5 Questions With Chris Canterbury About His Outstanding New Album, ‘Quaalude Lullabies’

by Jim Casey

Chris Canterbury. Writes like Chris Knight. Sounds like Chris Stapleton. That’s high praise, but the force is strong with Chris Canterbury on his new album, Quaalude Lullabies, which drops on Sept. 23. And how’s this for high praise? Quaalude Lullabies is easily one of the best indie albums I’ve heard in 2022. It’s gritty. It’s raw. And, it’s fantastic—full of lyrical addiction, depression, and loneliness, not to mention Telecaster, steel, and B3 organ. Oh, it’s not the feel-good album of the year. But it’s a helluva late-night spinner with a glass of bourbon.

Not only did Canterbury co-pen eight of the nine tracks on the new album, but also he self-produced the project (for the first time). The Louisiana native, who has been in Nashville since 2012, sat down with Outsider to answer 5 Questions about the new album.

1. What was the catalyst for the new project, because this is your first album since 2017?

Chris Canterbury: Records are expensive, they cost a lot of money [laughing]. But when the pandemic hit, and everything was shut down, especially this industry, I was like, “Well, this is probably the best time to do something like this.” I was just going through my work tapes, and I came across [album opener] “The Devil, The Dealer, and Me.”

I had written that two days before the tornado came through Nashville [in March 2020], so it was about a month before the pandemic hit. My buddy, Vinnie Paolizzi, who I wrote it with, he had reached out, and was like, “Hey, you got the work tape on that?” He’s like, “I can’t find it.” So I listened to it, sent it to him. After I listened to it again, I thought it would be a good album song, and I was like, “Man, I’ve got enough songs to do a record.” He was like, “Well, work on one.”

2. As an indie artist, how did you manage to put the album out on your own?

Chris Canterbury: My girlfriend is a photographer and she was shooting at this studio. She mentioned their website was down. I do graphic design and web work on the side. It’s been a side hustle for 15 years. It’s been my second thing, and so I was like, “I might just reach out to them, and see if they’ll trade off some studio time for a website, and I can just go cut some demos on these songs.” Then I realized that I had enough songs to do it, and I was like, “Man, why don’t I just kind of woodshop a record together?”

I mean, I definitely ended up having to pay to make this album. But I did much as much swapping off as could. This is a concept record, but it’s not a concept record. The concept is I traded off as much work as I could and favors, and then had my friends come on and play. And just asked people if they would be interested in coming in, and just things like that.

3. One of the standout tracks on the album is the swampy ‘Heartache for Hire.’ What’s the story behind that tune?

Chris Canterbury: That’s another one that I wrote with Vinnie Paolizzi and Rob Snyder. “Heartache for Hire,” I remember having that title about seven years ago. On Tuesday nights, we used to go to a showcase show called Revival 615. It was a songwriter round. Rob ran that, and that’s how I met him. One night at Revival, I just had that title and a few lyrics: “Step out in the line of fire, I’m a heartache for hire.” I mentioned it to him, he’s like, “Save that for me.” Then, he got a new publishing deal, and then neither one of us could sit back down with it.

So one day, Vinnie called me up and said, “Hey, I got a write with Rob today. If you want to hop in, we’re going to do a third.” So whenever he called me, and he said he was writing with Rob, I immediately texted Rob and said, “You want to work on this ‘Heartache For Hire’?” So we wrote it. And I wanted to do something swampy when we recorded it. I kind of gave free rein to Gabe Lee, who played keys on the record. I was like, “Hey, make this as swampy as you possibly can with the organ.” And he did.

4. Did you enjoy the nuts and bolts of producing the project?

Chris Canterbury: I did. I self-produced it. But I wouldn’t call myself a producer. I don’t know anything about the recording process, but I knew exactly what I wanted on the songs. Or I had an idea. Some of those ideas that I had didn’t make it off the cutting room floor. I would hear them, and I’m like, “Okay, that’s garbage.” But in my whole lot, I guess, the one that I’m most proud of is “The Devil, The Dealer & Me.” Well, I’m obviously proud of the whole record, but “The Devil” has the pedal steel and organ and upright bass. A few people were like, “That just doesn’t sound like it’ll work.” Then when the song came out, everybody was kind of like, “Oh, this sounds great.” I was like, “This is exactly what I had in my head.” I’m glad that I was able to verbalize that.

5. How’d you manage to squeeze one love song on the new album with ‘Sweet Maria’?

Chris Canterbury: That was actually the first song that me and Vinnie [Paolizzi] wrote together in 2020. I tell people, “He tricked me into writing a love song.” He was like, “Hey, let’s get together and write some songs. I want to write some sad stuff.” Then when we got the room, he was like, “Hey, I got this idea.” We didn’t have a title for it, or anything. We didn’t have a hook for it, but he’s saying some of the lines, I’m like, “All right. So how are we going to make this sad?” He’s like, “Oh, we’re not. It’s going to be a love song.” So the next time, I made him write “The Devil, The Dealer & Me,” because we had to right the universe [laughing].