Campfire Tales: Jason Aldean interviewed
“The biggest mistake people make with a cowboy hat is when they buy one they take it right off shelf then put it on and think it’s supposed to look great. You have to shape it. So you take a black felt hat, you have to steam it and sorta mold it to what looks best on you. It’s not like just picking one up and puttin' it on. 99% of the time it’s not gonna look right.”
You know you've arrived when you can talk about your own line of headwear. Jason Aldean has most definitely made it: the top selling male country artist in digital history (21 million downloads and counting); multi-multi-platinum selling albums; numerous number one singles and sold out tours of huge US stadiums. Add his new record Old Boots, New Dirt to that list of achievements. It's already hit number one on the US Billboard 200, produced another number one single and made it platinum. After a slow start to his recording career the success is welcome: “It was hard to get to this point. I went through a lot of stuff to get here. It made it a lot sweeter when it finally did happen.”
After a couple of failed recording contracts, Aldean eventually released his first album at age 28 and has never looked back. The Georgia native can still remember the moment that is finally dawned on him that he was on his way. “We played a show in Portland, Oregon, which is clear across the country from where I was born and raised, and had never been before. We played a little show, played a coupla songs, then we played my single ‘Hicktown’ and all of a sudden, in this packed bar, everybody in there knew it and was singing it. To me that was the first time they really sorta caught me off guard.”
From there things just exploded: the singer moved from playing bars to play stadiums like Boston Red Sox’s 35,000 capacity Fenway Park, supported by the likes of Miranda Lambert and Kelly Clarkson, superstars in their own right. It’s something that still thrills Aldean: “You always see that sorta iconic footage of artists on stage and the crowd is singing every word and are very passionate about the music. For any artist when you look out on stage and you see all that, you live it; you make music because you wanna reach people and you wanna affect them and when you look out there and you physically see it happen, that’s a pretty good feeling.”
When I speak to Aldean he’s preparing for the first show on the 2015 leg of his Burn It Down Tour and talks with passion about his music and country music in general. It’s clear that his work ethic (“Anything worth havin’ you gotta work for it, it doesn’t come easy.”) is one of the reasons for his success; the other is having his tastes align to that of his audience. “To be honest with you man, I don’t make music to please other people. I make music for myself. I make music that I like, that I think is cool, my way, being creative and doing things that I wanna do." Though he is aware that not to everyone is on board with the Aldean brand of country music: “Obviously a lot of people like what I’m doin and I’m very thankful. They’re the ones that have given me this career and are the ones that I’d rather focus on. If they don’t like it, that kinda sucks but it is what it is.”
The issue that seems to raise its head in the US is the type of modern country that has been coined ‘bro-country’, something that Aldean’s not too comfortable with. “Personally I hate labels of any types, so the term bro-country to me is a little degrading, honestly…” Yet the term can mean many things, from Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan (“One of my best friends, we were out on the road and watched each others careers blow up at the same time.”) singing about girls, beer, and trucks, to Brantley Gilbert’s fusion of metal and rap with country, and Aldean’s rock sound incorporating more modern production techniques.
Beneath the more modern version of country that is dominating the genre today is a genuine love for the original form. “Nobody loves traditional country more than I do. I grew up on it. I can sit there out on a stage and sing traditional country songs to you for two hours.” Even so, it’s “not particularly what I enjoy doing” and he is happy to push the view of people playing country music as “sittin on hay bales playing banjos” out of the way for his more progressive, bombastic form. “You go to a country music show now and it looks like a rock show from the 80’s, you know? It’s a big production; the songs are edgier, the artists are edgier, like any other type of music it’s changed.” But he is careful not to sound like he’s dissing anyone. “I’m not saying it’s better than it was, it’s just different. I think every genre goes through that. You can’t compare the artists that are out now to the artists that were out 10, 15, 20 years ago. They’re just different. Like you can’t compare an apple to a tennis shoe.”
For his first ever visit to the UK he’s “really doubly excited, man!” Playing at the O2-hosted C2C: Country To Country festival it’ll be interesting to see how the UK audience takes to him - 2014’s Zac Brown Band headline show had a mixed reaction as they ripped through ‘Kashmir’ and ‘Enter The Sandman’ covers. Aldean is thrilled to “come over there and play our shows so people get to see what we're about.” And London can expect a full show, or as full a show as is possible. “From a production standpoint it’s really hard to take exactly everything that we have her over there; logistically it’s impossible. But for the most part it’s gonna be our full set. We want a chance to come over there and show people what it is that we do and how we do it and hopefully create some excitement.”
It’s all part of a bigger plan for Aldean and country music in the UK, where more and more high profile artists are coming through Glasgow, Manchester, London (Eric Church, Little Big Town, Darius Rucker, and The Band Perry have all toured their latest records) and the Old Boots… man wants to do the same. “I would love to come over to the UK and make that part of our tour every year, but to do that you have to get the ball rollin' which is what we’re trying to do now. Start to build it up, make people aware of what's goin' on with us and all the other artists too, that's the whole idea.”
To start with, his most recent record Old Boots, New Dirt is getting a UK release, on the same day as his entire back catalogue. Along with his UK debut at C2C: Country To Country to an audience of 20,000 British country music fans there won’t be a better time to try and sprinkle some of the magic and success that has surrounded his American career onto the British isles.
Jason Aldean’s albums are all available to buy now from your favorite record shop, and there are limited tickets for C2C: Country To Country still available from their website.