The CMA nominee rides a new album, a hit single and a sold-out
By Phyllis Stark Special to MSN Music
With a two-year gap since the release of his last album, Jason Aldean says of his next project,
"Nobody is more ready for this thing to come out than me. I feel like it's been
That album, "Night Train," hit stores Oct. 16, advanced by a single ("Take a
Little Ride") that not only shot to No. 1 four weeks earlier than executives at
Aldean's record label had projected, but remained encamped at the top of the
national radio charts for three weeks.
The 15-song set has the same "loud and grungy" sound -- in Aldean's words --
that made his first four albums so successful. His last album, "My Kinda Party," is the Country Music
Association's reigning Album of the Year, and Aldean will vie for three more
trophies at this year's CMA Awards on Nov. 1, including Entertainer of the Year
and Male Vocalist of the Year. He'll also debut his currently unannounced new
single on the show.
Despite selling out stadiums -- sometimes in minutes -- plus multiplatinum
album sales and 10 No. 1 singles to date, Aldean claims he can't quite put his
finger on his own drawing power.
"I don't know what it is about our songs and our albums and our shows that
are appealing to people," he admits modestly. "For whatever reason, it's worked.
I'm not sure I really know why that is."
Fans who flock to his shows, scoop up his albums and turn up the radio
whenever the Georgia native's smoke-roughened voice comes on could surely
enlighten him. But Aldean prefers not to know. "That's my mentality," he says,
"head down, tunnel vision, eye on the prize."
MSN Music: Did you have some specific objectives in mind when you were
creating this album?
Jason Aldean: I knew that because of the success of the last record there was
going to be a lot of high expectations for this record. So my goal was just to
not try to put any more added pressure on myself. I wasn't trying to top what we
did last time, or recreate that same sort of magic that we had on the last
album. It was more about just making sure we had a great record.
Do you feel like you need to push the boundaries with your music of
whatever's considered mainstream at the time?
The songs that I'm drawn to in general just kind of lend themselves to being
[left of center]. You've got to just let that happen. When you start trying to
force that to happen, it kind of feels a little contrived and it just doesn't
As this new generation of country music stars has moved to the top of the
heap, you've emerged as a leader of that group based on your ticket sales, album
sales and the success of your singles at radio. How have you done it?
I don't know. I'm as shocked about it as anybody else. Honestly, I'm the kind
of guy that, a lot of times, I'm sort of oblivious to things that are going on
around me. I just kind of keep my head down and work, play my music, play my
shows and do what I've got to do. I don't really listen or pay attention to
outside things going on, which is sometimes good and sometimes not.
I [do] think my career's been built largely on our live shows. Everything
just kind of fell into place like it's supposed to. It doesn't always happen
that way, and for us it did.
Do you really not know the basis of your own appeal?
I honestly don't know. I've always been drawn to songs I can relate to. When
it comes to shows, I just want to make it an event. When people come to see a
show, that's what they're going to get: a show. It's going to be a good time. I
want to give them something that they aren't going to necessarily get at any
other show. Why that's worked, I honestly don't know. I guess it's because I've
never really tried to sugarcoat anything or try to make people think I was
something that I wasn't. What you see is what you get. I'd like to think people
are drawn to that a little bit, but I'm not really sure.
You have a song on the new album ("The Only Way I Know") that features
your pals and touring partners Luke Bryan and Eric Church. How did that all come
Luke and I are really good friends and had talked about doing something
together for a while. I got this song pitched to me that I thought would just be
a perfect song for that. Then the more I listened to it, the more I thought we
could actually bring someone else in [and wondered] who would that be? Eric was
the first guy that came to mind, because he was on tour with me last year. He
and Luke both are having huge career years. ... Luckily, they both liked the
song and it worked out really cool.
Is there any kind of friendly rivalry among the three of you with all of
you being at the top of your game right now?
I don't think so. That's what makes the friendships cool is that the three of
us all busted our ass to get here. We all realize that we are in a very, very
fortunate place to even be able to do this for a living and have a career. For
the three of us to all kind of come out at the same time, and all not only have
success, but have it on the level we've had, that's what we're all happy
The other stuff -- awards and that kind of stuff -- of course you want to win
those things, but if I'm up for an award with Luke and he wins, I'm not pissed.
The guy's had a great year and he deserves it as much as anybody. It's always
been that way for us, and I think that's what kind of makes our friendship
different, that there's really not that rivalry or that jealousy. Away from the
music business, away from all this stuff, we're still really good friends.
That's more important than having a trophy.
You specifically commissioned the new song "Wheels Rollin'" so you'd have
something to play live that had the same vibe as Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or
Alive." Why did you want something like that in your show?
I came up playing songs like "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Turn the Page,"
songs I loved because I felt like they gave the listener an inside look of what
it's like for a musician on the road. People get to see the glamorous side of
it, like being on stage and TV. What they don't see is the 600 miles a night you
drive to get to the next town, laying in bed looking at the ceiling for hours at
a time, and eating truck stop frozen burritos for dinner. I think songs like
this really give people an inside look of what happens when you're offstage.
As a fan, I always thought those songs were really cool. To have one of those
songs that was written for me was really cool because it's not just talking
about it in general terms. This was a couple songwriter friends of mine [Neil
Thrasher, Wendell Mobley and Hillary Lindsey] that wrote this song based on
coming out to my shows and seeing the deal. That's a pretty cool thing to be
able to give fans.
Another song on the album, "1994," is an homage to '90s country hit-maker
Joe Diffie, and even name-checks many
of his songs. Any reaction from him yet to the song?
I haven't talked to Joe, but apparently he has heard the song and likes [it].
I would love at some point -- if it is a single down the road and we do a video
-- to have him make some sort of cameo and be a part of it. I was a big fan of
his growing up and spent a lot of time at bars playing a lot of his songs. That
would be the icing on the cake for me to have him somehow be a part of this
thing, whether it's a video or some sort of live performance.
Why did you not pick any of your own songs for this album?
I'm not a guy that feels like I have to have my songs on an album or it makes
me less of an artist. There's so many great writers in this town. Ultimately, I
can sit there with five of the best songs I wrote, and then I can find five
songs that I like more. I'm my own worst critic on my songs, which is probably
not a good thing for a songwriter. But it's honestly not that big a deal to me.
... If I find something I feel is better than what I've written, I've got no
problem bumping my song.
Your My Kinda Party Tour wraps Oct. 17, having sold 1.9 million tickets
during its run. What do you like to do when you're off the road?
I've got a young family at home. I've got two daughters, and they're involved
in everything. Now they're in school and they're playing softball. My oldest
daughter, as soon as softball's over she's going to start playing basketball. So
it's cool because I have a chance to be home and hang out with them and watch
them play sports. My wife and I get to actually go on a date every now and then,
which is another rare thing.
I've got a farm an hour from [Nashville] where I can find 100 things to do
when I'm out there. It gives me time to go out there and get some work done and
just be normal for a change. Life slows down a little bit. ... It's the first
time all year that I can come home and unpack my suitcase and be home for a
couple of months and settle into a family routine. It's not typically like that
the rest of the year.
What are your touring plans for 2013?
We're in the process right now of designing our stage and getting ready. I
don't think we're going back out until the end of February, first of March.
It'll be a whole different show for next year. [But] even when I'm home, sitting
in a deer stand or whatever, I'm thinking about stuff like what songs we're
going to put in next year. A big part of what we do is our show. I always want
that to be as good as it can be.
Veteran entertainment journalist Phyllis Stark has been reporting
extensively on the music industry for two decades. As a freelance writer, her
work appears regularly in numerous publications and sites. She previously was
Nashville Bureau Chief at Billboard magazine.