Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Features

Meet the Voice Behind Randy Travis’s New Song

James Dupré was just as surprised as everyone when he heard Randy Travis’s AI-assisted vocal on “Where That Came From” for the first time a few weeks ago, but not just because it was the country legend’s first new song since suffering a 2013 stroke that robbed him of his speech. Dupré was stunned when he realized that it was actually his voice he was hearing, at least in part.

“I really just thought he recorded it years ago and I never knew about it,” Dupré tells Rolling Stone. “Then they told me about the AI and I was just so fascinated.”

Dupré, himself a country singer, had worked with Travis’s longtime producer Kyle Lehning around 2011 to record a demo of the song, co-written by Nashville stalwarts Scotty Emerick and John Scott Sherrill. Dupré’s version was never released, but Lehning gave it a second life more than a decade later: The producer used Dupré’s original vocal as the canvas over which to lay Travis’s AI-generated voice clone.

“Where That Came From” is a landmark moment for AI music as it’s perhaps the very first artist-sanctioned commercially released song to feature their own artificially generated voice. Given how new the technology is, there’s many questions and little precedent on how to navigate copyright and licensing.

In this case, a rep for Warner Music Nashville tells Rolling Stone that the label is establishing an entirely new credit term — “vocal bed” — to submit to music distributors and streaming services within the liner notes for “Where That Came From.” Dupré will be credited with providing the “vocal bed” for the song and such a designation could end up on future credits by record labels and artists who use voice cloning tech. The Warner rep also confirmed that Dupré was paid for the song but declined to specify whether it was a one-time work-for-hire payment or if Dupré will participate in royalties. 

In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Dupré spoke about lending his voice to Travis’s comeback, weighed in on the skepticism surrounding AI music, and confirmed that there’s a couple more AI Travis songs with his vocals that could be on the way. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Tell us about how you heard Randy’s version of “Where That Came From” for the first time. 
It was the same day they taped the piece with CBS [Sunday Morning]. It was at Kyle Lehning’s studio. I’d been told to come into town for a meeting for the upcoming tour; that’s what I was thinking was going on. I show up and the camera crews were there. It was a whirlwind. Kyle told me to have a seat in his chair and that’s when I figured something else was going on. And that’s when they played me the song. 

What were your first thoughts when you actually heard it?
I was completely shocked. I hear about AI but I don’t really follow what’s going on very closely. The fact that that is possible has really been eye-opening for me. I immediately knew that it was a big deal because I knew that this kind of thing had never happened before. I was excited from the get-go to see what would happen with this. 

Did you have to do much modifying of your vocal or did they take what you already recorded from years ago and simply use that?
My part was pretty much done. Kyle had a few tweaks left he wanted to do, but as far as my role, it was already set and done, sang and done.

After learning that this was your old demo, do you hear it as a Randy Travis song or as your own voice?
It’s hard to separate myself from it in my mind because I know that I sang that song, even though it was so long ago. It was one that always kind of stuck with me. As I listen to this new single, I have to really focus to not hear myself in there. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this.

You sang Randy’s songs on a tribute tour with his backing band. Do you think you had a lot of Randy already in your voice that made you a natural surrogate?
It’s really crazy how our paths have intertwined over the last 15 years. If you go back to my old YouTube videos, I did sing some Randy Travis songs. His voice was always something that I was attracted to. We didn’t meet until years later, and then we worked together on a movie before his stroke. He played my character’s father. After his stroke, we just kept in touch and did a few events together through the years. And then we started the tour in 2019.

I don’t try to sound like Randy. Even on tour, I’m not  gonna go out there to impersonate Randy Travis.

They’ve teased the possibility of more AI Randy songs. Will they be using your vocals?
As far as I know, there are a couple of songs in the air right now, but anything further than that, I’m not sure of. But yes, I am involved in those next couple songs.

Skeptics question whether this type of AI tech should be used at all in music, or in any form of entertainment. What would you say to them?
Well, I totally understand the skepticism, because, honestly, I’m still on the fence about AI use too. But in this particular case, if Randy was still able to sing, he would still be singing. Taking away his ability to use the technology, it just doesn’t make any sense to do that if it’s there. He gives it his blessing. He’s involved 100 percent. It’s completely different, in my opinion, in this particular case. 

There are plenty of other artists who may want to use AI tech in a similar way. What would you like to see happen now that you’re part of this first moment?
I’m still trying to process that exact question, because I can see how it can be used in a very negative way. I just think that if the artist is involved and is doing this for a reason that basically that he or she is unable to [sing] anymore, I don’t see a problem with that. But as far as giving the technology to just do anything with it, it takes away the magic of art. I think that it’s a very tricky situation when you’re talking about all these other aspects of AI, and I don’t know the answer yet. 

But I think if someone is using the technology without the artist’s consent, I think that’s where a line should be drawn.

Trending

What credit do you think is owed to a singer who is responsible for the “vocal bed” of an AI song?
I very much appreciate the credit being given for my part in this. I think that a singer or an artist should be given credit when they’ve done something. When you do a voiceover, anything like that, there’s going to be credits. I think it’s important to not lose that.

Do you think that we’ll eventually get to a place where AI songs won’t be viewed any differently, or will there always be an asterisk on a song like “Where That Came From”?
I hope that as time goes on people are just going to hear this song and think it’s any other any Randy Travis song. Hopefully there’s no asterisk on the side of it in their mind. It sounds like Randy, it feels like Randy, it is Randy.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Lists

From Hank to Shania, from George Strait to Beyoncé WHAT MAKES A great country song? It tells a story. It draws a line. It...

Features

Country Music Hall of Fame member Randy Travis is releasing his first new song in over a decade this week. The announcement, delivered via...

Features

Drake’s new track “Push Up,” a diss directed at Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross, The Weeknd, and others, had the rap world buzzing on Saturday....