For many years, CJ Garton has been pumping out quality, traditional country music, and has been steadily making a name for himself in the community. As 2020 is quickly nearing its end, Garton is taking a big new step; he’s formed his own record label and publishing company, and is taking the reins on the next chapter of his music career.
His 2018 self-titled album has shown Garton some of his most success to date, and with his newly released EP The Gun, featuring a title track that is continuing to reach country music listeners all over the world, serves as his last project under the control of another label. Before year’s end, Garton has plans to release a double vinyl record, co-produced by the legendary Joe Spivey, to hit the ground running on this next chapter.
We chatted with Garton about getting hooked on music at an early age, the success he’s had to this point, what he hopes listeners take from his music, what listeners can expect from his double vinyl album and more!
Pro Country: Who are some of your biggest musical influences that have shaped your sound?
CJ Garton: My father was my biggest influence. Before I ever knew who Keith Whitley was, my dad was Keith Whitley to me. My dad sounded exactly like him, and he played lead guitar and was a songwriter. I remember as early as about four years-old watching my dad play guitar, and I started writing at six years-old. After that, there was no stopping. A few years after that, I heard Keith Whitley on the radio, and I thought it was my dad. I really took to Keith, as well as Randy, Merle and Waylon; anybody who had a song that they sang and made you really believe it with that gravely deep vocal and hard living aspect. That stuff reached me because that was my life.
PC: You mentioned writing your first song at just six years-old. What was it about music and songwriting that connected with you so early in your life?
CJ: It was the cheapest therapist I ever had. It was the way I understood life; I would look at life and look at my situation and ask myself why something was a certain way, and I could put it into a song. I felt like if I was able to get it out in a song, I had a better comprehension of it, and it allowed me to look outside of my eyes and understand other perspectives of things. I wasn’t doing it to be something, it was just who I was, and it felt good when I did it.
PC: At what point did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
CJ: I’ve just always done it. Because my grandfather and father both played, I think it’s always just been instilled in me. I just knew I was going to play and sing country music. There was never really an epiphanous moment, it’s just what I’ve always done.
PC: What went into the decision to release “Away I Go” as the lead single to your 2018 self-titled album?
CJ: It was honestly a label choice. I never really believed in fillers, so everything on the album was something I’ve written over the years. That was my fourth album, but it was my first on that label. When we released that song, it just had a really positive, fun vibe to it. It was a driving kind of song that was very reminiscent of a Randy Travis type of song, so they wanted to release that. I love that song, but there’s not one single song on that album that I wouldn’t make a single.
PC: “Away I Go” earned thousands of streams on Spotify and a few thousand more on YouTube. What was it like for you to see and sustain that success with that single?
CJ: It’s really awesome! I was very blown away by the feedback. It’s had tons of internet success, and just getting that return feedback and seeing what it has accomplished showed me that we’re doing the right thing and that we’re on track with something. It was a lot more than an “atta boy” for me.
PC: “All the Proof I Need” is one of our favorite songs on your self-titled album. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
CJ: In a perfect world, I think we always look at how things could be sometimes. My dad loved my mom undeniably, but at a very early age, my parents got divorced. That started a situation where he was self-medicating out of depression that he was dealing with, so in doing that, when I got older, it always stuck with me that he could find a love that’s a drug. You can find somebody that you could give up anything for, and I think that’s what the power of that song is. There’s nothing bigger or better than your partner’s love, and I think that’s something that relates to a lot of people.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from your self-titled album after listening all the way through?
CJ: That the songs are real and that it’s about real life. When I sit down and write music, I don’t think about things being hits or how much money it’s going to make, I just hope when people listen to it, it does for them what it did for me as a kid growing up. It’s a life’s perspective, it gave me peace and understanding, and it gives something you can emotionally connect with when you’re feeling a certain way. I hope it’s a story for their lives and the things they’ve experienced.
PC: You’ve just released your new EP The Gun, and are working on a special edition, double vinyl record. What information can you give about the album? What can listeners expect to hear?
CJ: One of those songs on the EP is “The Gun,” which has been a really big song for us. We’re releasing four more songs that we did with Kent Wells on my old label. That’s more of a wrapping up of an era I had with them and a teaser of what’s to come. I’m working on the double vinyl record, and I’m really excited for it. I think it really captures my youth and upbringing, but I think there’s an essence of feeling that’s captured on this album more than anything I’ve ever done, because I’m producing it and my hands are on it from beginning to end. My co-producer, Joe Spivey is a legend in the business. He’s played with The Time Jumpers, he wrote the fiddle lick for “Seminole Wind” and he’s up for an ACM Award this year for Utility Player of the Year, and having him as a partner is awesome. He gets me, he gets where I come from and he brings out that emotion that Whitley and Merle had in their music. That’s the kind of album that I really want to release right now.
PC: How did that partnership with Joe Spivey come together, and what have you been able to take away from it?
CJ: You know how the industry is right now, it’s hard to be a traditional country artist, so I asked to be released from my label, and I started my own label and publishing company to really put out traditional country music. In doing so, I knew I needed to partner up with someone who has the same mindset as me. Joe plays with The Time Jumpers, and I’ve known him for years, and I’ve always gone out to watch him play. When we met, it just went perfect. One of us would say one thing, and the other would finish the sentence. When I presented myself to him, I said that I would love for him to join me and co-produce the album with me. He said he loved my voice and my music, so we both really loved what each other did, now we’re partners here! With the team we’ve formed now, they come from the era of music that I loved. Now that I’m working with them all, it just feels like home to me.
PC: You’ve released seven albums so far and are in the process of releasing your eighth. What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned along your artistic journey so far that has helped you with your new releases?
CJ: Patience and humility. You have to understand the process and know that not everything is going to happen immediately. As a musician, you want instant gratification. I always say that some of my biggest successes have been my failures. I’ve learned so much in this town, and I’ve learned what not to do as well. Through all of that, I’ve learned to stick with who I am; stick with what it is in your heart that made you want to do this. If you do that, I think you’ll succeed. We all might get lost sometimes and listen to other people’s opinions and start to lose yourself a little bit. You really have to stay true to who you are and what makes you happy, because at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.
PC: 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?
CJ: We’re still working on booking gigs, and these albums have been keeping me busy. We’re keeping ourselves wrapped up in the label and publishing company. The finances have been tough with all of this, but I have to understand that it’s not just affecting me, it’s something that’s worldwide. We all have to get through this together, be patient and be calm enough to plan. The only thing more valuable than the money we make is time, and you can’t buy time. We’ve been given time, which is an opportunity to get caught up on these projects, to do them meticulously and to do them right. We have time to plan on how we can have the best possible releases and how we can have success with them. People are yearning for music now more than ever, because they need something to reach out and hold on to.
*Find CJ’s music featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*