Talking to Chapel Hill songwriter Chris Hendricks—or, for that matter, listening to his bold, grandiose pop music—feels like watching an athlete being interviewed on the air after a championship: He gushes about the friends and collaborators who made it possible. He thanks them repeatedly. And he speaks of his music as the guiding light for his life, a means for survival.
The four-song Meant to Survive, which Hendricks releases this week, is only his second EP. But he treats it as a defining point in his life, a moment of triumph and truth.
And really, it is: As a child, Hendricks was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a disorder that he says pushed him, at best, into a quiet childhood and, at worst, into a punching bag for the bullies at his school. He still sports a scar beneath his chin from those juvenile beatings. Hendricks now uses his Breaking Down Barriers program to speak to students about the detriments of bullying and how to stop it. And then he plays tunes with titles such as "Make It" and "Battle Cry," coupling his motivational speech with songs to match.
"I hope that listeners can hear the honesty," he says. "I really hope so."
I've been singing since I was 4 years old, and I feel like singing is my way to express myself the most comfortably. I felt like that was the only way people were going to accept me for who I was. If I couldn't find a place where I could be honest with people, then I was going to be invisible for the rest of my life. Singing was my way to be visible to people. I discovered that shortly after college. I didn't see singing as a medium for me to express myself until I turned to writing music, writing down my thoughts and turning them into songs.
When we started this anti-bullying program, my manager spoke with someone in a school who wanted me to come into a classroom and speak to some of the kids. My manager said, "Well, why don't we just put on a concert for the school?" I didn't know how the kids were going to take it initially. You went to school. You remember how it was. Some guy in a suit would talk about not setting fires in the classroom or something. It was never real. I wanted to give them something that was real and direct. I tell them the story of me growing up and my experience as it is. There's no better honor than to have a kid come up to me after a show and say that they want to pursue their dreams as an individual as a result of the music, concert and story.
The world doesn't have enough [motivation]. I really want the listeners of this record to use these songs to help them find their own identity. Hopefully, these songs possess the motivational tools to create the energy and joy that I would hope for them to hear from their own life experience.
I grew up in the '90s. That's the music I know and love. But I like to think this record feels a little more evolved and mature. The arrangements themselves feel a little more raw. For a lot of these songs, the verses stay very chill so that, when the chorus hits, there's this big jump. They have a drive behind them. That applies to motivation: The drive of the music can help drive the listener. It's like an engine for them that helps get the audience going.
I would not have been able to find myself in this music if it hadn't been for the people I surrounded myself with in the making of this record and my career up to this point. When you love something to the point that you have to pursue it and it's the one thing you have to do, you can't just love it for yourself. You have to love it so much that you create this energy where you're able to draw people into your life and help guide you.
I was really shy in middle school and high school. Because I kept quiet for so long, by the time this record came out, I had so much to say. It was this disorganized jumble that I wanted to let out someway, somehow. But these people—my producer, my manager, my friends—have helped take this jumbled sketch of a vision and bring it to life. This would be nothing without them.
When I decided to start writing music, not only was it cathartic for me, but it was a way I could forgive the people who picked on me, and myself, for going through that period where I was quiet and shy and avoided life, really. For a long time, I felt so very small. Music, for me, was a way I could be OK with that piece of my life. That was a journey to this point. As a result of everything I've gone through, I feel like I'm truly on the right path.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Key notes."