Fishers native Christian French, who learned to play the piano as a kid by watching YouTube, is set to make his TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park debut on Friday, June 17. A 2015 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School, French started posting song covers on SoundCloud while he was a student there. Growing, up, he also had a passion for hockey, going on to play for Indiana University for three years, during which time he also began writing original music. After dropping out of IU, he made his way to Los Angeles in 2018 to begin his pursuit of a career as a pop singer-songwriter.
It’s been a steady climb ever since for 25-year-old French, whose music explores the hardships of anxiety, doubt and insecurity at a time when mental health, especially that of young people, is increasingly fraught. Always looking for life’s silver lining, French’s music has become synonymous with optimism.
French’s fans, who have become legion, thanks to social media and the internet, in general, will be in force when he returns home to Indiana for the concert. His parents, Deanna and Tim French, and other family members, including his grandfather, Richard Poe, will be there as well. It’s worth noting that I met Poe at Charlie Browns Pancake & Steak House in Speedway, where I have become a regular. It’s owned and operated by his life partner, Liz Glover, who has become a dear friend to me. It was at breakfast with them a few weeks ago at the restaurant that Poe casually (and proudly) mentioned his grandson was an entertainer. Thus, this interview with French, whom I spoke with from his L.A. home about the concert and his budding career. Below is an edited transcript of our call and email communication.
Tell me about the concert at White River State Park? Who is presenting it? Will you perform with your band?
It’s really cool. 99.5 ZPL, the radio station I grew up listening to, is throwing the concert. I’m opening for Charlie Puth and Ava Max, which is really cool because I’ve been listening to them for a while. I’ll be playing with my guitarist and drummer. Since the set is so short, I won’t be playing piano on any songs like I usually do for my headlining sets.
What does your setlist consist of?
It’s going to be a mix of some old songs that everybody knows and loves, combined with some newer stuff that I’m really excited about and haven’t gotten to play live a whole lot yet. For these shorter sets, we try to keep the energy pretty high, so songs like “avalanche,” “i think too much,” “head first,” and “golden years” will definitely be in there.
Have you ever played the White River Amphitheater?
I haven’t! This is actually the largest venue I will ever have played. I’m embarrassed to say, but I’ve never even been to a show at TCU before, so this is going to be a brand-new experience for me. I’ve only heard amazing things about it, though, and am so excited.
When did you know you wanted to be a singer-songwriter?
I had been playing piano and singing for fun throughout high school. Doing it professionally was a thought then, but not something I thought was actually possible to do. I kept doing it as a hobby, and once I got to college and met a producer friend of mine, Triegy, and we started making studio-quality tracks, I realized it was something I could actually pursue. Over the rest of my time at college, I gradually became less interested in science and more interested in writing music. By the time I was a junior, I had a small fanbase that really appreciate my songwriting, and I pretty much knew that no matter what, I would be moving to L.A. after school to at least give music a try.
Who were your personal influences?
I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who are still together and set an incredible environment that made me feel safe and loved at all times, and that goes such a long way. Like any kid, I thought my dad was a superhero and my mom an angel, and subconsciously I think I’ve grown up to become a combination of both of them.
I’ve always looked up to my older brother and sister, Jordan and Jennifer, so much. They’re 16 and 14 years older than me and moved to Portland, Oregon when I was still young. I think through visiting them and seeing where/how they lived, I got to peek outside of the “Midwest lifestyle” and it really inspired me. Both of them are very free-spirited, do-it-themselves types of people, who I really respect and have always wanted to be like.
Who are your music influences?
John Mayer has always been my favorite music artist. Ever since I can remember, my family has always had his CDs playing, and I think that’s where I get most of my singer-songwriter influence from. I’ve learned so much from dissecting his lyrics and instrumental structure, watching his interviews and just absorbing how he carries himself. Since then, there have been plenty of artists who continuously bring me a new source of inspiration, Frank Ocean, Tame Impala, The War on Drugs, Leon Bridges, Harry Styles.
How were you discovered?
Triegy and I had made a song called “Fall for You” that we put on SoundCloud, and over the next few weeks, the song had spread around Indiana and IU’s campus with some great feedback. So, on a whim, we decided to put it on Spotify. From there, some DJ named “R3hab” put it on one of his biggest playlists and it somehow ended up on the viral top 50 charts on Spotify, which was unfathomable to me, having JUST put out my first song. I’m so grateful that that had happened, because through that, my friends and family started to take my music more seriously. I had a newfound fanbase, including my manager who found me from that playlist. He flew me out to L.A. to make music in a studio for the first time, and as I kept releasing records, a music artist named Chelsea Cutler found my music and asked me to open for her on tour. Next thing I knew, I had dropped out of school and was going on a full North American tour and that was the launchpad that really got my name out there for the first time.
What do you want to say with your music?
I just want to express honestly what I’ve experienced and what I am currently going through. I think listeners are very receptive to authenticity and I’ve tried to stay true to that. With that being said, my life is ever-changing, therefore my music is as well. At all stages, I just want to have a positive impact on the lives of whoever’s listening, whether that be them resonating with the lyrics and finding solace in them or just enjoying the song and it putting them in a better mood than they were before.
What is your current project?
I just started releasing the first singles for a new 10-song project (and it’s too early to give away the title), but my first single is called “golden years,” and it talks about being anywhere but the present because you’re always chasing that “next thing.” The entire project is based around nostalgia, reflecting on past experiences and longing for things to feel how they used to. I’ve never felt like I’ve had a clearer vision/statement for a project. I can’t wait for the rest to be released.
What are your long-term goals?
After being immersed in the music industry for four years now, I’ve realized one thing: I never want to stop making music. I’ve found that nothing gives me a sense of purpose or excitement like making a great song. I’ve been working hard at continuing to polish my songwriting, instrument playing, and production skills, so that no matter what happens, making music either for myself or for others is always a possibility. I’m confident that with the way my music is progressing, I will be able to have a successful music career for as long as I want. Outside of that, I’m starting to get more involved in writing songs for other people, which I hope to continue doing more and more. As long as the flame of passion is still there, I know the sky is the limit.
Any plans to tour?
As far as a headlining tour goes, I think I’m going to wait until the spring, when this new project is out to tour again. I’m ready to start playing new music and redesign the show, so I’m going to be patient, instead of trying to rush a fall tour.
How did you spend your time during the COVID lockdown?
I used this time to really dive into what I wanted this new project to say. I spent the past two years writing a few hundred demos to get to these final 10 songs. Along with that, learning how to play guitar was my “COVID project,” and seeing how far I’ve come in two years makes me so excited for where I can go in the future. I got to slow down and reflect a bit, but I really took this time to keep getting better at making music.
What does it mean to you to be doing a concert in your hometown?
It’s a crazy, full-circle moment for me, hearing that my songs are being played on 99.5 ZPL and getting to play in one of the biggest venues in Indiana. There’s nothing like that hometown love, where your friends and family are at your shows. For the people who know who I am, I can’t wait to see them rocking out in the crowd, and for the people who don’t know me yet, I’m excited to turn their heads.
What can audiences expect at your TCU show?
Since this Indiana show is a shorter, opening-slot set, we try to keep the energy high throughout, but for my longer headlining sets, I try to bring out every emotion possible – some songs making you want to dance, some scream, and some cry. I’ve always loved dynamic shows. It’s something I always try to stay conscious of when I’m designing my sets.
How does it feel to hear your fans sing your lyrics during your concerts?
There’s nothing like it. Music, especially now, is really interesting because for the most part, it’s all on the internet. As an artist, it can sometimes be hard to see how fans are receiving your music because streaming is so passive, but when you get to tour and see everybody screaming the lyrics along with you, you really realize the impact you’ve made with your voice, and that feeling never gets old.
Your performances in your music videos indicate a talent for acting. Do you have an interest in appearing in films and television in the future?
Ha! That’s the first time I’ve heard that. Thank you. I feel like I’m finally getting used to being on camera. When I first started making music videos, I was terribly awkward and stiff. I’ve recently started to get more comfortable with it. I’m not particularly interested in acting because I really just want to make music, but if the opportunity came up, I would definitely explore it. I think it’s always worth trying new things, especially if they make you uncomfortable.
For tickets and information about the “ZPL Birthday Bash 2022: Charlie Puth and Ava Max, with special guest Christian French” on June 17, visit whiteriverstatepark.org