It’s been a pretty good year for Canadian country music star Chad Brownlee. Earlier this month, Chad learned that he had been nominated for two major categories at the Canadian County Music Association Awards, pulling down nominations for Best Male Artist and the Fans’ Choice Award.
Chad has had plenty of success in the first eight years of his music career, winning the 2011 CCMA Rising Star Award and earning multiple nominations for Artist of the Year, and several last year including Album of the Year. But if you are a Chad Brownlee fan who hasn’t bought an album or found him on your radio, it might be because his hockey card is in your collection.
Prior to turning his attention to music, Chad Brownlee was trying to climb the ladder to the National Hockey League. A draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, Chad’s first career brought him to Boise.
“It’s definitely a neat aspect of the story because I think it’s rare to have an athlete transition from sports into music. It’s still a story that comes up quite often,” said Brownlee, who played 35 games for the Steelheads during the 2007-08 season. “I’m four records, 18 singles, and eight years into my music career and there are still lots of questions about my hockey days.”
After four years at the University of Minnesota-Mankato, Brownlee still had his eyes on the NHL when he hit the ice at CenturyLink Arena. But after a shoulder injury kept him out of the lineup for nearly two months and derailed part of that season, Brownlee felt it was time to chase another passion.
“I knew that I didn’t want to play the game anymore. And that was a pretty big weight and something that all hockey players fear, that moment they realize that the dream is done and it’s time to face real life,” said Brownlee. “It was shortly after that when the inspiration to follow a music career filled that void.”
“I had such a passion for hockey and it was such a huge part of me that when that was empty, what else could fill it? Music did and at 23 I knew I was young enough to pursue another career, and I thought I’d regret it way too much if I didn’t give it a shot.”
Clearly it was the right choice, as Brownlee has gone on to produce numerous Top 10 hits. While his hockey days ended in Idaho, in a unique way it’s also where his music career got a boost.
Bonnie Way Snider, the Steelheads Media Relations Director at the time, knew of Chad’s musical talents and brought him down to a radio station to perform.
“I played ‘Turn the Page’ by Bob Seger, and might have even sang an original. But that was my first experience in a radio station playing a song,” said Brownlee. “She definitely played a part.”
Chad doesn’t get out on the ice as often as he used to, taking part in several charity games each year, but he does believe his experience as a pro hockey player helped him evolve into his current career as a musician. Brownlee has managed to find success in two careers in which thousands struggle to get their footing.
“Both careers are very difficult and take a long time to curate to the point where you can sustain yourself,” said Brownlee. “Without all the years of playing hockey and understanding the obstacles you need to go through and the number of hours you need to put into something, the determination you need and the belief you have to have in yourself, I wouldn’t be the same writer or performer that I am today.”
His hockey days also prepared him for life on the road, days at a time hopping from city to city and always needing to be at your best.
“There are certain things that have changed but others stay the same so that it almost feels like I’ve stayed on the same track, which is living the life of a gypsy,” Brownlee said with a laugh. “I don’t stay home for more than two weeks at a time, and if I do it feels like I’ve done something wrong and need to be hitting the road.”
“The positive now is that even when I’m in places away from home, the people still cheer for me instead of boo at me. That’s a pleasant change.”
Of course there are plenty of requirements of a musician that a hockey player never remotely encounters. Derek Laxdal likely never asked Chad Brownlee to write a song. According to Brownlee, the song-writing process is one of the best parts of his job description.
“It’s one of my favorite aspects of what I do. My whole life I’ve been interested in the creative world and the arts. I’ve always drawn and painted, and music was always there for me. I love creating, and making something that wasn’t there the morning you woke up,” said Brownlee.
“Creativity has its own agenda. I kind of view myself as this radio antenna and creativity is the frequency, and you have to align yourself in order to capture that creativity that is floating around in the atmosphere. Once it hits, it’s one of the most rewarding feelings.”
If that’s the process of producing each and every song, you can understand why it would be difficult for a musician to pick a favorite from his own set list. Yet one song that Chad can single out does speak to just how much thought goes into each of his songs.
“If I could pick one, it would probably have to be ‘Leave Here Dying Young,’ which is a song I wrote about my dad. He’s 71 now and still acts like a big kid, and he’s the one who inspires me,” said Brownlee. “And when the time comes, we’re going to leave here young at heart no matter how old we are. We’re going to dance like no one’s watching, which is one of the lyrics in the song. That song came from such a pure place, and that’s why I got into this in the beginning.”
“I want to write music that not just resonates with me almost therapeutically as a musical journal, but also can relate with other people in their lives. And I understand not every song needs to be serious and have lots of substance because I do enjoy a good fun song that makes you feel good, but that song I definitely hold close to my heart because it came from such a pure place.”
The CCMA Awards will be held on Sunday September 10th in Saskatoon. To be named Male Artist of the Year would certainly be a significant achievement for Brownlee, but it’s may not be the one he covets most.
“This is the first time in my career that I’ve been nominated for the Fans’ Choice Award, and for me that’s the big one because it’s the fans speaking. Without the fans my career wouldn’t have made it as far as it has today.”
It’s further proof that a former defenseman who took a chance on himself is still growing and still winning fans every time he steps on stage.
“I guess I was just reckless enough to think that I could do it. I don’t have talent that anyone else doesn’t have. I think I have the patience to persist at something and sit down and practice hour after hour after hour until I’ve mastered it. I think that’s helped me in sports and in music.”
“It’s been an incredible ride. It’s still surreal every time I get up on stage to think, ‘Wow, I get to do this for a living.’ It’s something I don’t want to end for a very long time.”