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The members of Hot Chelle Rae, who took home the best new artist award at the American Music Awards a few days ago, may have only experienced their first big hit with “Tonight Tonight” this summer, but they have decades of experience at their disposal.
That’s because the pop quartet, whose second RCA album, “Whatever,” comes out tomorrow (Nov. 29), grew up in the music business and have learned from a very young age how to navigate both the creative and professional sides of their careers.
Lead singer Ryan Follese and his drumming baby brother Jamie, as well as Nash Overstreet, have dads who are prominent, award-winning, Nashville-based songwriters, who have written hits for the likes of Randy Travis, Faith Hill, Brooks & Dunn, Blake Shelton, Kenny Chesney and The Judds (Nash’s brother is Chord Overstreet, formerly of “Glee.”) Bassist Ian Keaggy’s father is Dove Award-winning contemporary Christian artist Phil Keaggy.
Even though Ryan Follese jokes that “there’s a healthy amount of stupidity involved in what we do,” he also saw from an early age that a music career can break your heart. “You have to have an incredible amount of drive and determination. Growing up, I went through a lot of the highs and lows with [my parents]. It’s incredibly difficult and you don’t understand it until you’re fully immersed in it.”
Given their background, it’s a little surprising that the boys didn’t pursue a career in country, but Ryan Follese says despite growing up in the heart of Music City, they immersed themselves in pop as well. “Honestly, even though our parents write country, they are very much rooted in the pop world,” he says. “Nash’s parents and my parents are massive, massive Beatles fans. They are kind of like the musical mecca.”
Plus, their parents passed down a thing or two about songwriting: most importantly, that is it important to tell a story, no matter how simple the song. Hence, even though top 10 hit “Tonight Tonight,” which has sold more than 2 million copies, seems like a party song, the first few lines lay out that his girlfriend has cheated on him and that’s why he’s feeling the need to bust loose. Plus, you have to give a band props for fitting Zach Galifianakis’s name into their lyrics.
Though “Whatever” is largely an upbeat collection, there are some ballads about love lost and found, such as “Keep You With Me” or “Why Don’t You Love Me.” Though some writers find it hard to reach down into that well of vulnerability, Follese says all he has to think about is the loved ones he leaves behind during the band’s frequent trips away from home touring with such acts at We the Kings and The Script. “It isn’t as hard as you think to be vulnerable,” he says. “We’re so busy and really have those feelings of missing your family and people you love. It’s not hard to tap into missing someone. It’s heightened reality.”
While 2011 has been a banner year, 2012 already looks promising and includes their own headlining tour, as well as an opening slot on buddy Taylor Swift’s Australian tour in March “The thing I’m looking the most forward to is spending a lot of time with her and heading back to Australia,” says Follese. The band previously playing Australia with Boys Like Girls. Plus, HCR has picked up a few pointers from Swift. “She has an ability to communicate a lyric in a way that a lot of people don’t have that’s a gift,” he says. “She loves her fans. That’s something we’ve learned from her: the appreciation and admiration she has for the people who love her.”
Hot Chelle Rae appears on "The Today Show" on Nov. 29.