It all started 15 years ago in Baton Rouge.
CJ Solar was 8 years old, and he started playing music with his little brother.
“I was constantly wanting to listen to new songs,” Solar said.
As he grew older, he fell in love with great guitar players and dug into the sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Seger and The Eagles.
“I was looking up who was writing songs,” Solar said. “I fell in love with songs almost more than playing the instrument.”
By 17, Solar moved to Tennessee and attended Belmont University, studying songwriting and music business.
“You have to find your own voice,” Solar said of his college experience. “It’s hard to teach songwriting, but I definitely learned a lot from Belmont and from writing songs with other people. I was listening and studying great songs, seeing why certain things worked.”
Fast-forward to the present, and the now 23-year-old has signed a deal with Sea Gayle Records. He will release his debut EP, “Hard One To Turn Down,” on Friday with a celebration and performance at Boudreaux & Thibodeaux’s in downtown Baton Rouge.
Already, the EP’s first single, “Tall Boy,” has been put on the New Boots Spotify playlist alongside popular country songs from artists such as Trace Adkins, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton.
Unlike his contemporaries, Solar admits he can’t get away with the “poppier stuff.”
“I was wanting to record a bunch of songs that I felt best describes everything I am,” Solar said of the new EP. “It’s a hard balance to have those well-written songs with something that’s commercially viable. You don’t want to sell out, and I was growing up with a classic rock influence. I want to be in that level of authenticity. That’s what it comes down to, having music feel real.”
When writing a song, Solar said it comes down to two ingredients.
“I always start with a melody and a lyric that actually says something,” he said. “You can flash up any song in fancy ways. If you’re listening to a song that says ‘Work, work, work,’ … I’m not going to get into it.”
That knack for feeling and potential caught Nashville’s ears.
Right after Belmont, Solar got an internship and then signed a publishing deal with Sea Gayle Music, which is home to Brad Paisley and Jerrod Neimann.
“It’s just verification that you’re doing something that’s commercially viable,” Solar said of the publishing deal. “You’re making songs that somebody in the industry was impressed with, and that’s sometimes harder to do than impress the average listener.”
When he talks about it, you can tell even he’s humbled to be in that company of songwriters.
“Someone told me that 10 to 15 years ago, there were 3 to 4,000 published writers, paid by a professional company,” Solar said. “Now, there are 3 to 400. That’s the state of the music business.”
Follow Matthew Sigur on Twitter, @MatthewSigur.