The 'Outer Banks' star's long-awaited debut album 'Love Ain't Pretty' is due Jan. 26, 2024
Charles Esten's debut album has been a long time coming.
While playing Deacon Claybourne — the loyal, brooding songwriter and guitarist struggling with addiction — on the country soap Nashville for over six seasons , music became an integral part of the role. Naturally, his real-life began to somewhat parallel that of his on-screen alter-ego, and in 2016, Esten, 57, began releasing music of his own — allowing him to pursue a longtime passion properly.
"They call this a 10-year town, Nashville, and it's definitely been slightly over 10 years since I got here to shoot the show Nashville," Esten told PEOPLE over the phone from Nashville. "And it's hard to overstate the impact it has had on my life."
The Outer Banks star continued: "Music was always my first love and I never stopped playing it and I never stopped writing it. But the character of Deacon Claybourne opened up this opportunity to jump back in and I did fully and instantly."
Two years later, he had released 54 singles in 54 weeks, setting a Guinness World Record for the title of "themost consecutive weeks to release an original digital single by a music act."
Now, he's set to release his long-awaited debut album Love Ain't Pretty on Jan. 26, 2024.
PEOPLE is exclusively revealing the tracklist for his forthcoming LP and offering a first listen of Esten's new single with Eric Paslay, called "Down the Road." In an interview, the musician opens up about collaborating with Paslay, the meaning behind his album title and what fans can expect from the Nashville Reunion tour.
Love Ain't Pretty Tracklist
- “Love Ain’t Pretty"
- “A Little Right Now”
- “One Good Move”
- “In a Bar Somewhere”
- “I Ain’t”
- “Another Song About You”
- “When Love Ain’t Love”
- “Back in My Life”
- “Make You Happy”
- “Willing to Try”
- “Maybe I’m Alright”
- “Down the Road (feat. Eric Paslay)”
- “Somewhere in the Sunshine”
Congratulations on your record. I feel like it’s been a bit of a long time coming.
It absolutely has. I started off making a whole bunch of singles, actually a world record number of singles. I put out 54 singles in 54 weeks. I think that started back in 2016. I [was] still working in Nashville and hanging out with all these incredible writers, producers, musicians, and I was finally in Music City after all these years. So I just went for it and I said, I'm going to start out putting singles. An album is more a statement on who you are at that point in time. It's more thematic or has a unified thing to it than a single needs to.
Clearly once you've done a year's worth-plus singles, you take a little break. I didn't realize it would be quite so long. I made a start at an album right before COVID struck, and I felt like between the lockdowns and the way the world changed all around us, some of the things I was thinking, saying or singing weren't quite what I was feeling at that moment.
How did you come up with the album title Love Ain't Pretty?
It's funny. It was the last song written for the album, and it was the only song co-written with my producer Marshall Altman, and I wrote it with him and another great friend and songwriter Jimmy Yeary. And we wrote it right there in the studio, the three of us, and by the time we were done, it just instantly felt like the throughline of the album that love, like life, it’s not pretty. If you're a caring, sensitive person, it can bring a whole lot of pain. I like that because the title makes you think that it's a negative thing you're saying about love, but in the end, it's a positive thing.
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We’re offering an exclusive listen of “Down the Road,” which features Eric Paslay. How did the collaboration come about?
I wrote that one a couple of years ago pre-COVID, and Eric has been a friend for much of the time I've been here — since I got here in 2012 to shoot Nashville. I'm such a fan of his, and I'm always blown away by his songwriting talent. By the way, he was a songwriter on the very first song played on the show in Nashville. It was not one of the many incredible originals that were to come later, but it was “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” — Eli Young Band's version of that song [that] was the first music as the credits rolled and as the camera came in over Nashville.
Over the years we kept threatening to write together as you do in this town, and then we finally got together with his friend Dylan Altman, no relation to Marshall Altman, and three of us wrote three songs in two days. We wrote one and then started another and didn't finish, came back and wrote two. I just had this feeling that this [“Down the Road”] was a special song for me and over the last couple of years, we played it live a number of times and always got a great reaction to it.
What’s the meaning behind your latest single “Down the Road”?
It's a song that takes on the notion that sometimes when things are going poorly [we think] they're going to stay that way and that we know what's coming. It's very easy to think of ourselves as being at the end of our own sad movie when things are going that poorly for us. This song just says, maybe you don't know what's down the road. Maybe there's things you could never possibly imagine. And that's how I feel. I do. I always try to remind myself that this too shall pass.
“Down the Road” has a Bruce Springsteen-esque vibe, but how do you define the sound of the record?
Well, that was the issue when I was even considering an album. If you ask me what's the music I was raised on, what's the music I love, it's definitely a combination of country music — of Waylon [Jennings] and Hank [Williams] , Willie [Nelson] and Johnny [Cash] — and then on top of that, definitely Bruce Springsteen. There's no hiding that influence, and there's no wanting to, honestly.
Elsewhere, they all have a bit of that bluesy country soul in them. I think that's naturally a part of who I am as an artist, what I would want to bring to it is feeling that emotion. There's definitely country all over it, like “In a Bar Somewhere.” But there's definitely a range of styles as well as a range of emotions and themes. “Maybe I'm All Right” has a real bluesy soulful feel, "Back In My Life" has a little bit more of an out on the road, almost Americana thing that Marcus Hummon brought to it, my co-writer on that.
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What’s the story behind the visualizer for “Down the Road”?
I love that visualizer, and I'm grateful for the folks at Quinton Digital for making that happen. I'm savvy enough to know that even as an older guy, that you gotta have that iPhone out and catch some of those magic moments. And honestly, if these videos never even got out at all, I wanted them for me. I wanted the video of what it was like to record that song.
Now, when Eric [Paslay] got in there, I said, "Hold on, you're not recording yet. I got to get some video." And then, the other stuff from the studio was my wife Patty [Hanson] wandering around with the phone. I love the sound where this was recorded, and I'm super grateful to my friend Juanita who runs the place there and just to get to do it there. You can see that it's a beautiful room with a great vibe. And in fact, I think I recorded most of my Deacon Claybourne songs, not only in that studio, but perhaps in that one room.
The cast of Nashville is having a Reunion tour with Sam Palladio, Jonathan Jackson, Clare Bowen and Chris Carmack, who will play one of the dates. Any chance some other cast members will be joining — perhaps Hayden Panettiere?
First of all, I love her. Clearly, her acting was so great on that show. I think her voice, her performances, were just stunning and super consistent. I'd be first one in line to buy a Hayden Panettiere album.
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Obviously you guys haven't reunited together on stage for four or five years. What can fans expect?
Well, we're still talking setlist, and we always like to have a song or two up our sleeve that you might not quite expect. Right now, it's been so long since we've done this together that we're really looking to fulfill for ourselves, what we're fulfilling for them, which is, “Let's go back, let's go sit in that beautiful car we got to drive around called Nashville.” I get to put Deacon's boots back on again, if you will. I'll definitely be standing behind some of his guitars, as I ended up with them.
This music is all so meaningful to us, and what we found over the years is that for people that love Nashville, that's true for them as well. I'll get to sing a couple of songs with Clare that we did on the show, definitely Jonathan and Clare and Sam will do a song or two together. We're real excited because Chris Carmack will be able to join us in Chicago, so that opens up a few more of those songs that I always love so well.