Outsider A-Side: Cole Chaney Walked a Winding Road to ‘Mercy’

by Clayton Edwards

Cole Chaney made a name for himself during the worst part of the pandemic. Like many artists, he could no longer play live shows. Instead, he took to social media to share his brand of Appalachian-tinged country music with the world. Then, in May of 2021, the young Catlettsburg, Kentucky native released his debut album Mercy and blew us all away. Songs like “Another Day in the Life,” “Wishing Well,” and “Ill Will Creek” became the soundtrack to springtime for many Outsiders.

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Cole Chaney about the path that led him to Mercy and more.

Every Journey Starts Somewhere

Cole Chaney: Fresh out of high school, I was a pipe welder. I worked a few odd jobs here and there and went to Kentucky Welding Institute and got my certifications there and hit the road for a few months. Made some money – enough to sit on – and came back home and started writing songs. I was 19.

A Fork in the Road

Cole Chaney: Well, really, [transitioning from welding to music] was almost out of necessity. Originally, when I came back home I planned on going back out on the road to go welding. But, really, my heart wasn’t in it at all. I went out to do another weld test in Cincinnati and busted that. So, I came back home and I was like “I need to find something else because this is not really what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.”

COVID Adds Another Curve to the Road

Cole Chaney: At first, I was really, really scared. Because I was invested in this thing and felt I like I was really starting to gain some momentum, locally especially. [COVID] hit and completely redirected my path.

I had just put a band together. We were like a rock and roll band. We were doing country songs but we were also throwing like Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots and shit like that in there. It was kind of wild and it was called Cole Chaney and the Candy Holler Rhythm. But, we only did one show together right before everything got shut down.

I think, what seemed like it was going to be a curse might be the best thing that ever happened. I had to start doing videos and stuff like that. If it hadn’t been for a lot of those videos that not necessarily went viral but got a lot of attention, especially locally, I definitely wouldn’t have had the momentum I had rolling into Mercy.

Cole Chaney Finds His Sound

Cole Chaney: [COVID] forced me to find my own sound. I went a little more country and bluegrass than I originally intended on doing.

I planned on doing a kind of alternative grunge sound almost. It was almost like life just through a block in my way and said “No, I don’t think we’re gonna do that, yet. You need to chill out, take a few steps back, and evaluate your situation.” So that’s what I did.

Will He Bring the Grunge Sound Back?

Cole Chaney: Let’s be honest I have a pretty thick Eastern Kentucky accent. There’s not a whole lot I can really do about that and not a whole lot that I want to do about it. That’s who I am, that’s where I come from. With that, I don’t think you’ll ever hear my music without an acoustic guitar, mandolin, and probably a fiddle in it at least. But, I mean who’s to say that you can’t write alternative rock songs with a mandolin and fiddle in them?

For the time being, I like the direction that my music is going. I plan to continue with this traditional country sound that we have right now.

A New Outlook Brings New Music

Cole Chaney: I’m writing big time. It took me a while after I came in from being on the road to get back into a creative mindset. I wouldn’t say I was burned out, but I was going real hard there for a long time and that takes a toll on you mentally and physically. I’ve been taking it a lot easier the past couple, three months. That gives me enough time to sit down and read and decompress enough to write music again.

I’m working on this record right now and I’m kind of thinking about the direction that we want to take with it and the message I want to convey. I don’t really have a timeframe for it yet, but it’s getting there.

A Message of Hope

Cole Chaney: I feel like the first album kind of conveyed a message of uncertainty, leaving home because you don’t have much choice. Like, it was titled Mercy for a reason, after the song “Mercy.” I wanted that song to be the main theme of the entire album. Kind of a message of desperation.

Now, I have a better outlook on life as a whole because music has gone so well for me. This next work, I can’t say what it will be like when it’s finally done but I think, the way I feel right now, I want it to convey a little more hopeful message and hopefully inspire some folks that were like me to keep pushing on. Keep doing what you’re doing. I’m a big believer in if you really work hard, the more time that you devote to something that you’re truly meant to do, I think it’s inevitable that it will work out for you eventually.

Advice for Upcoming Artists

Cole Chaney: I would tell them to write as much as they can while there’s not any pressure on them. Do as much creating now, while you feel like you’re punching up, as you can. The pressure that you think you feel right now is nothing compared to when you actually start getting into the music industry. Things get way more complicated and you get way busier and you can’t find nearly as much time to create.

Get out and try to create a local audience. That’s a huge part of your support system as an artist, depending on the way you want to go. Some folks want to go down to Nashville and wait for that opportunity to come to them. That’s fine, but that’s not the way I do it. I decided that I was going to try to make it my own way and do it myself. I feel like I’ve been very blessed. It’s worked out pretty well for me so far. I’d say make yourself a good local artist fanbase and start building off of that. It’s a slow build but you’ve just got to stick with it and give it as much as you can.