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Chord Overstreet

A Life Unfolding In Story & Song

Words by Brent Lambert

What makes Hollywood such a fascinating place is how it is filled with more storytellers per capita than any other place in the world. Some of these people are performing the stories, while others are creating them. And then there are the mega talents like Chord Overstreet who can do both. When he first sent hearts aflutter on his debut episode of Glee, fans didn’t yet realize Chord was much more than just a performer. Now years later, the world is getting to know Chord for his true passion — writing his own music. From his stunning song ‘Hold On,’ to his highly anticipated EP coming out soon, Chord is one of the most exciting singer-songwriters emerging today. BELLO had a chance to talk to Chord about his roots, his inspirations, and the most personal project of his entire career.
BELLO: So you were born and raised in Nashville, but you’ve been living in L.A. since 2009. How often do you get a chance to visit back home?
CHORD: I go back home for [my birthday], Christmas, Thanksgiving — probably seven or so times a year.
BELLO: Music’s been a big part of your life, especially with the influence of your Dad (Grammy Award-winning country music singer-songwriter, Paul Overstreet). But your name in particular is very musical as well. Is there a story behind how your parents chose the name Chord? It seems kind of poetic that you would go on to have a successful music career.
CHORD: There is actually. The story that they say is, I was the third one born (three out of six), and there are three notes in a chord.
BELLO: That’s so nice! So how old were you when you first learned chords on the guitar?
CHORD: Hmmm, probably six I think. I got a mandolin when I was three, and then I started playing a guitar when I was around six or so, and the rest is history.
BELLO: How old were you when you first started writing your own songs?
CHORD: Well (laughing), I was writing terrible songs when I was eight-years-old.
BELLO: And how old were you when you started writing songs that began to mean a lot to you?
CHORD: The first real song I wrote I was on the couch on pain meds because I just had knee surgery. I [was seventeen or so and] was playing video games or something, and my dad walked in the room and said, “Turn that damn game off and write a song!” And in about an hour I had one — it just kind of came naturally to me. He was in the studio when I called and told him I’d written one, then he came down and helped me finish it. After that I kind of just knew what I was doing and just started writing all the time.
BELLO: So fast forward around eleven years to earlier this month and your song ‘Hold On’ takes off when it was featured in the season finale of Vampire Diaries. What did that feel like? Did you feel like a proud dad in a way?
CHORD: Yeah, it was interesting because I’d never had a song that I’d written get on TV before. I mean, I’d obviously sang a bunch of songs on TV, but this was a different feeling. As something I had created, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw it. But it was really cool, a really great placement. It was a great platform to feature my music on. It just kind of fit.
BELLO: So your next big song ‘Carried Away’ is coming out soon. Can you tell us what that one is about?
CHORD: That song’s kind of just about having fun and just getting back to just doing whatever you want to do. Just letting yourself get carried away and not thinking too much. We were in the studio writing one day and we were talking about different ideas, and then we were like, “Hey do you guys just want to drink and cut loose, and not try to write anything and just have some fun?” And that’s what we did.
BELLO: Stream of consciousness with some help from beer?
CHORD: Yeah, it has that kind of spirit about it, and it’s got a west coast kind of vibe too. We were all wanting to go down to the beach that day but we were working. So we just kind of wrote about it.
BELLO: May is going to be a big month for you with your new EP coming out. How long have you been working on it, and how many songs did you write in total before you were able to narrow it down to the final four?
CHORD: Oh man, I’ve been working on it since we finished shooting Glee. I’ve put pretty much all my time into this project. But I’ve probably written over a hundred songs or more. Then the process is: you’ve got a bunch that you’re really excited about, and they say, “Well, we like these ten out of this batch.” So you go back in the studio for another few months and you try to write another hundred. Then they’ll say, “Alright, well we like these ten,” and you take those to the label and they say, “Well, we like these five.” And you kind of do that over and over, and it’s the kind of process where it’s great to take time and have patience with making your music, because the more you do it, the better you become and the better the songs are. I think the process is very interesting, but it’s the kind of thing you can’t really do on the road. You really need the time.
BELLO: Wow, it’s incredible how much volume goes into the making of the final product.
CHORD: Yeah, it’s very interesting because you also see stuff you’ve written two or three years ago when you were at a different place in your life, so it’s almost kind of like a journal of what you were going through. Every time you listen to something…
BELLO: It’s like a time capsule?
CHORD: Yeah, it takes you back to where you were emotionally when and where you were writing that song. I think that’s kind of a cool thing about writing music.
BELLO: I guess the songs become like a timeline that connects all those key moments of your life?
CHORD: Yeah, and there are times when you write a song during an emotional period, and this is when the process can get a little difficult. You might get attached to a song because it’s personal to you, but it might not be the best thing for the project.
BELLO: Like any true artist you’re a storyteller first and foremost. Would you say each of the four songs tells their own unique story, or is there a larger story that unites them as a narrative?
CHORD: I would say each one tells their own individual story, but I would say the common thread is that they each capture a moment in my life — whether I’m homesick or going through heartbreak or getting over something, or just wanting to let loose and get back to having fun.
BELLO: Who was your producer on the EP?
CHORD: I produced each song with whoever I was writing it with, to be honest. It kind of keeps it mixed up a little bit, which gives you a different take from what you would get with just one person.
BELLO: Describe that creative process between you as a singer/songwriter and working with a producer. What was that dynamic like for you?
CHORD: It’s different everytime. Some people you click with, some people you don’t. But you just go in there and you have an idea like, “Hey what do you think about this?” And then they will start building the music as you sing. Then I kind of go into my zone and start writing out the lyrics. It usually takes a little while to hit, but sometimes it hits immediately. There are a few people I work really well with and it always just clicks immediately. Then there are those times where it feels forced.
BELLO: When it comes to those moments where you are writing on your own, some songs will enter your imagination fully-formed, while others might take weeks or even months to bring to life. Do you tend to put more value on one or the other of those types of songs?
CHORD: It’s weird, but when you’re going through an emotion it’s kind of easy to get it out — to get it out on paper. And it’s not necessarily just ‘there.’ It’s a lot like writing in a journal — you’re slowly just creating the story. Then you have to make it rhyme, so it can be kind of challenging. But sometimes it seems to just fall out of the sky.
BELLO: When was the last time you experienced writing a song that felt like it just fell out of the sky?
CHORD: It happened a few weeks ago when I lost my voice and couldn’t really sing. I was going through a bit of an emotional struggle with some stuff, and because I couldn’t sing I started writing a song that was just about myself. Nobody has even heard it yet. And it kind of just happened within 20 minutes. It was something that felt very real to me, so I didn’t have to make anything up or think about a story as much as the emotion.
BELLO: I’m going to ask a few fill-in-the-blank questions now. If you were traveling for the whole summer and could only bring one album with you for that whole time, what would it be?
CHORD: Oof, that’s good — one album for the whole summer? Do greatest hits albums count?
BELLO: Sure.
CHORD: I would probably say The Eagles’ Greatest Hits.
BELLO: If you were allowed to pick one dream duet partner from anyone in music history who would it be?
CHORD: Dolly Parton is amazing. I’m kind of the biggest Elvis fan, but I’d think a duet with Dolly Parton would be better because you would get a different flavor. Maybe even Whitney Houston.
BELLO: What’s your biggest musical guilty pleasure?
CHORD: I’d have to say (laughing) some of those boy bands from when I was growing up, like NSYNC and that kind of stuff.
BELLO: Let’s jump fifty years into the future and you’re releasing an album of your own greatest hits. But you’re also releasing an autobiography of your life story. What would be the name of that book?
CHORD: (Laughing) Gosh, the name of the book?! That’s a tough question. I’m just going to go with a funny answer and say, Chord Overstreet: Somehow I Managed.

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CREDITS:

Photography: Nate Hoffman www.nhoffmanstudio.com

Styling: Jessie Jamz

Styling assistaint Javon Rhone

Grooming Shannon Rasheed @ Celestine Agency

About The Author

Aleksandar Tomovic
Editor in Chief

French photographer (of Serbian Origins) lives and works in Los Angeles. Known for his celebrity fashion editorials and recognized around the world for his european esthetics and american efficiency.

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