Chris Daughtry went into “Baptized,” the recently released fourth album by his group, Daughtry, feeling it was time for a change with the band’s music.
“I just felt like we needed to do something different and sonically shake it up a bit and take it somewhere that was a little more unexpected and a little more unfamiliar to what we’ve done in the past,” Daughtry said in a recent phone interview. “I didn’t want to re-create something we had done before or repeat ourselves in any way, especially with it being the fourth album. I felt if ever there was a time to change it up, this would be it.”
So how different is “Baptized” from the other three Daughtry albums?
Let’s just say the former “American Idol” finalist -- who brings his band to USANA Amphitheatre on Wednesday in a co-headline tour with the Goo Goo Dolls -- probably won’t be hearing the many comparisons to groups like Nickelback, Three Doors Down or Three Days Grace that greeted each of the first three albums from the band.
Instead, the comparisons are more likely to be to acts like Train, Five For Fighting or Gavin DeGraw, as on “Baptized,” the music takes on a more textured sound with tempos and intensities that frequently are more relaxed than what fans had come to expect from Daughtry.
On “Baptized,” notes from a banjo and steel guitar greet the listener as the title song begins the new album. And even though the song quickly shifts into a big chorus, the sound considerably less heavy than previous Daughtry songs, as a blend of acoustic and electric instrumentation is employed. Other songs, such as “Waiting For Superman” (which adds in some electronic tones, sounds particularly Train-like), “I’ll Fight” and “The World We Knew” follow a similar sonic and stylistic template. Meanwhile, “Wild Heart,” (one of several songs inspired by Daughry’s wife, Deanna), and “Long Live Rock & Roll” (a particularly Mumford-esque tune) are especially rootsy and folky.
In fact, the only true rocker on “Baptized” is “Traitor,” and even that song is slightly less bombastic than many of the group’s earlier rockers.
The mainstream rock sound of the previous albums, though, certainly served Daughtry well.
A resident of Greensboro, N.C., Daughtry came on the national radar as an “American Idol” finalist in 2006.
The popularity he gained on “Idol” carried over once he formed the band that bears his last name, bringing aboard guitarists Jeremy Brady (replaced early on by Brian Craddock) and Josh Steely, bassist Josh Paul and drummer Joey Barnes (since replaced by Robin Diaz.)
The group’s 2006 self-titled debut and 2008 follow-up, “Leave This Town,” both debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard magazine album chart and went platinum. But 2011’s “Break the Spell,” while going gold with sales of more than 500,000 copies, fell well short of the totals for the first two albums.
Daughtry admitted that the music on “Baptized” fits with current trends where folk-ish acts like Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers and Imagine Dragons are doing well on top 40 radio. Electronic music is one of the hottest genres in all of rock, and hard rock music struggles to get radio play.
“Of course, you hear these things on the radio, like Imagine Dragons or Lumineers,” he said. “I love that stuff. I love a lot of the stuff that’s going on right now. I’m digging the new Katy Perry stuff. So, yeah, you hear that stuff and it just so happens that it’s working on radio right now, so that certainly doesn’t hurt.”
But Daughtry, whose band is co-headlining a summer tour with the Goo Goo Dolls, said the trend-friendly sound of “Baptized” was driven much more by artistic concerns.
“I mean, we would hear fans at some of our shows, some of the comments were certainly alarming at times when we would hear comments like, ‘Hey, the best part of your show was when it was just you on acoustic guitar,’ ” Daughtry said. “I had to really think about what they were saying. It wasn’t that they were saying ‘Oh, your band is bad’ or ‘No, I don’t like what you guys do.’ What they were saying was it was the only time I could hear you. So what I took from that was maybe we need to bring the guitars down a little bit and not be so in your face with the Marshalls and the Les Pauls.
“That was one of the inspirations to me behind like, ‘How can we make this still sound big and huge and make you feel it, but not drown out the vocal or the story or the melody?’ ” he said. “A lot of that was really influencing my decision to kind of take that route production wise.”
Some of the new sound emerged simply through working with more pop-oriented songwriting collaborators on “Baptized.” The frontman’s main collaborators were Martin Johnson (who has worked with Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne and Jason Derulo, among others) and Sam Hollander (of the production duo S*A*M & Sluggo), as well as Claude Kelly (whose credits include Kelly Clarkson, the Backstreet Boys and Christina Aguilera).
The title track, written with Johnson and Hollander, was one of the first songs to come together for “Baptized.” The production for the song got Daughtry infatuated with the new, more textured sound of his group’s music.
“The songs were written just like any other song we’ve ever written. It starts on acoustic guitar,” Daughtry said. “It isn’t really, there’s nothing in that moment of writing that’s making me go, ‘Hmm, I don’t know if this is the right direction.’ But when the songs started being recorded and laid down, working with Martin (Johnson) and Sam Hollander and Claude Kelly, getting their take on us as opposed to just trying to duplicate, I guess, the quote-unquote Daughtry sound or what you expect to hear from us, we were experimenting with different production elements and different instruments that would be a little more. I guess, fresh to the ears. Hearing that and hearing these kind of new sounds over my voice, it got me really excited and really inspired and it was really no more to it than that.”
Johnson and Hollander also tapped into a sense of humor in Daughtry that hadn’t really come through in his songs.
“Sam just had a way of really pulling these interesting lines out of me,” Daughtry said. “All three of us, we would kind of challenge each other to kind of top what we had come up with previously and we would just keep trying to top ourselves. Songs like ‘Long Live Rock & Roll’ basically started with Sam saying this line about, ‘I wonder about who’s better?” At the time I think it was the 'Boss’ or Billy Joel, or Elton John or Billy Joel, and, ‘Do you wonder if Kurt (Cobain) really wrote the songs he’s singing.’ I just thought that was, it made me laugh, for one. And that was something that I had never done.
“It was interesting to me and slightly uncomfortable to dabble in a light-hearted, almost comedic song in a way,” he said. “But as we kind of got the ball rolling and started writing the song, I was having so much fun with it, I was like, ‘You know what, this is something people need to see from me because I’m not this doom and gloom guy. I need to not take it so seriously and try to have a little more fun with it.”