Saguaros, roadrunners and palo verde trees rarely call country music to mind for most aficionados of the genre. For Chelsea Bain, the Arizona-raised 25-year-old country artist who's made waves with her single "James Dean," it's the desert that's most conducive to her upbringing and music, that inspires her most. She's back in town this week for a series of performances centering around the Super Bowl, including the Celebrity Flag Football Challenge and the NFL Game Day Fan Plaza, and it seems that there's nowhere else she'd rather be.
When Bain gets on the phone, as chipper as anyone who's about to shine bright in the glow of the biggest sporting event of the year, she has her mother, aunt, manager and publicist in tow. While, yes, this weekend is a hell of a lot of work for her, part of this trip is a homecoming for Bain -- she's been in Nashville proper for two years now, having traveled between Tennessee and Phoenix for seven years.
Unlike a lot of Nashville transplants who have blown in on the wind from places less country than Music City, Bain wears her Arizona nativity on her sleeve. Whether it's in interviews, press packets or even trying to imbue her sound with what she perceives to be a Southwestern influence, Arizona is where her heart remains.
"That's the thing I try to tell anybody whenever I talk to anybody: Country music is huge out here, and we have two huge stations here in Phoenix and I love them both," Bain says. "All my friends I've had out here are all country music fans, more so than a lot of states I've been to. People forget that the Southwest, this is where cowboys come from. This is John Wayne country."
Raised partly in the city of Phoenix, it was the Bain family's move to north Scottsdale, near Pinnacle Peak and what she calls "horse country, biker country," that exacerbated her love of country music. You can't blame her; being raised on in that gorgeous, expansive northern desert on a ranch and becoming a fierce competitor in the American Paint Horse Association would bolster the genre's appreciation for anyone.
"I grew up until I was probably too old of an age thinking that country music was the only genre that existed, and so I thought KNIX and KMLE were what you listened to and that was it, that's where you got your music from, so I didn't know any different from when I was little. Since before I can remember, I said, 'That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to be a country music artist,' and as a very small child I made that decision very firmly."
That decision hasn't come without its pitfalls, however. After a record deal with the now-defunct Bigger Picture Group fell apart, Bain was left slightly discouraged and has since been an independent act. The past year alone has been marked by a continuous upswing, however, with Bain procuring new management and signing on with the prestigious William Morris Booking Agency, all while using her independent status to determine the direction of career.
"People think there's like overnight success and everything and all of these people I see pop up, it's like 'No, they've been at it for years,'" she says. "They've been building this and creating for however long and I think that that's just the thing -- it takes a little bit of time, no matter how far you are, before you move to Nashville. It takes time to build that up, and for me that's been really fun."
Though she now calls Nashville home, it was her childhood in Arizona and trips home that continue to motivate and inspire her. With names like Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, Tanya Tucker, and most recently, Dierks Bentley, coming out of Arizona, there's a wealth of pedigree that Bain has to live up to. Unlike most of those artists, she's unabashedly vocal about the Grand Canyon State being at the core of her life, from both artistic and familial standpoints.
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"I want people to know that this is country," Bain explains. "You don't have to be in South Carolina for it to be country. I had just got off the airplane [last night] and it had just rained and there's something special about it, there's something so special about Arizona, and if I can in any way find any possibility of saying that through my music then that's what I'm going to do."