Released by Big Loud to country radio through Play MPE on Aug. 29, the follow-up to “Fix” — which peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart dated Aug. 20 — is targeted straight at the female audience. Backstreet, like every other boy band in pop history, was built to appease teenage girls’ romantic fantasies. Twitty, inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999, frequently talked of his fondness for songs that the reserved men of his generation could use to tell a companion what she wanted to hear, but he was unable to say.
“I specifically wanted a song that I could [sing] every night onstage, aimed right for the girls, that I could dedicate to them from me,” says Lane.
Appropriate, then, that two of the “For Her” songwriters, Sarah Buxton (“Sun Daze,” “Put You in a Song”) and Kelly Archer (“Got My Country On”), are women. They were able to feed Lane a song that perfectly accomplished his goal.
“That song is what I would want a guy to say to me, and to do,” says Buxton. “It’s like, ‘Anything you want, I’m dropping all my plans, I’m spending money, let’s have a good time. This is just for you. I love you.’ That, to me, is an exciting love song.”
Lane was the singer Buxton and crew had in mind when “For Her” was created on May 19, 2015, in the third-floor office of co-writer Matt Dragstrem (“You Look
Like I Need a Drink,” “Sippin’ On Fire”). Lane, in fact, was originally scheduled to write with them but had to back out when producer Joey Moi (Florida Georgia Line, Jake Owen) required him in the studio on the first floor to work on vocals for an already-existing song.
Buxton promised Lane they would write that day’s song specifically for him, and she texted Lane throughout the writing session about their progress. At the time, Lane had just begun focusing on material that could take advantage of his falsetto, beginning with “Fix,” which Buxton co-wrote. Big Loud partner Seth England told her that as they moved forward, they envisioned Lane cutting songs that had a pop melodicism akin to Taylor Swift and One Direction.
“I had to go and pull it up — I had no clue what One Direction even did,” admits Buxton. “But what I heard, I was like, ‘OK, guilty pleasure.’ But some of these songs are really well-written teenage pop masterpieces.”
With that guide in their minds, Dragstrem found some chords on the piano in his office that helped them start on a cheery chorus: “She’s the kind that makes you want to/Ride around, windows down/Yell with the radio.” The back half of the chorus, in particular, was set up so that Lane would hit that falsetto part of his voice as he showed his vulnerability: “She make you want to fall/Make you want it all/Make you want to call.” The “call” came last in the progression because it showed his commitment.
“A lot of guys are really into the very beginning of a relationship,” says Buxton. “But to me, people don’t know what it takes to hold a relationship together. I mean, especially if you’re going to go year after year, you don’t get a divorce. You just stay together. You say, ‘I’m going to keep calling, keep trying, throughout the years.’ ”
Buxton and Archer supplied most, though not all, of the lyrics, adding some sparkle with references to a birthday and “confetti.”
“I was just kind of happy to be there in the room,” says Dragstrem.
“Melodically, I helped when I could, but they really dialed in that emotion. It’s good when a woman writes what a woman wants to hear. It can translate a little better.”
He was essential, though, for the attitude of “For Her.”
“Matt Dragstrem really gave it the intensity that it needed,” says Buxton. “It could have been a totally ballady, sappy song, and he showed up and gave it muscle.”
In the end, “For Her” has five different sections — the front half of the verse, the prechorus, two very different halves in the chorus and a bridge — and those variations all keep the song moving forward. Once it was done, Lane came upstairs for a listen, and he was — for a second, at least — jealous that he hadn’t been a part of writing it.
“I loved everything about it,” he says, “and what I specifically picked up on right away was that it sounds like a Backstreet Boys song from back in the day. It didn’t sound like one in particular, it just kind of had that same similar vibe.”
They put it on hold immediately, and one piece from the demo carried through into the final version. Dragstrem’s production included a spacy sound — created with Massive, a Native Instruments synthesizer — that Moi transferred over.
“It took me a little while to figure it out,” says Dragstrem. “You hold one note and you press another, and it kind of makes this weird bubbly noise. I thought it sounded really cool and different.” Despite that mechanized sonic element, Moi’s production took a more human approach, particularly with Ilya Toshinsky’s driving banjo parts and Russ Pahl’s blanket of steel guitar.
“Matt’s version was incredibly poppy — that’s kind of his bread and butter,” says Moi. “So basically it was [about] trying to decode it, strip it down a little bit and rebuild it as a country song with some pop elements.”
“For Her” was one of the easiest vocals Lane delivered.
“The one part that I thought would be hard was the prechorus, where it does that kind of classic late-’90s pop falsetto licks,” says Moi, “but he just really took to it.”
When it first appeared on the Fix EP last fall, some fans got the wrong idea about one of the chorus lines: “She’s the kind that makes you drop your plans.” “I would see tweets that say, ‘Why does @iamchrislane say she’s the kind that makes you want to drop your pants?’” says Lane. “There are those kind,” Moi says with a laugh, though it’s obviously not the message that was intended with the sentimental “For Her.”
It quickly became clear during Lane’s concerts that most of his audience got the real message, and that they were onboard with it.
“People are already showing up at the shows, singing along to this song,” says Lane, “Hopefully, it’s going to do well.”
It’s a good bet that Backstreet Boys would be down with the melody. And that Conway Twitty would approve of the message.
Article originally published in Billboard Country Update’s September 12, 2016 issue.