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STAR Views: Stephen Cochran

By: Estella Pan

In a quaint corner of the buzzing media room during Country Radio Seminar-38, Stephen Cochran yells to anyone who would listen, "Who's got a guitar?" One thing is clear about this up-and-coming singer/songwriter: he is an entertainer. "If I could stay on stage all day, that's where I'm most comfortable." Alas, tending to the business side of the "music business" is the task of the moment… and so, for the meantime, we press on with our interview.

Photo used courtesy of Stephen Cochran

Suffice it to say that Stephen was born and bred with music in his blood. His father, Steve Cochran, was also a songwriter and musician, and Stephen says, "I was raised in the Garth Brooks era." Which essentially means that while he has an appreciation for the classic country songs... "I like to rock!" Though music was the seemingly obvious career choice, Stephen actually spent much of his life diverting away from it. Shortly after the unforgettable 9/11 tragedy, Stephen enlisted with the Marines and served his duty in Iraq and then in Afghanistan. In 2004, he lost his good friend, Ron, to warfare. A mere month later, Stephen himself returned to the states with a near-fatal back injury that left him bed-ridden for months. "I was injured on June 14, 2004, and I will never will forget that day. I was paralyzed from the waist down for about eight months."

Had there not been a miracle recovery, Stephen realizes that this whole music thing might have never happened at all. "Once I got injured and was laying in the hospital, everything that I had taken for granted was gone – all the lessons my dad had taught me about music, learning how to song write – all that was gone in thirty seconds! All I had left was writing." He continues, "At that point, whatever I had left, I was just glad to have it. [I made up my mind that I would] write every song that clicks in my head." Putting true life onto paper, Stephen penned "When a Hero Falls," one of the songs that will be included on his forthcoming self-titled album. He did, eventually, regain the use of his legs to be able to walk again, and it was during his recovery process that everything became clear. "I knew I had to stop fighting it. I thought, You've just got to stay true to yourself and find out what you're here to do – because God put all of us here for a reason." His injury may have shook him up some, but more than anything, it secured his determination to get better so he could start on his music full-time. Injury and all, Stephen says, "It was a pretty long and painful road in getting me to where I am now. But, it made the man you know now so I wouldn't change one scar or thing that has happened to me... because well, I'm pretty happy with the man I am."

It didn't take long for that career path Stephen fought so hard to avoid to come chasing after him full force that all he could do was hang on and enjoy the ride! He confides, "I've actually spent more time trying not to get into music than I had just let it happen." Fortunately, he's singing a different tune these days. "I wake up every morning and all I want is a guitar. I eat, breathe, and sleep music, and that's all I want to do!" Now signed with Aria Records, Stephen has recorded his self-titled album, which will release in June. His debut single, "Friday Night Fireside," is already impacting radio, and a video shoot is scheduled for April.

Photo used courtesy of Stephen Cochran

Excited about his debut album, Stephen animatedly shares his thoughts on creating the best product possible for his fans. "When we went to work on my CD, I met with my producer, Jim Allison, and he asked me, 'What are you looking to put together?'" [NOTE: Jim has worked with the likes of Reba McEntire and LeAnn Rimes, among others.] Stephen continues, "I told him, 'I want to put a CD together where you can take both old and new listeners, let them put a CD in and listen to from front to finish, and not want to skip any songs.'" He is grateful to have had the opportunity to express his input and pull some of the reigns while working on his album. "I got lucky, because the label wanted my input. As a label, they didn't just say, 'This is what you're singing, this is what you're doing, do it!'" In an industry where many new artists are marketed in whatever ways their respective labels see fit, Stephen counts his blessings for having creative freedom with his own project. "With so many artists, the label puts them in a mold. [These artists] have to wake up and put this person on, go out and be someone that they're really not. I'm lucky, because I get to wake up, do what I love, and be who I am – and people 'get' it!" One thing he suggested during the recording process was to let each song chart its course to the finish. "It doesn't matter if I'm singing a Keith Urban song or a Waylon Jennings song, my voice doesn't change; the music is what changes. That's what Garth mastered, and that's what I want to do." He continues, "I challenged Jim to let the song take you where it's going to take you. If it's got that country swing to it, let it be a country swing song! If it's going to be a rockier, pop type of song, let it be that. So, that's what we did! I'm so glad he 'got' my vision and jumped on board with it."

When it came down to selecting the music for his album, Stephen only allowed for top-notch songs. "I said I wanted the best possible album we could put together. We had big name writers pitching us songs and some songs I wrote. Well, we took the names off of them, sat there, listened to each song and picked them for the song and not because John Rich wrote this song or Billy Montana wrote that one." Stephen chuckles as he reveals that "we passed on three of the songs I wrote. At the end, Jim asked, 'So, which ones did you write?' I said, 'The three we passed on!'" He laughs heartily and reassures me that "it's okay. We did get three other songs I wrote on my album." He makes special mention of Isaac Rich, saying that he "is an amazing lyricist!" Issac will make his debut as a writer, having several cuts on the project, including Stephen's debut single "Friday Night Fireside." Stephen adds, "Another song we've got on the album is called 'Let It Rain;' Isaac wrote that as well. It's a duet I do with Lindsey Cardinale, from American Idol, and I'm really happy with the way it turned out!" [NOTE: John Rich, a credited writer himself, is one half of the duo Big & Rich and also happens to be Isaac's older brother!]

Driving it home with his final quality selling point, Stephen states, "I think we put together a CD that covers every edge of country music!" He takes pride in the fact that he'd "never sing a song that I didn't understand or feel. I think people, when they get the album, they are going to understand that I put everything I have into this CD – heart, soul, and my everything into it. Everybody that worked on it did also." This mentality translates directly into how Stephen approaches his live shows. He explains, "When my band and I go on stage, I tell the guys, 'I don't ask any more of you than to give everything you have on stage' because my promise to you – the fans – is I'm giving you my everything on stage!" Don't expect him to talk much during his shows, though! If he had things his way, he and his band would just play music nonstop the whole night. "When time gets dwindling down, I'll get on the mike and say, 'Hey, if you want to hear me talk, I'll be right here after the show! But, the more I talk is the less songs we can play you. So, I'm not talking for the rest of the show!' and we'll just play one song after another, as many as we can fit in!" The way Stephen sees it is this: "You don't get paid for that hour you're on stage. That's what you work for. It's all the meetings, loading and unloading, staying on the road and missing your family – that's what you get paid for." He says, "I'm thankful to my record label for giving me a deal. But when it comes down to it, I work for the fans. So, everything I do is to try to make it all a better experience for the fans."

Photo used courtesy of Stephen Cochran

Immediately after finishing an extensive radio tour, which wraps at the end of this month, Stephen will begin preparing for his first video shoot for "Friday Night Fireside." The scheduled April 26 shoot date will be a reunion of sorts with an old friend. I'll let Stephen tell the story: "When I was sixteen, I was a lifeguard here in Nashville at the Wavepool and one of the guys I worked with was Blake McClure. We grew up, got out of high school, I went to college, and he went to college in Los Angeles." Fast forward to six years later. "I had joined the Marine Corps., toured in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was injured. I had [thought about music as a career] before, but I put it on the back burner to join the Marine Corps. When I got out of the hospital, another of my buddies that had worked at the Wavepool with me said, 'Hey, remember Blake McClure? He went to film school out in California. He just won an award at the Sundance Film Festival for an independent film. You ought to get him to do your video!'" He continues, "Mind you, this was two years ago. I was thinking, Dude, he's making movies, he's not gonna want to come do a country music video! Plus, I don't even have a record label, how am I going to plan a video right now? We didn't even have a song we were pitching." Two more years fly by. "Now, I'm with a label, I've recorded a CD, and my first single has been released. And, Tacklebox Films is going to do my video." [NOTE: Tacklebox Films is the professional home of Shaun Silva, who has directed videos for Kenny Chesney, Terri Clark, Craig Morgan, and many others.] While waiting to review video treatments, Stephen was told there was a holdup due to the company's having hired new producers and were waiting for them to draft the treatments. "So, one day I'm driving down the road and my phone rings." The caller on the line is Blake McClure. Stephen recounts what Blake told him, "He said, 'Man, I was typing at my computer and my partner says to me, We got our first assignment from Tacklebox! I said, Oh, really? What is it?" He said, I don't know, somebody Cochran. So, I just stopped and went, 'Would that be Stephen Cochran?'" He pauses for dramatic effect. "And, the thing is, Blake and I hadn't talked since we worked at the Wavepool together! Now, it comes back around that he's going to be the producer of my video with Tacklebox!"

When things roll seamlessly like that, you just have to take it and run! That is exactly what Stephen does. And, he continues to work hard. His manager, Barb Farkas, sitting in on the interview with us, vouches for Stephen's seemingly endless supply of energy. "I've never seen anybody with the drive or the want-to that he has!" The bottom line is simple. "If I'm going to do something, I want to be the best at it – 100%." He explains, "When I was a Marine, I read every Marine book, I took every course I could take. I wanted to be the Marine that was best prepared. So, when I switched gears toward music, it wasn't any different. I wanted to find the best relationship possible with a label, to make sure that my music was to be represented correctly, and to make sure I had people working with me that understand my passion for it."

Speaking of the Marine Corps., Stephen holds the highest respect for the organization. "The United States and what it's given me is what got me into the Marine Corps. It's what put me over there, because I love everything I have over here, and I feel like it was my duty." Other than that, it's all about enjoying each moment as it comes. "God gave me a gift and He gave me a reason to do this. Now, I get to go share it with other people. What it comes down to is: This is what I'm supposed to do."

STAR Country!

Photo used courtesy of Stephen Cochran

How has your experience of being a Marine helped you with what you are doing now with your music?
Stephen: I can't say enough about the United States Marine Corps.! It is amazing to be a part of it and I'll always be a Marine. But, we were put in situations where I'm on the side of a mountain, I've got forty pounds on my back, haven't slept in thirty-six hours. That thirty-six hours turns into seventy-two hours. You're barely eating, but you're still constantly moving. At that point, honestly, you just want to lie down! If I get shot, at least I get to rest. It's sad to think that, but really, you're that tired. During that time, I learned something pretty special about myself. When you're tired and you're that down, I learned that if I could trick my mind and start telling myself, "You're NOT tired!" and "You CAN do it!" my body would do anything that my mind told it to do! You hear it your whole life, but honestly, there's no one that can stop me from doing anything except ME! And, I can do anything I want!

What is something interesting about your that nobody knows?
Stephen: I hate to fly. I know I'm a Marine and all that, but I watched a movie and ever since, I have hated to fly – which is pretty bad seeing as I only slept at my house twenty-one times this year. I practically live on a plane!!

Watching and learning from your dad being in the music business, do you have a favorite musical memory of you two together?
Stephen: My most memorable moment growing up was going to a video shoot with my dad. It was neat watching all that goes on and now about fifteen years later, I’m preparing to shoot my own video. It's just cool watching my dream unfold in front of me!

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