The past two years have been kind to John Baumann.
Following a cut that became a fan-favorite on Kenny Chesney’s 2018 record Songs for the Saints, Baumann joined the Texas country supergroup The Panhandlers, who released their greatly successful debut album in March. Now, Baumann is looking to continue his hot streak with Country Shade, his first album in three years, and an album that he hopes allows listeners to run the gamut of emotions.
Country Shade sees Baumann showcasing everything we have loved about his music in the past: excellent lyrics, thoughtful instrumentation, and now, a motivated Baumann as he looked to, and in our opinion, succeeded, in releasing his best record to date.
We chatted with Baumann about how his song “Gulf Moon” landed on Kenny Chesney’s album, the validation that came with it, how The Panhandlers came together, all about Country Shade, many of the songs on the record, what he hopes listeners take away from it and more!
Pro Country: You had established a very solid fanbase with first handful of releases, but many have mentioned you coming onto their radar when Kenny Chesney cut your song “Gulf Moon” on his album Songs for the Saints in 2018. How did Kenny hear the song, and what did it mean to you to have an artist of his caliber cut your song?
John Baumann: It was a five-year process from start to finish. I wrote the song in 2013 and recorded it thereafter, putting it on an album in 2014. Through an old mentor of mine, the song made its way to KC’s producer, Buddy Cannon, who showed it to Chesney, who loved it. It didn’t make it on to a record of his until 2018. So it was definitely a process, and was not always a sure thing. In my opinion, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to my career, and gave me real validation as a songwriter.
PC: In 2019, it was announced that you had formed The Panhandlers with William Clark Green, Cleto Cordero and Josh Abbott and subsequently released a greatly successful debut album in early March. Can you talk a bit about how the band came together and what it was like to work so closely with three artists of the collective caliber of William, Cleto and Josh?
JB: The band was Josh Abbott’s idea, and I was honored to be asked to jump on board. It started with a phone call in March of 2019, and by September of the same year, we were in the studio recording original material, so it was very fast. It’s a ton of fun working with the group; mostly pranks and bad jokes, with some songwriting here and there. We get along great, and I think it’s only the first of several records we will make.
PC: As your career has progressed, your streaming numbers and following has continued to steadily increase. Coinciding with Kenny cutting “Gulf Moon” and the success of The Panhandlers’ album, was there a level of pressure, internally or externally, as you were putting your new album Country Shade together to achieve a certain level of success to keep things progressing?
JB: I think I have always felt internal pressure to push myself, raise the bar and to write the best songs I can. It had been three years since my last release, so I definitely felt external pressure as well. I was and remain extremely proud of my previous record, Proving Grounds, and felt compelled to try and top it. So, yes, there’s been some pressure, but I try to just keep moving the ball downfield, put one foot in front of the other. Slow and steady!
PC: “Next Ride Around the Sun” premiered on Billboard in mid-April, and is a song that stressed the importance of being kind and living life to the fullest. Can you talk about the decision to release that song as the lead single from Country Shade?
JB: I felt like it was the strongest song that could appeal to listeners of multiple genres: country, rock and pop. And it’s been one of my favorite songs to play live the last two years. And the line, “as you age, time is gathering speed,” felt like a staple of the record, so it felt like a good launching point for Country Shade.
PC: “The Country Doesn’t Sound the Same” leads off Country Shade and discusses the changing climates of both country music and the social status of the world and how hard it can be to keep up, and a song you’ve mentioned is your favorite on the record. Why is the song so special to you and how autobiographical are the feelings discussed in the song?
JB: The song is special to me because it is autobiographical and because of the sonic presence of the music itself. I love songs that hold weight, and you can feel the gravity and the drama of them unfolding before you. I love a persistent finger picking pattern that meets a walk down progression. My father was the first person to expose me to country music, I remember listening to old tapes with him driving around. Looking back now, it’s funny how different that country music was from today’s. The second verse, about the changing rural climate is a direct look into my grandmother’s ranch, and the struggle to keep it a ranch as the world seems to encroach and build around it. And lastly, the insane political climate we live in today, it affects everyone globally, could not be ignored for the third verse.
PC: “Daylights Burning” is our favorite song on Country Shade, and was written with Drew Kennedy. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
JB: Drew came to my house to write one day. This was the last song written for the record. We were both blank canvases, with the exception of a loose idea that I had for the simple phrase of “we’re burning daylight!” We worked on it for a few hours, and then it came to us; the song should be about two friends: one is going through a breakup, and the other one is levelling with him, letting him know this breakup won’t be easy to deal with, but you have to in order to get on with your life. It was a joy to write this song with him.
PC: “Second Wind” premiered on The Bluegrass Situation, and you mention the song being about “questioning your motives, where you have gone right and wrong, remembering who you can lean on, and ultimately finding how to harness that long lost feeling of unbridled motivation to push forward and find that validation.” From where do you draw your inspiration as both an artist and songwriter, and what does this song mean to you?
JB: I can be hard on myself, and struggle at times with the state of my career, and this song expounds upon that. So much of what I draw upon as a songwriter comes from some of my intense moods about the serious or scary things in life. I think this song serves as a reminder that if you dig down, you can find gas in the tank to push on.
PC: “Grandfather’s Grandson” closes Country Shade with a lamenting lyric of preservation. How important are those feelings for you, and what went into the decision to wrap the record up with that song?
JB: I always feel like the last song on the record is one of the top three most important songs on a record, even if listeners never make it that far. My grandmother’s ranch, and the preservation of it, remains a persistent theme through Country Shade, and it felt like a solid way to conclude the record. The feelings from this song inspire me to protect what is mine and my family’s, and to remain strong when times are changing or your back is against the wall. In a sense, it is a protest song.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from Country Shade after listening all the way through?
JB: I hope they take comfort or solace in some of the songs that resonate with them. I hope they laugh during “Flight Anxiety.” I hope they appreciate their time on earth and their loved ones in “Next Ride Around The Sun.” I hope they get transported back to the good old days of their youth in “Homesick for the Heartland.” I just hope they find something for themselves somewhere in the record. That’s why I do it.
PC: The first half of 2020 has altered many plans of artists so far. Of the things you can control, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
JB: The silver lining for me is I get to be home with my son, who’s 5 months old. I plan to keep writing, and record again soon.
**Find John’s music on The Best of Pro Country Playlist!**