"I'm not trying to be a puppy mill of songs. There's just something about being barefoot on the sand, just puts you in a good mood. You can't always go to beach but you can in your head."
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Country artist Christon Birge has captured the sounds and smells of summer on his latest track — "Sunscreen on You."
"I'm not trying to be a puppy mill of songs," Birge said. "There's just something about being barefoot on the sand, just puts you in a good mood. You can't always go to beach but you can in your head."
I recently sat down with the Vernon native singer, who co-wrote the "always on vacation kind of feel" track with his songwriter pal, Shaun Streeter of Panama City Beach. The new track follows his singles "Delirious," a love song written for his longtime girlfriend, Katie Spillman, and the playful "Tacos." His early songs have received airplay on country radio and garnered top spots on Country Music Life charts.
What kind of sunscreen does Birge like?
"Anything that smells tropical, coconut," said Birge, who still lives in his hometown — 30 minutes from the beach — where he "can go back in the woods with elbow room."
Ironically, Spillman admitted she doesn't necessarily even choose sunscreen for the scent, but rather goes for "anything with glitter in it."
Streeter, a self-proclaimed "city boy" from St. Louis, sees the real-deal country boy in Birge.
"This stuff is gold," said Streeter, who moved to the beach several years ago to become a radio morning show personality on Kick'n Country 103.5 FM.
Birge recalled, "He always did parodies of country songs and would play. I thought, 'If you can write joke songs, you can write a song.' I said, 'Hey, we should write sometime.'"
And then they realized they had both been writing about the same subject — sunscreen.
"I was beating on a table, singing in a recorder — 'You smell like tropical suntan lotion,'" Birge said. " I thought, 'He probably won't get this stupid song.' He said, 'That's funny; I got a song about sunscreen, too.'"
Streeter said, "When I first came up with a song on sunscreen, I lived in St. Louis, still in the middle of winter, and dreamed of being at the beach. I'd just put on sunscreen after being at the dermatologist and getting a lecture. When I smelled it, I thought, 'I could get used to this,' dreaming of the beach on a cold winter somewhere. When you want to be at the beach, the smell brings you to the beach."
The friends trace the joint roots of this song to March 2018 but, Birge said, it sounded more country back then.
"It became a beachy anthem of classic rock and country rock," Birge said. "I was given advice one time, 'Don't be scared to let a song grow.'"
Part of that growth came after he and Spillman met producer Tim Smith on a Caribbean cruise.
"Me and Katie met he and his fiancee on a cruise, paired at a table together," said Birge, who later recorded "Sunscreen on You" with Smith at The Soundscape Studio in Detroit.
The music video was filmed at Tiki Bar at the Sandpiper Beacon on Front Beach Road with models from an agency out of Pensacola. The video also features Spillman, who sings and plays tambourine in the band, serving Birge a beer from the bar, as well as Streeter making a cameo with a surfboard.
Other band members included on camera are lead guitarist Tommy Farmer, who graduated high school with Birge in Vernon; the fun-loving drummer, Wesley Theus; and bass player PJ Carter.
"Tommy and I picked around at the guitar from when we were 15 years old," said Birge, who worked in a watermelon field to buy his first guitar. "PJ is a good ol' country boy just like us. ... We're not trying to be the best band in the world; we're trying to be the band that has the most fun in the world. And Katie, of course, makes the band look better and sound better."
And behind the camera, friends Danny Paul, Amanda Paul and Katie Reynolds are making it all come together.
"They took more school on filming and bought more equipment after 'Delirious,'" said Birge — winner of the 2014 Tootsie's Orchid Lounge Birthday Bash.
He later was a Pepsi Southern Original Finalist for 2017-18. But, he continued to do music on the side while pursuing a traditional career — working as a sleep technician at Bay Medical in Panama City.
"A lot of times we check the box, but are you happy?" said Birge, 38, who grew up in a single-wide trailer in Vernon with his parents and three siblings. "The music business is either in or out; there's not straddling the fence. I was so exhausted from my regular job, it was killing all my creative juices. Always working 40 to 60 hours a week, I thought this is never going to happen. It was work, eat, sleep, repeat."
Then Hurricane Michael hit in October, and Birge and Streeter both lost their jobs.
"I was forced to go into my passion," said Birge. "Now I feel like a pinball in a pinball machine, going in the right direction. Sometimes I feel like a passenger watching this."
Streeter said, "It's funny, most of the song I'd written before the hurricane, but I hadn't done anything with it. We were both so busy. ... It freed me a lot. Now I don't have to focus on everyone else's music."
And the friends have more songs in the works.
Birge added, "If somebody tells you you can't do something, they are secretly telling you they can't do something. I was held back in first grade. Teachers said I was a little slow, and it may be true, but if I can do it, anybody can do it."
For more about Birge, visit chirstonbirge.com. "Sunscreen on You" is available now on all major music streaming and downloading platforms: https://christonbirge.hearnow.com