Listening to Los Angeles-based, Orlando-bred singer Chris Batson’s music, it’s easy to hear the tribulations of a life worn by inner and outer turmoil.
Speaking with the 22 year-old, mirth and clarity shine through; the burdens of serious depression and personal struggle arise in conversation, but rarely alter the tone that so ably translates these same sensations into music. He sounds even-keeled, laughs often, and readily delves into a troubled past that forms the basis for his We Got Lost Along the Way EP and the cinematic 15-minute video anthology that accompanies it.
“My manager and I, we sat down and replayed the music, and just sat with it, and some of the videos don’t directly correlate with my life, but we want to bring it to the audience in a way that would correlate to the most people,” says Batson. “So we came up with the storyline, starting with “Never Coming Back,” then going to “Wintertime” then to “Windows,” and now to “Passenger Seat,” which is the final video. I think if you watch all the videos, it all correlates.”
We Got Lost Along the Way is an ambitious set befitting an artist with much on his mind. Watch the premiere of the video for Chris’ “Passenger Seat” below and watch the We Got Lost Along the Way video anthology here. Below that, read a conversation with Chris that shines light on the tumultuous past that inspired his creations.
When did you move to L.A.?
About two years ago, when I got my first publishing deal with BMG, and it gave me the resources to move out here, and do what I wanted to do, and do what I love.
What was it like growing up in Orlando?
Orlando’s like my home, my home forever. [laughs] It’s where I grew up and I spent my whole life there. For the most part, it was good. I was around a diverse group of kids. Nothing crazy hood, but there were times where I had it really rough. Just persevering on a couple different levels, and dealing with my mom and my dad divorcing. And certain things in life, like dealing with depression and in certain situations I had to go on with it and keep to myself for a while. It was difficult for some period of time, but I’m doing a lot better now. I’m in a much better space right now.
How old were you when they divorced?
I was thirteen. Thirteen, fourteen years old. Going into my freshman year of high school.
Was there a point where you said to yourself, “I need to get out of Orlando?”
For sure, definitely. For a lot of the period that I was there, in my teens. Growing up there for so long, and driving down the same streets everyday, and seeing the same people, and dealing with the same situations, it’s kinda like, “man I have to leave this place.” At a certain point, it started getting really dark and too familiar. I just wanted to see something different.
Is it sort of a small town atmosphere?
For sure. Especially the area that I’m from, it’s very small and the people I grew up around are close knitted, so it’s a very small town atmosphere.
How did music enter into the equation of dealing with all that?
Man, music kinda gave an outlet. I remember I used to write songs, and hope people would understand where I was coming from, why I am the way I am. And it gave me something to channel my frustration, my depression, to have other people understand exactly where I was coming from, and it definitely gave me a channel to share.
When did you start seriously making music?
I feel like, around the age of seventeen, eighteen, I started writing full songs. I was writing, making beats, small choruses. When life started getting heavy, and I started getting down and depressed, that’s when I started writing my best material. When I started writing dark, more emotional kinds of things, that’s when everything took off for me.
What were you doing musically when you first started? Was it just beats, or was it more of a balance between writing and producing?
It was honestly a lot of just making beats on Fruity Loops when I was thirteen, maybe from eleven. Just making beats and sampling old school records, something to pass the time. That was cool at the time, but over time it grew into something more personal.
What were your early influences?
Early on, I was listening to a lot of The-Dream, a lot of Usher, then I grew into a lot of Coldplay, and Kings of Leon. You know, the Jay-Z’s, the Nas’s, the Common’s, those guys. From really pop, urban R&B kinda stuff into like soulful, emotional, more personal kind of records.
As you’ve developed your own sound, have you struggled at all with being put into a genre box?
I mean, there are definitely times where I feel put in a box, because I feel like I can do so many types of music and it does get frustrating at times. But for the most part, I’m writing what I love and what I go through on a daily basis, and really that’s helped me deal with a lot things that I go through, so it gets frustrating at times, but for the most part, this alternative sound is what I really like doing.
As you’ve been coming up in the industry, have you encountered moments where you had to work on something not necessarily that you didn’t want to, but where you said to yourself, “Man this just doesn’t fit what I’m about”?
Yeah. I feel like a couple times, for sure. In sessions, writing with different artists and producers, it’s like “is this really what I want to do?” Is this the type of stuff that people want to hear from Chris Batson? You gotta pay your dues somehow, but over time, I really got to do what I want to do as an artist and producer, even as a songwriter, so it’s coming together for sure.
What was the process of working on We Got Lost Along The Way?
I got started two or three years ago just at home in Orlando. I wasn’t really thinking of releasing a project, it was just something that came about as life came about. Those songs are all organic. When I moved to L.A., me and my manager, we put something together and that’s We Got Lost Along The Way, and those are the songs I was dealing with in Orlando. And really it just came together, and it was really a personal record. Those songs, most of those songs, are from two, three years ago. We heard the music, and we loved it, and we put it together and put it out for people, and people gravitated towards it.
I even, at one point, tried to commit suicide and ended up in the hospital. Dealing with that, those kinda situations, make you realize what you’re here for, and really gives you another perspective on life.
What are some of the experiences that formed the basis for the EP?
Back in Orlando, I went though a couple different things, whether it’s breakups, whether it’s my mother and my dad divorcing, I was just down and out. I was ready to give up. A couple times, I questioned myself whether I wanted to be here on Earth, and what’s my purpose, and it got to a point where I was completely down and out. I even, at one point, tried to commit suicide and ended up in the hospital. Dealing with that, those kinda situations, make you realize what you’re here for, and really gives you another perspective on life.
How long have you suffered from depression?
I feel like it’s been almost nine years, since my mom and dad divorced. It’s been a while, man. I’m learning that it’s not necessarily my fault, it’s a lifetime thing. It’s just telling you how a lot of people deal and struggle with things.
Have you ever been clinically diagnosed?
Yeah, when I got out of the hospital, and I had to go back to see the psychiatrist and everything, they diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder, which is like a form of schizophrenia mixed with depression.
On the one hand, how have you dealt with your depression and schizoaffective disorder clinically, and also how has music played into the process?
I remember I had a time period where I was struggling even believing I was really sick, that I needed to take medication, that these were just spiritual or personal issues that I was dealing with. But when I really look at it, the medicine that I’m on and things that I have to take to even function, it really does help. And as far as the music and how it helps me, it for sure gives me something to take out all my frustrations and my experiences and things like that, and really feel like, without it honestly, I don’t know how I’d manage to get through some of these days, because things get heavy sometimes, and you need some kind of form to vent.
You speak really openly about it, and I think that’s something that’s unusual, not only in life in general, but in music in particular. How did you get to this place?
I feel like, I’ve never really cared too much about what people think, whether it’s about my music or whether it’s about my personal life. I feel like, people look for inspiration or for a hopeful story you could relate to. Growing up, I never heard anything like that, whether it’s in my songs or telling people about my life in that period of time. So there’s definitely been levels getting up to it.
Did you have years where you wouldn’t touch it in your music?
Yeah, for sure. Like earlier on, when I was doing R&B/Pop stuff, I was just trying to be the cool guy. When things got heavier, I was like “I can’t, I can’t.” I’d be doing myself a disservice if I just wrote about bullshit and the club and all that stuff, cause it’s not true to me.
Do you feel like a discussion of depression and different mental illnesses is something that’s missing from modern music, particularly hip-hop and R&B?
For sure. I feel like there are artists that just sound cool sometimes. I mean, that’s cool, but what are you getting out of this story in general. I feel like there’s something missing, and hopefully I can bring that to the table. I feel like there’s a lot of that missing in music right now.
And for you is this EP just the first step? Where do you see yourself going, as far as dealing with these issues over time in music? Cause it sounds like you’re in a really good place right now.
Yeah I’m in a good place, but at the same time, I still deal with this on a daily basis. I’m in a better place, but I wouldn’t say I’m 100% where I wanna be in the future. And that’s how I want people to look back at my story. He came from a depressed place, a sad place, and a hurt place, but he moved ahead, and maybe I can do the same thing one day and accomplish what he’s accomplished.
Why do you think there isn’t more of an open discussion about these issues in music? It seems that depression in varying forms is something a lot of young people deal with. What do you think is preventing more artists who suffer from depression from speaking out about it?
I can tell you from a personal level about artists that aren’t happy with their lives and they gravitate to more mainstream music and more turn up music. In all honesty, that’s a personal decision that everyone has to make, as far as why they don’t vent or why they don’t reach out in their records like I do. But as a whole, I think there’s something missing in music and I feel like I can bring it to the table, and represent in the best way that I can the people that are going through the same thing that I am.
Do you think ultimately you want to work on some of these issues on a larger basis, beyond music alone?
For sure. I feel like music can do a lot, but it can only do so much at the same time. So I definitely want to step out of music and do some work in these areas as well. As far as when it’ll be, I’m not completely sure right now, but it’s definitely something I want to step out and do in the future.
What’s next for you after the EP cycle?
We’re working on the album right now, and the single’s coming out really soon. And we’re just doing shows, and trying to build our buzz. Look out for the single for sure, and look out for the album. If you want to find me on Instagram, you can look me up at ChrisBatson, and on twitter @CBatsonMusic. I appreciate you guys for digging the video, and for paying attention, and respecting what I do. I appreciate it.