As a freshman in high school, Christofer Ingle was beginning to think his future was set. Thanks to the coaching of his tennis-instructor father, he made a name for himself in statewide tournaments, which looked to be his ticket out of Joplin, the largest dead-end town in Jasper County, Missouri.
Fate, of course, had other plans. While suffering from a torn shoulder muscle, Ingle was sidelined for two months, during which time dad introduced him to dusty old Dylan and Beatles records from his collection.
"I was like, 'Whoa! This music's awesome!'" recalls Ingle, who'll turn a wizened 19 next month and is currently touring under his nom de folk-pop, Never Shout Never. "I'd never heard music like that before — I'd only heard Outkast and rap groups at school. So in my coupla months off from tennis, I started playing guitar and figuring things out. And I felt like I'd finally found something I liked, something I could stay with."
Ingle dropped out of tennis to play music full-time. Later, he'd drop out of high school to form his own imprint, Loveway, and start self-issuing home-recorded EPs, like Demo-Shmemo in '08 and last year's Me and My Uke. Now, he's just signed a sweet 50/50 distribution deal with Warner Bros., which is issuing his Butch Walker-produced full-lengther What Is Love? this week.
"I wasn't very good at music when I first started," he admits. "Actually, I was really bad. But I felt such a good wave of emotion that I'd just never felt with anything else before."
Ingle quickly developed a knack for turning pain into playfully verbose pop. An early number, "Losing It" — which wound up on last year's The Summer EP — was written about a girlfriend who cheated on him with the leader of a gang of guys that bullied him. Everyone in school knew but him.
"So the day I found out was the worst day, ever," he says. "I ended up storming out of the school, going home, but getting a detention for leaving school while my parents got mad at me, too."
Although he'd been placed in his school's gifted program, Ingle never really took to it: "I'd always get made fun of because I was weird and had long hair," recalls Ingle. "So I gradually just stopped going to school, and by the time I was 16, I'd officially dropped out."
Ingle was kicked out of his house and forced to live in his car for a few tumultuous months. But his self-belief paid off. Never Shout Never — which has since grown into a full band — delivers precocious, delicious confections quirky and addictive enough to belie Ingle's tender age.
As for his buried past, the former tennis prodigy did crash a game on the campus court after a recent college gig.
"I went down there fully clothed and asked if I could play," he says, snickering. "And I beat 'em! And I was so pumped, because I hadn't played tennis in ages!"