Raised on the southern outskirts of Nashville, Chip Greene grew up with a very different kind of Music City looming in the distance. The construction cranes and high-rise condos— now a ubiquitous part of Nashville’s ever-growing skyline — wouldn’t pierce the horizon for another decade or more, and creative-minded people were still in charge. It was there, in a city fueled by art and filled with starry-eyed musicians, that Greene launched his career as a piano-pounding songwriter, reshaping the influences of his childhood — including Billy Joel, Charlie Rich, U2, and Bruce Springsteen — into his own brand of smoky, salt-of-the-earth rock & roll.
In My Town, Greene’s latest release, takes a look at Nashville’s past and present. The arrangements are stacked high with brass, strings, piano, and the soulful stomp of Greene’s voice, while the songs examine the effects of explosive growth upon a city whose struggling artists — once the building block of Nashville society — can no longer afford to pay rent.
“These sings are little vignettes that look at the changes in Nashville over the past couple years,” says Greene, who grew up in nearby McMinnville, TN. “I started to feel like I was losing the sense of the town I grew up around. I’ve been coming here my whole life. I’ve worked on Music Row and played local shows for than a decade, but Nashville has changed a lot recently. And perhaps the beginning of those changes was the flood of 2010.”
That historic flood, which washed its way across local landmarks like the Grand Ole Opry, helped inspire “River Song,” an album highlight that mixes roadhouse rock & roll and southern soul with a bluesy, backwoods stomp. Like the rest of In My Town’s nine tracks, it was recorded to two-inch analog tape at the vintage-themed Welcome to 1979 studio in Nashville. Greene produced those sessions himself, resulting in an album that shines a light not only on his influences, but on the full range of his musical abilities, too.
Greene began exploring those abilities back home in McMinnville. “My dad was a printer and my mother is a florist,” he says. “I grew up around creatives, and that definitely influenced me as a musician, although they didn’t play music.” Before he was old enough to play his first piano chords, Greene fell in love with the instrument, thanks in part to the influence of his grandfather. “When I was a really small child, my grandfather introduced me to Charlie Rich, who played the piano,” he recalls. “I was three or four years old, and I just loved it. That planted the seed of my love for that instrument and that sound.” As he grew older, Greene also took advantage of his proximity to live music, attending seminal concerts by U2, Billy Joel, John Mellencamp, and Tina Turner. It wasn’t until a near-fatal accident forced him into recovery, though, that he found the time to sit down at the piano and develop his own approach to the instrument.
“I was 15 when someone ran a stoplight and hit me head-on on a motorbike,” he remembers. “I was out of school for a year and couldn’t walk for seven months. Part of my rehab included me sitting at the piano and just playing by ear. My friends were all in marching band, so they’d come over to the house and we’d just jam. That’s how some of my first songs formed.”
Those household jams spawned a songwriting habit that would take Greene all the way to Berklee School of Music, where he sharpened his classic approach to melody and his rock & roll approach to piano. Upon moving to Nashville, he found work on Music Row, working for companies like NSAI before giving up his day job to pursue a career as an independent-minded singer/songwriter. He fast-tracked his performance career with the release of 2007’s Exactly and Approximately, but nowhere is his sound better crystallized than on 2019’s In My Town.
In a city of transplants, Chip Greene is a Nashville-area native. He’s watched the city expand and evolve, and he shines a light on that growth — its challenges, benefits, and everything in between — with his newest release. The atmospheric title track finds him singing about the wannabe chart-toppers who “play dress up” in the hopes of resembling the next big thing, while “The Gig” — an anthemic tribute to those who’ve remained in the trenches for years, earning an honest living show by show and fan by fan — makes room for swaggering horns, vicious lead guitar, and Greene’s soulful voice. “We hit some nasty weather, but we’re still out here playing this song,” he sings during the chorus, sounding as defiant as he is driven.
In My Town is a love letter to the artistic struggle, set against a backdrop of a city that, like Greene himself, has changed over the years. It’s a battlecry, written and performed by a rock & roll lifer who isn’t giving up the fight.