Eric Church has built one of the most devoted fanbases in country music because of his signature sound and edgy image. But the sunglass-wearing, no-holds-barred musician listeners now know and love didn’t fully come into his own until one pivotal point in his career.
During February’s 2020 Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, Church discussed how the release of his Chief record, on July 26, 2011, helped to mold his image and place in the genre. The shift from a more clean-cut style happened organically, thanks to an impromptu snapshot.
“My manager John Peets had a brand-new camera and a new lens, and I had [on] the hat and shades,” Church a crowd of industry members during a panel. “I was standing up against something, and he just walked up to me and snapped it. As soon as I saw it, I said, ’That’s the cover of the next album.’”
That image of Church, clad in a baseball cap and sunglasses, is simple, but shows exactly who he was in that moment. Still, it took some convincing for his record label to see his full vision.
“It spoke to me. I knew immediately [that it needed to be the album cover],” Church explains of the photo. “But the push back was, ‘You can’t wear a hat because you have hair.’
“Then it was, ‘You can’t wear shades because you have pretty eyes,’ which is kind of weird,” he adds with a laugh. “I said, ’It’s gotta be this because this is the guy the fans see every night. We have to be that guy.’”
Although it took time for Church to fully figure out who he is as an artist, he’s appreciative of the patience he was given to develop both his sound and image into what it is today.
“I believe the biggest disservice we do is put out a song and expect that person to know who they are creatively,” Church explains. “The journey is where I found out about myself.”
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