, including if I can twist Dierks’ arm to come over and play.

I was going to ask if you had plans to come back but you beat me to it! So I’ll finish by asking about a conversation I saw between you and Lucie Silvas, or maybe you and John Osborne on social media about making a kids’ album – is that ever going to be a possibility?

Oh, you know, it’s funny. Talk about songs you forget you wrote. I have a couple of kids’ songs. And you know, we’ve learned too watching all these kids’ movies that they have now with Gabe, they’re also for grownups, and there’s a long tradition in country music that goes all the way back to Tom T Hall. And he made a record called ‘Songs From Fox Hollow’ that’s a kid’s record,ut it’s as much for grownups as it is for kids. And there’s also an East Nashvillian, my neighbour, Farmer Jason, who’s like this punk rock, hillbilly, kids’ singer guy, and Dierks has taken his kids to Farmer Jason Giggs before. So I would love to be a part of that. And John would definitely be the first call I’d make. Like, “come on, dude. Let’s go make a kid’s record. It’ll happen. Let’s not say if, we’ll say when.

Charlie Worsham’s new EP, ‘Compadres’, is out on Friday 13th October on Warner Music Nashville.

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