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Who is Charles Esten? The Story Behind His Journey to Country Music

Who is Charles Esten? The singer-songwriter joined us to chat about his journey to country music. Get to know the rising star here…

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Charles Esten // Photo credit: Kristen Balanij


Full Name – Charles Esten
Birthdate – 9/9
Hometown – Alexandria, Virginia
Current City – Nashville, Tennessee
Musical Influences – (please name 3-5). Waylon Jennings, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles
New album – Love Ain’t Pretty


The Beginning:

Today’s spotlight artist is already a household name to many. Charles Esten is an incredible actor, singer, and songwriter. While Esten might be most known for his roles on hit shows, Nashville and Outer Banks, he is also a beloved member of the country music community. We chatted with Esten about his journey to where he is now, his new record, and everything in between.

Esten was born in Pennsylvania, but spent most of his formative years in Northern Virginia. He recalls even at a young age that music was an important part of his upbringing. “I remember my mom said I was sitting in the shopping cart singing Simon & Garfunkel at the top of my lungs,” he shared. Adding, “In those times, I can remember writing little [songs] and Little Rock songs, and my friends and I were huge Beatles fans.”

Throughout his childhood, Esten wrote songs and learned to play both guitar and piano. “In third grade, there was a contest to write a song using a Disney song, to change up the words, and I won that,” he shared. “I remember the feeling of having the whole school sing a song I wrote, and looking back, it was probably pretty life-changing.”

Esten found inspiration in many genres of music from rock to country to soul, and later in college, artists like U2 and Bruce Springsteen caught his attention too. “Country was having its moment, one of its many moments, when I was a kid, and then as I got older, my father got really heavily into Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson and a lot of other country. He and I would go on long roadtrips listen to this CD called ’50 Golden Years of Country Music,’ and it played all these hits from the really early past.”

The Turning Point:

Things started to turn for Esten in his college years. “During my second year of college, I met all the guys that would form my college band. […] That was a huge thing for me because I majored in economics, but what I really majored in was that band. I got to write songs and bring them to that basement and the band would bring them alive. We started touring and we did well enough that I stayed an extra year to continue the band.”

While his college band was a huge turning point for him, the other members all dispersed after college leaving Esten to figure out his next move. “After that year, I’m pretty much certain that if they wanted to stay in the band, we would have gone on, and that would have been my career […] I was on my own without a band, and at that time, Nashville wasn’t really an option or an idea then. I guess New York would have been possible, but I had no connections there at all, but I had a couple of friends that were acting in LA, so I thought I could try that, and maybe meet another band.”

Esten moved to L.A. to pursue acting, and almost immediately landed himself a role playing Buddy Holly on stage in London that combined his love for music with acting. “I did that for almost 2.5 years. And while I was there I got on this show called ‘Whose Line Was It Anyway,’ and part of my job was to improvise songs off the top of my head, so more of that music-making.”

All along, Esten was still writing music and playing guitar, and as he grew older, his music and his songwriting became more and more country. “Eventually, I started writing music with some Nashville songwriters. It was about 6 or 7 years after that happened, in a moment that I was certain I had waited too long and thought maybe I could be a songwriter […] but God had a trick up his sleeve and sent me a script called Nashville. This role and this character not only popped and came alive for so many people, but it reawakened the original dream of mine.”


Flash forward to today, Esten’s role as Deacon in Nashville allowed him to pursue his dream both as his character and as himself. Today, the singer-songwriter is releasing his own original music. After releasing a song a week for 54 weeks, Esten finally put together a brand-new project called, Love Ain’t Pretty filled with fourteen songs that the singer had a hand in penning.

“‘Deacon played the Bluebird before I did, but when I finally got to play it I’ll never forget sitting in the round with these other folks. Wouldn’t you know it the guy from Los Angeles, is playing the most country music here, so by the time I got here, my country music was sounding a little older country already,” he shared.

Love Ain’t Pretty is an incredible conglomerate of Esten’s musical taste and talent. Each song speaks to his originality and his authenticity as an artist and as a person. “That’s what is cool about this album to me because it encompasses all of it. It can rock, and it has all of the soulful blues that I love so much, but underneath it all is the country stories,” he shared. Adding, “One of the best examples of that is “When Love Ain’t Love,” which is literally three chords, and as much as I can do it, the truth in that song. That song is very sparse and very literal of how love falls apart and how strange and heartbreaking it is, but on top of it is, is this shimmery, beautiful pop thing that feels upbeat and lifting, and I love this contradiction of this sad country song buried in this beautiful dance beat.”

Esten may not be the artist that you see currently climbing the country charts, but he is an artist you should pay attention to. His music spans the country music fanbase, and is truly as good as it gets!


Fans can join our Weekly Round-Up e-newsletter here, for the latest in country music and more news and announcements about future Charles Esten releases.

To keep up with Charles Esten, follow him on Instagram, TwitterTikTok, and Facebook.

Charles Esten’s music is available everywhere you buy or stream music. Take a listen below and check out more new recently released tunes on our ‘New Country Music’ playlist. Be sure to give the playlist a follow for your weekly new country music fix.

Charles Esten: ‘Love Ain’t Pretty’ – Debut Album Review

Charles Esten releases his debut album, Love Ain’t Pretty, out now, January 26th on all streaming platforms. Listen to the brand new project here.

American actor, singer, and songwriter, Charles Esten cultivated an incredible fanbase, when he played Deacon Claybourne on CMT’s ‘Nashville’ and as Ward Cameron on Netflix’s ‘Outer Banks.’ Now, the singer-songwriter is ready to share his other passion with the world, music. Today, Esten releases his debut album, Love Ain’t Pretty.

With fourteen songs that speak to Esten’s talent as both a singer and as a songwriter, Love Ain’t Pretty boast songs for all different types of country music lovers. Esten leant his songwriting prowess to each and every song off the impressive record. The album kicks off with the title track, a song that fans will surely love.

Next up, “A Little Right Now” and “One Good Move” take the listener on an emotional journey. The former track speaks to a wayward path, while “One Good Move” allows the listener to have an inside look into the past and now the present, which is much brighter. On songs like “I Ain’t” and “Make You Happy,” Esten shows off his traditional-country and more funky sounds, as well as, a more fun approach to music. Both songs make you want to dance and be in love without being too on the nose. Another standout moment comes later in the track list with a song called, “Maybe I’m Alright.” On the song, Esten finds peace in expression throughout the touching and relatable song.

Love Ain’t Pretty is an album that is blessed with both quiet moments of stardom and more fun-loving tunes. Esten does a great job showcasing all different sides of his musical ability and his journey thus far. The debut album is one to listen to!

Love Ain’t Pretty Tracklist:

  1. Love Ain’t Pretty (Charles Esten, Marshall Altman, Jimmy Yeary)
  2. A Little Right Now (Charles Esten, Jacob Lyda, Brian Maher)
  3. One Good Move (Charles Esten, Sam Backoff, Zarni deVette, Elise Hayes)
  4. In a Bar Somewhere (Charles Esten, Jason Gantt, Neil Medley)
  5. I Ain’t (Charles Esten, Brad Crisler, James LeBlanc)
  6. Another Song About You (Charles Esten, Colin Elmore)
  7. When Love Ain’t Love (Charles Esten, Jeffrey East)
  8. Candlelight (Charles Esten, Kenny Alphin, Eric Paslay)
  9. Back in My Life Again (Charles Esten, Marcus Hummon, Bryan Todd)
  10. Make You Happy (Charles Esten, Gary Burr, Jon D’Agostino)
  11. Willing to Try (Charles Esten, Gary Burr)
  12. Maybe I’m Alright (Charles Esten, Leslie Satcher)
  13. Down the Road (feat. Eric Paslay) (Charles Esten, Eric Paslay, Dylan Altman)
  14. Somewhere in the Sunshine (Charles Esten, Jon Nite)

Country Swag Picks:

  1. “Maybe I”m Alright”
  2. “Love Ain’t Pretty”
  3. “One Good Move”
  4. “Make You Happy”

Charles Esten shares debut album, ‘Love Ain’t Pretty,’ out now on all streaming platforms.

Fans can join our Weekly Round-Up e-newsletter here, for the latest in country music and more news about future Charles Esten releases.

To keep up with Charles Esten, follow him on Instagram, TwitterTikTok, and Facebook.

Love Ain’t Pretty is available everywhere you buy or stream music. Take a listen below and check out more new recently released music on our ‘New Country Music’ playlist. Be sure to give the playlist a follow for your weekly new country music fix.