After playing to millions around the world, it's no surprise that Daughtry's new album picks up where the quintuple-platinum, Grammy-nominated debut leaves off. The twists and turns of the band's journey lie at the heart of LEAVE THIS TOWN (19 Recordings/RCA). Burnished by countless miles on the road, the melodies shine like headlights in the night and are played with a restless energy that draws on all the challenges of life's experiences, exploring the different paths we take in our search for common understanding.
"A lot of the lyrics are about how leaps of faith can set us free or tie us down, and realizing that we often find heartache when we run from something and redemption when we run toward something," singer Chris Daughtry says.
The title comes from a line in "September," a song Chris wrote with guitarist Josh Steely. Loaded with evocative phrases, the bittersweet ballad draws on Chris' experiences growing up with his brother in a tiny North Carolina town. "Every time I hear that song it takes me back to my summers in Lasker," he says. "I loved growing up there, but I knew I'd have leave to make something of my life."
LEAVE THIS TOWN is the first album to feature Chris with bandmates Joey Barnes (drums/piano), Josh Paul (bass), and guitarists Josh Steely and Brian Craddock. Together, they deliver a dozen inspired performances held together by anthemic hooks, impassioned vocals, and lyrics laced with a wisdom found through searching horizons and rearviews. A work of remarkable creativity and range, the album smoothly shifts gears from powerful arena-rock ("No Surprise," "Ghost of Me"), to hushed ballads ("September"), and emotional mid-tempo rockers ("Life After You," "Learn My Lesson"). The album also includes the country-influenced "Tennessee Line," a track Chris wrote with Craddock that features vocal harmonies by country-music superstar Vince Gill.
That mix of sounds is reflective of the different personalities who joined Daughtry in 2006, shortly after the singer recorded his debut. It was instant chemistry, Chris says of his bandmates. "From the very first show, it felt like I'd known these guys all my life."
Early on, the band focused on establishing its own identity by taking creative license with the original arrangements from the debut and recasting them in their own image. "To bond as a band, we really needed to own those songs, which meant letting our personalities come through," Barnes says. "To Chris' credit, he gave us the freedom to be ourselves, which is what brought us to together as a band."
When the marathon tour ended in 2008, Daughtry had graduated from playing clubs to opening arenas and had charted three #1 singles, while the album became the biggest-selling rock release two years in a row and the fastest-selling rock debut in Soundscan history. Eager to keep the album's runaway success in perspective, and determined to surpass its high-water mark, Chris buried himself in work, spending months collaborating with rock's savviest songsmiths.
Chris re-teams with two songwriting partners from his debut on LEAVE THIS TOWN, penning "Learn My Lesson" with Mitch Allan of SR-71, and "Ghost of Me" with Hinder producer Brian Howes. Returning producer Howard Benson (All-American Rejects, My Chemical Romance) says the key to Chris' success as songwriter is his ability to remain grounded. "Not only is he in touch with who he is and where he comes from, but he also has the courage to write about it, which is all you can ask of any artist. He's a humble, hard-working guy who just happens to be in a successful band."
LEAVE THIS TOWN also includes stellar contributions from Nickelback's Chad Kroeger. Chris met Chad a few years ago. The two became fast friends and even toured together. Excited to collaborate, Chris traveled to Chad's Vancouver studio where they wrote "Life After You" and "No Surprise," the first single from LEAVE THIS TOWN. "Chad has amazing instincts as a songwriter," Chris says. "I liked bouncing ideas back and forth with him because he was quick to pick up on where I wanted to go, but he was also able to inspire me to try different directions."
During the session, Chris says a random musical aside led to a surprising collaboration. "I was singing a line and ended with a little R&B twist. Chad looked at me funny and I said, 'I guess it's just the Richard Marx in me coming out.'" Longtime friends, Chad called Richard, who joined the session the following day. "I was in shock," Chris recalls. "I'm such a huge fan. I even sang his song 'Now and Forever' for my wife when we were dating."
The two quickly hit it off, writing "On the Inside" (bonus track), which is a hard-rocking song Marx started on the flight to Vancouver. The song's chorus – "You can move to another town/Hide where you're sure you won't be found/But you'll still be the same on the inside" – dovetails with the album's concept of finding yourself. The lyrics work on two levels, Chris says. "The obvious interpretation is that you can never outrun your problems. But you could also see this song as a message of unconditional love to someone who's trying to change."
The search for better days continues with "Long Way" (bonus track), a song Chris wrote with Jason Wade of Lifehouse. In it, the road becomes a metaphor for an inward journey that leads to self-awareness. "When I wrote the line, 'There's no direction where I stand/Just dead end signs and wasted land,' I was thinking about how sometimes you have to truly get lost before you can really find yourself.
With all these songs about how where we've been determines where we're going, it's fitting that LEAVE THIS TOWN captures the band at a crossroads. "Not to take anything away from the debut, but this record really feels like my first," Chris says. "It's the sound of a new beginning."