From hockey player to headlining artist, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter’s path to music is a tribute to trusting timing.
Christian French has a studio session scheduled for noon. “We are chillin’ on time,” he says, relaxed, and while he said it because he doesn’t have to depart this conversation for the studio for another two hours, it’s sort of unintentionally poetic considering how kind timing has been to him.
Any given day for French may be spent like this, living in Los Angeles as a professional musician. This year alone, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter has released five singles—most recently “hungover sunday—leading up to his sophomore EP The Bright Side of the Moon, out Aug. 9, and his first headlining tour by the same name. The Bright Side of the Moon tour will snake through 22 North American cities beginning on Sept. 4.
It all started when French was three years old, and his father put him on the family’s pond in ice skates. Unlike music, sports came naturally. He played several sports in his childhood including baseball and golf, but hockey was the one. As he grew, he went all-in and joined a travel hockey team—necessary if you want any chance at one day playing professionally, and French was “superset” on becoming a professional hockey player.
At the same time, French attended a private Christian school through eighth grade that required every student to participate in band, choir or both. Outside of school, he half-heartedly took drum lessons, played around with his uncle’s band and was also heavily influenced by his mother constantly playing John Mayer in the car.
One particular day in sixth grade started to nudge French’s future in a different direction, though. His friend walked into choir class especially excited because he’d just taught himself how to play Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song” on piano. Something clicked within French. He thought, ‘If you can do that, then I can do it,’ and his actions soon followed.
While his relationship with music was developing internally, hockey remained at the center of French’s life externally. “When I first started making music, I was almost kind of embarrassed about it,” French admits. “I thought that people were gonna make fun of me, and there were a couple kids that totally did make fun of me in high school. I wasn’t sure how people would react to me being a musician—like, being the kid who plays sports in high school. So … it was really just for myself for a while.”
Eventually, his pull to music became undeniable. His father, who encouraged his son to play hockey as a toddler, was the first person to recognize the transformation. “You’re gonna become a musician, and you’re gonna quit hockey,” French’s father said.
At a certain point, French realized he would rather be practising the piano than hockey. He began posting covers as a freshman in high school and quit travel hockey ahead of his senior year to focus more on music. He enrolled at Indiana University in Bloomington, roughly an hour away from Indianapolis, where he still played hockey and declared as a pre-med major. And, perhaps more important than anything else that happened to him on campus, he pledged the Kappa Sigma fraternity. As a pledge, he erased music from his online profiles because he wasn’t sure how his prospective brothers would react, but also while pledging, he met a producer now known as Triegy.
Four crucial records were the result, but something had to happen first. “It was 2016; it was at the end of the summer,” he begins. “I just got hit with my first wave of anxiety, and I didn’t really know what it was. I never really had anxiety like that before. But it was just really, really the darkest time of my life. Just waking up having this huge weight on my shoulders, just shaking for the entire day, and I was like, ‘What in the hell is going on?’ – he further develops – “Finally, [I] spoke up about it to my parents and went to the doctor and got it handled. … Things kind of fell apart for a second, and music put the pieces back together for me. I put all of that emotion into songs.”
In the following months, at the top of 2017, he and Triegy released “Fall For You,” “Dying Alive,” “By Myself” and “Done from the Start.” French’s now-manager JP Morray took notice and reached out through a direct message to offer his help. French was resistant, but Morray was persistent and a friendship was forged. As 2017 went on, Morray nudged a little more. Come October, French used his fall break to fly to Los Angeles for the first time at Morray’s request where he created his debut solo single “love ride” with Dru Decaro, who remains his main producer.
He used his winter and spring breaks to jet to L.A. and make more music before the breaking point with Indiana University finally came in May 2018. French had just 13 credits standing between him and graduation when Chelsea Cutler came across French on social media when he covered two of her songs. At the urge of her fans, she invited him to open on her fall 2018 Sleeping With Roses tour.
There again was his dad, this time with his mom, predicting what came next. “[My parents] actually were the ones who were like, ‘Yeah, you should probably drop out. You can’t miss this opportunity,’” French says. “So, yeah, I don’t know what parents other than mine that would say drop out with 13 credits left, but they really are my biggest supporters.”
And so, French dropped out of college and performed for the very first time. He had always gotten pre-game jitters before hockey games, but the feeling he got before taking the stage wasn’t comparable. Every time he started to get really anxious or excited for a show, his elbows started to tingle before going numb. As a hockey player, he took the ice alongside five other skaters. Music was an individual sport.
“At the beginning of college, I was literally like, ‘I can’t be a musician because I can’t perform,’” he explains. “And so, just kind of sucking that up and going on that tour and just being able to perform and having people sing the words back … it was pretty much like a culture shock. I was like, ‘This is what it’s like. Holy shit!’ … That first month on the road was something I will never ever forget, and I learned more in that month of being on the road than I had pretty much my whole life.”
That one month and 17 shows with Cutler led to two months as an opener for Quinn XCII’s 34-city North American From Tour With Love tour earlier this year. The first show of From Tour With Love was at The Egyptian Room in Indianapolis. French began his first song and could hardly hear himself because the crowd was singing so loudly. The guy who didn’t believe he could perform now had fans willing to perform his songs for him. He can only imagine the support his city will show him as a headliner, none more than his parents.
For French’s first two rounds of touring, his parents followed around the Midwest. Often during Midwestern shows, French dons a jersey from the city’s NHL team while performing—the closest he’ll get now to the pros. He’s still the same three-year-old kid who wobbled around on skates with his father, then fell face-first in love with hockey. But that kid grew up and discovered a greater love.
Actually, here’s a bow on John Mayer’s influence on French. Mayer told Ellen DeGeneres in March something that pretty perfectly illustrates the difference between hockey and music for French: “There’s a difference between doing something good and, like, doing good. … Selfishly, you’re like, am I good? But when you think about other people, you’re like, have I done good?”
French could have gone the rest of his life being a good hockey player, but he chose to do good through music. With The Bright Side of the Moon tour, he is in position to carry out his purpose that has been writing itself at every intersection along the way. Hockey rinks, where he met many different types of people and learned to be there them as team captain.
Pre-med classrooms where he learned the science behind anxiety, depression and any emotion that populates music. “I’ve been really into writing songs about self-help,” he says of his well-rounded journey informing his songwriting. He wants to dedicate his career to helping as many people as possible, while the short-term goal is to give people in 22 North American cities space, for just one night, to breathe. To enjoy the moment rather than worrying about tomorrow or the past. That philosophy is organic for French, as his past has shown him repeatedly that every tomorrow will be taken care of in due time.