Viral sensation Oliver Anthony has spoken — or rather written — at length for the first time since his song “Rich Men North of Richmond” became a nearly overnight national phenomenon, going into his circumstances and background and saying he has no intention of rushing into any record deal.
“People in the music industry give me blank stares when I brush off 8 million dollar offers,” he wrote in a 730-word message posted to his Facebook account Thursday morning. “I don’t want 6 tour buses, 15 tractor trailers and a jet. I don’t want to play stadium shows, I don’t want to be in the spotlight.”
He continued, “I wrote the music I wrote because I was suffering with mental health and depression. These songs have connected with millions of people on such a deep level because they’re being sung by someone feeling the words in the very moment they were being sung. No editing, no agent, no bullshit. Just some idiot and his guitar. The style of music that we should have never gotten away from in the first place.”
Anthony, who confirmed in the post that his legal name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford (as previously indicated by official songwriting credits), struck a humble pose in assessing his own skills as a singer and musician, even as he alluded further to angry feelings about the state of America that have led the song to be embraced virtually wholesale by conservative politicians and commentators.
“There’s nothing special about me,” Anthony wrote in the Facebook post. “I’m not a good musician, I’m not a very good person. I’ve spent the last 5 years struggling with mental health and using alcohol to drown it. I am sad to see the world in the state it’s in, with everyone fighting with each other. I have spent many nights feeling hopeless, that the greatest country on Earth is quickly fading away.”
Anthony may not be understating the amount of interest in signing him to a record deal, and not just coming from the usual suspects anyone might expect to take interest in a country- or roots-based artists. On Wednesday night, no less likely a figure than rapper Gucci Mane posted Anthony’s photo to his Instagram account and captioned it with a desperate-sounding plea, writing: “Aye fam I need y’all help on this one. I’m trying sign these guys as my first country artists to 1017 [Mane’s label]!!! I need the info asap.”
To which the response might have been: get in line — just to get a direct contact for the out-of-nowhere upstart singer, let alone to make a deal. A few music industry figures already have a head start on Gucci Mane, like the politically provocative singer John Rich, who said he had lengthy conversations with Anthony and offered to produce and finance an album. (There has been no indication Anthony was likely to take him up on that offer.)
Thursday’s lengthy social media post followed a shorter one that Anthony put up on his Facebook page on Wednesday, in which he announced a free show this coming weekend and declared for the first time that he is in no hurry to sign any contracts.
“We are working on a full lineup of shows with bigger accommodations in the near future,” Anthony wrote on Wednesday, with a link pointing to a free show promised for Saturday at the Eagle Creek Golf Club and Grill in Moyock, North Carolina — a link that has been subsequently deleted, no doubt due to the influx of people likely to show up for the gig. Anthony also used that initial post to write, “Everyone in the ‘industry’ is rushing me into signing something, but we just want to take things slow right now. I appreciate your patience.”
In Thursday’s much more explanatory post, Anthony described himself as a high school dropout who has lived and worked in North Carolina and Virginia, working in industrial manufacturing for the last nine years and “getting to know tens of thousands of other blue collar workers on job sites and in factories. Ive spent all day, everyday, for the last 10 years hearing the same story. People are SO damn tired of being neglected, divided and manipulated.”
Perhaps in response to skeptics who have wondered how Anthony can now afford to own a large farm if he is the low-paid worker described in the song, the singer put a dollar figure on the property and his living quarters on it. “In 2019, I paid $97,500 for the property and still owe about $60,000 on it. I am living in a 27′ camper with a tarp on the roof that I got off of craigslist for $750.”
Writing about the response that has come in over the last week, Anthony wrote, “It’s been difficult as I browse through the 50,000+ messages and emails I’ve received in the last week. The stories that have been shared paint a brutally honest picture. Suicide, addiction, unemployment, anxiety and depression, hopelessness and the list goes on… I’m sitting in such a weird place in my life right now. I never wanted to be a full time musician, much less sit at the top of the iTunes charts. Draven from RadioWv and I filmed these tunes on my land with the hope that it may hit 300k views. I still don’t quite believe what has went on since we uploaded that. It’s just strange to me.”
If Anthony seemed ambivalent about his instant success, he seemed less unsure about the idea expressed in his hit song that America is going to hell in a handbasket. He did not add any specifics about political beliefs or theories, a la the condemnation of welfare queens or allusions to child sex trafficking that appear in the lyrics, nor did he directly refer to the polarized response to his music, which has seen “Richmond” embraced by figures like Kari Lake, Dan Bongino, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and others and decried by many music fans further to the left.
“I HATE the way the Internet has divided all of us,” he wrote. “The Internet is a parasite, that infects the minds of humans and has their way with them. Hours wasted, goals forgotten, loved ones sitting in houses with each other distracted all day by technology made by the hands of other poor souls in sweat shops in a foreign land. When is enough, enough? When are we going to fight for what is right again? MILLIONS have died protecting the liberties we have. Freedom of speech is such a precious gift. Never in world history has the world had the freedom it currently does. Don’t let them take it away from you.”
Wrapping up his report from the front lines of unexpected American phenomena, sounding more like a prophet than a guy on top of the world, Anthony concluded: “Just like those once wandering in the desert, we have lost our way from God and have let false idols distract us and divide us. It’s a damn shame.”
In being embraced so immediately and fervently by the right, “Rich Men North of Richmond” has drawn comparisons to country star Jason Aldean’s recent headline-making “Try That in a Small Town,” another cause celebre song among conservatives. But “Rich Men” could have longer legs. It’s a strong bet to make No. 1 on the next Hot 100, according to Billboard, even with almost no radio play. As of Thursday, it sits at No. 3 on the Spotify Top 50 for the U.S. — not too far behind Taylor Swift’s No. 1 “Cruel Summer” in daily streams — after reaching the top spot the day before. On YouTube, the original music video was up to 18 million views as of Thursday afternoon, after being out for eight days. At the iTunes store, Anthony’s songs continue to command four of the top 10 spots, including No. 1.