"What happened to you?" "Where did you go?" "Why aren't you on the radio anymore?"
These are the kinds of questions that Bryan White fields on a consistent basis, but he realizes most of them aren’t mean-spirited. They come from genuine curiosity.
After all, it’s been a while since White was prevalent in the public eye.
In the mid-1990s, White stood at the top of the country music genre. He fit perfectly into the post-Garth Brooks climate of Nashville with his big voice, easygoing personality and catchy, streamlined sound.
He rode those qualities to a huge amount of success, notching six No. 1 hits: “Someone Else’s Star” in 1995, “Rebecca Lynn,” “I’m Not Supposed To Love You Anymore,” “From This Moment On” (with Shania Twain) and “So Much for Pretending” in 1996, and “Sittin’ on Go” in 1997. His first two albums reached platinum status, and the gold-certified “The Right Place” followed in 1997. During that time, he gathered a sweet collection of ACM, CMA and CMT awards as well as a Grammy.
He also picked up a case of severe stress and depression. In his early 20s, White says he couldn’t handle the pressure of such prosperity. He became increasingly critical of himself, overly analytical of his work and he wrapped his entire identity into his music persona. When his fourth album didn’t meet the commercial expectations he’d hoped for, he finally decided to take a step back.
“You can really get burned out, and it can really become mundane, as it has at times throughout my career,” White explains. “You get bored with what’s going on and you become uninspired.”
White says it took a long time to re-discover his creative spark. He worked on a Christmas-themed EP years later, but it would take an entire decade before White released another full-length original album. After the death of his grandfather and some much-needed introspection, however, White wrote, recorded and independently released the album “Dustbowl Dreams” in 2009.
The album was quite personal and emotionally heavy, White says. More importantly, making “Dustbowl Dreams” forced him to get back to his roots and pick himself up off the mat.
“I’m from Oklahoma and we don’t give up. We forge on. We fight. That could be applied to anywhere or anybody, but to me, that’s Oklahoma,” he says. “So, I started making music based around that whole thought. And, yeah, it really did light a fire under me.”
That flame hasn’t dimmed in the past five years. White will release his new album, “Shine,” on June 10 (it can be pre-ordered on iTunes). “Shine” not only serves as a showcase of White’s personality (as someone who’s not perfect and is finding his own place in life, he describes), but also issues a shot to the naysayers who claim White doesn’t have anything left in the tank. It all starts with the first single, “Another Day in the Sun.”
“I know that in Nashville or L.A. or New York, you can become expendable. They’ll tell you, ‘You’re done.’ I hear a lot of people in Nashville say, ‘Yeah, he’s done. He hasn’t had a hit single in years. He’s done.’ And that word, that phrase, makes me indignant,” White explains. “I just can’t stand when people say that because that’s just the industry talking. That’s just money talking. That’s somebody that’s not thinking about someone’s well-being or even the fact that they’re a human being — that their life isn’t wrapped up in a single or how well this does or that does.”
“To me, you’re always one away from another big hit. I don’t care if you’ve gained 200 pounds or lost an arm or you’ve been through depression. If you do something authentic and real and people connect to it, you’re never ‘done’ unless you think you’re ‘done.’”
With “Shine,” White hopes to prove that he’s far from done. The album’s other tracks boast their fair share of modern spunk, as well as some vintage White.
“Amen” is a groovy, relatable rock anthem about how everyone needs a day off sometimes. The up-tempo “Born to be Somebody” examines one’s destiny and how it’s intertwined with overwhelming love. White describes the album’s last track, “What I Already Know,” as raw, loose and powerful. He also gives fresh takes to “Call Me Crazy” (from his 1997 album “The Right Place”) and the song “Another Man’s Shoes” by Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors. The latter, he says, perfectly defined where feels he’s at in his life.
“I really stopped short of crying,” he says of the first time he heard that song. “It was so inspiring, so fresh, and everything moved me so much. As soon as I got home, I wiped two or three days off my schedule and literally did nothing but track that song.”
“Shine” should bring White more attention than anything he’s done in the last 15 years, but he’s not waiting by idly for a mainstream resurgence. In fact, he doesn’t care if it comes or not. White independently recorded and produced “Shine” thanks to the loyal support of his fans through an online Kickstarter campaign. Right now, he’s making the music he wants to make and doing it without the strenuous meddling of a major record label.
White’s putting the rest of his focus on frequent touring and pleasing his fans. He’ll have a busy day on June 7 as he performs at a fan club party in Nashville that morning before flying to Missouri for a concert at the St. Jo Frontier Casino that evening.
“It’s going to be a whirlwind of a weekend,” he says with a laugh.
The day’s events will start with a comedy and hypnosis show by B.J. Talley at 4 p.m., followed by a performance by local country artist Phil Vandel at 6:15. White will take the stage at 7 p.m. The concert is free, but guests must be 21 or older to attend.
White says he’ll play all of his hits from the 1990s, as well as some of his newest material. He’ll be thankful for every soul in the crowd who wants to hear it.
“I can’t get hung up on entitlement and thinking ‘Well, I had six No. 1 records,’” White says. “I have to think of it as a great time that I had. It was a blast, don’t get me wrong, but my eyes are fixed on what’s ahead.”
Those asking where White has been should probably start asking where he’s going. The response to that question is much more interesting.