Eric Church Keeps ‘Chief’ Reckless and In-Your-Face
Eric Church broke the mold when he started writing his new album, ‘Chief.’ Instead of inviting songwriting friends to join him on the road, he rented a cabin near Banner Elk, in the Cherokee National Forest area of North Carolina, and basically kidnapped his pals for few days of 24/7 songwriting.
“The main thing was to get away from everything — touring, technology, television — and not do anything but music,” Eric explains to The Boot. “We were able to focus because there were no distractions. The first day we were there we wouldn’t write, we’d hang out. We had 1,500 acres and a four-wheeler and we’d go jump on it, or talk and drink a beer and just relax and not think about anything. Then we would get out the guitars and mess around, and if we found something, we’d write. If not we’d just hang out.”
Eric says the casual approach took the pressure off and allowed for creativity. “We probably wrote 40-50 songs at the cabin, and then I wrote another 20-30 after leaving the cabin. We had 70-80 songs that we had to whittle down. It really opened me up creatively. I was able to put my antenna up and connect with my co-writers.”
The ‘Homeboy’ singer admits he had a reason for taking the songwriters to the remote cabin. “I wanted them to be out of their element, to think outside of the box. And they got to know me a little better. We could write at 3:00 AM, 10:00 AM or 7:00 PM. It was a unique experience. I think you can feel that in the music. You can feel the energy, the way the songs were written and the way we treated them.”
Eric gives his songwriters credit in helping make the record what it is. “I have a pretty good idea of the artist I want to be and the direction I want to go. I will have the idea or chorus or verse and take it to a co-writer. But on the opposite side, a lot of these guys I trust will bring me songs. For instance, Casey Beathard brought me ‘Homeboy.’ He started it, it was his idea, and he said to me, ‘You’re the only guy who will do something like this.’ I wanted to put a different twist on it. What appealed to me was using home as a spiritual heaven. We wrote the third verse, then we wrote the second verse. That is the perfect co-write, for someone to bring me a song I can relate to and be excited about, that I could jump in and write.”
Eric says that after ‘Smoke a Little Smoke’ became his most successful song, he realized it was the first time that the image matched what was on the radio. “Going in the studio [for the new album], our main goal was not to let anyone reign us in. We didn’t have any rules and because of that we made some really good music. No idea was shot down.”
Still, Eric acknowledges that if he’s not anxious or uneasy about what people might think about a song, he’s probably not making the right kind of music. “If you lean over the edge, that’s where creativity lives. I have a NASCAR buddy, and we were drinking a beer one night and just chatting, and he said ‘We run the fastest lap next to the wall.’ That’s the way we looked at it. It was out of control. We could have crashed, but that’s where the magic of music lives. You’ve got to be pretty far out there, and let it be what it’s gonna be and not choke it.”
One distinctive element will set ‘Chief’ apart from Eric’s previous projects. “More so than any record we’ve done, it’s all about artist growth,” he points out. “I feel for the first time, we made this record like our live show, which is very reckless, with a lot of energy. It’s very in-your-face and aggressive.”
Eric’s favorite cut is ‘Creepin,’ which he wrote with Marv Green. “I just like the groove and the way it sounds so different from the other stuff you hear today. I love the Roger Miller ‘bow-ba-bow’ vocal-that wasn’t planned, it was just a product of being in the room and being involved in the magic. ‘Creepin’ was the first track we recorded, and from the time we recorded it, I knew we would start the album that way. I love that kind of song that makes you want to listen to the record.”
‘Country Music Jesus’ declares that there is room for new sounds in country music, something about which Eric is adamant. “There were a couple reporters, critics who kept saying, ‘We need a country music Jesus to save the format.’ When I read that I thought that’s the biggest crock I’ve ever heard. It’s one of my pet peeves. I get tired of people who in this day and time keep looking for people like those outlaws, those iconic figures. If we’re making the same music as Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, why not just listen to that? They didn’t do the music before them, they completely changed. And down the line, Garth, Shania, they also changed the format. You have to be continually changing or evolving. That’s what’s healthy about music. You take your influences and you put another twist on them. I grew up listening to AC/DC, Metallica, Bob Seger, Tom Petty, and I took those influences and made them my own.”
Eric firmly asserts that country music is currently as good as it has been in a long time. “Since I’ve been doing this, these past six years, the music is as good and as cool as any format. It’s a songwriter-driven, very young fan base. When I started, it wasn’t cool to be a college student and wear a country music t-shirt, but now it’s cool and hip. It’s not seen as corny, or as some of those other stigma that country music used to have.”
The name of the new album, ‘Chief,’ is very special to Eric. It was his grandfather’s nickname, and ironically the guys who travel with Eric have started calling him Chief.
“My grandfather was chief of police for 35 years, and when I was growing up everyone called him Chief,” Eric explains. “The guys started calling me that totally as a joke, when I started wearing a hat and sunglasses after I got my contacts. They didn’t know about my grandfather at all. It was two different things and happened very organically and very naturally.”
‘Homeboy’ is the first single from ‘Chief,’ and the accompanying video was filmed at the old Tennessee State Prison in Nashville. “It’s a great facility, and they don’t use it for much anymore, but there is a lot of energy there,” Eric notes. “It gets creepy when the sun goes down. I think the actors fed off that. I know I did. It’s my favorite video we’ve done. I love everything about it, from the actor to how I look in it. It feels very live and active. A lot of that credit goes to producer Peter Zavadil and job he does.”
‘Homeboy’ is Eric’s fastest-rising single to date. ‘Chief’ is due to be released on July 26.