It took about 15 years for Jack Ingram to get his foot in country radio's door. And now that he's in, he's striving to be the most vibrant presence in the room.

Jack won the Academy of Country Music's Top New Male Vocalist award last year, finally gaining industry recognition after releasing more than a dozen CDs. Upon accepting the award, the visibly moved singer thanked "anyone who dared to dream big dreams and high hopes with me." So it's poetically fitting that his new album is called 'Big Dreams and High Hopes' -- the project that the 38-year-old Texan hopes will take him a step beyond his long-awaited mainstream success.

Jack sat down with The Boot to talk about the new project. He also chatted with us about a star-studded recording session that gave new life to an old hit, and how his latest single truly makes fans do 'crazy' things.

If 2007's 'This Is It' was your breakthrough album, what new level is 'Big Dreams & High Hopes' going to take you to?

For the last couple years, I've spent a lot of energy trying to fit in, trying to cement my place in this format, in country music and in the mainstream where I can play this game on a high level. There are things that you do when you're in that mode of getting in the game. 'This Is It' was as an effort to fit in, and it worked. It is very much my record and my sound, but now it's my chance to try and stand out from the crowd. The only way to do that is to make music that is unique to me.

In doing that, did you set out to put a little more of a rock edge on this album?

It was both trying to be a little bit more edgy -- with my fists ready to go, and also more wide open, saying, 'Here's what I'm thinking about, here's what I'm scared of and here's what makes me the happiest.' Those kinds of emotions are what make great songs.

'Barefoot and Crazy' is your fastest-rising single yet, and it has also resulted in some pretty crazy fan reaction at live shows!

I started saying, 'Take off your shoes!' a couple months ago when we first started playing the song, and flip-flops were flying! Somebody threw one on the stage, and I signed it. So people are getting the word that when 'Barefoot and Crazy' comes, it's time for the shoes to start flying. You know like at graduation night when people throw their hats in the air? That's what it starts to look like.

And then people are scrambling to find their shoes!

Yes! Especially in the small towns, I have this image in my head where people are walking around town the next day with two different shoes on and they match up. Maybe there's a love connection. [laughs]

Another song that always makes the crowd go wild at your concerts is 'Barbie Doll.' You've re-recorded it on this album, with Dierks Bentley, Little Big Town, James Otto, Randy Houser and the Lost Trailers. You have to tell us all about that recording session and just how much beer was involved?!

It was at an undisclosed location, and an undisclosed amount of alcohol was consumed! [laughs] It's such a fresh take on a song that's worked for me for years. Before I had hits on the radio, I knew what my hits were by people writing down on napkins or dollar bills and throwing them at the foot of my stage. This is that song. It's by far the biggest song I've had, if you look at the length of my career. I just knew that it was time to re-record it. For the longest time, I played it in bars, but then I started playing it in front of Toby Keith's fans, Brad Paisley's fans and Dierks Bentley's fans, and it was working in those arenas, too, in a much bigger way. It's a thrill to get 15,000 people screaming about 'Barbie Doll.' So when we recorded it, the idea was to get Dierks come over and be the buddy. Then when it came time to do the gang vocal -- the Little Big Lost Beat Up Ford Funky Times Freedom Choir, I just called all my friends in my address book and said, 'We're going to be here at four o'clock.' We had a bottle of whiskey on the table and case of Bud Light and said, 'Let's go!' It was a ton of fun; it was exactly the way I pictured it happening.

Tell us the story behind the title track, 'Big Dreams and High Hopes.'

It's not-so-loosely based on my own experience. It's about looking out the window and seeing a big, big world, and somehow seeing your piece of it out there, way in the distance ... and setting out and chasing after your dreams and not letting anything get in your way, because there's a lot that will! It's a story about that wanderlust for the road, to go out and fight your way to play in bars or to do whatever it is ... I just knew that was what I was supposed to do, and I went out and grabbed it. I wish that for people who are stuck in things they don't want to be doing and they're dreading going to work. Do what you want to do, do what you love, because it's been the best thing I could ever hope for in my life.

'Seeing Stars,' your duet with Patty Griffin, is another sentimental track on the album. But it actually has a comical story behind it.

I was sitting down with Chris Tompkins, who I co-wrote the song with, and he was telling me that he'd been a fan of mine for a while and was a big fan of that song of mine about stars. Well, not wanting to turn down a compliment, I said, 'Thanks, man.' And in my mind, I started turning the wheels and going, "Hmmm, I don't have a song about stars!' [laughs] Then I was having this awkward conversation in my head like, 'Do I tell him? Or do I just let it go?' But I couldn't let it go, so about 15 minutes later we're talking about something completely different, and I go, 'Hey man, I've just got to tell you -- I don't have a song about stars.' He probably thought I was some kind of maniac or anxiety-ridden freak, but -- long story short -- I said, 'But you know, that idea about writing a song about stars, that's a damn good idea, why don't we go there?' And we did, and that's how the song got written.

Patty is one of my favorite singers and favorite artists and favorite songwriters, and to have her on the record is an honor for me. It's one of the prettiest songs on the record ... It just takes you up into the sky, close to heaven. It's talking about how we're all pretty guilty of only asking for help from above in times of distress, but we ask anyway. That's a comforting thing, that you can do that. And with Patty ... I sang it okay, and then Patty really took it to where it should be, up in that place.

You released more than a dozen albums before you found mainstream succe
ss. Are you finding that new fans are discovering your old music?

Oh yeah. The great thing about how we started at this label [Big Machine Records] is that the first release we did was a greatest hits up to that point from a live record. We did 'Live: Wherever You Are,' which [has] songs that were hits for me on my way up -- hits for me before I had hits. That's one of the great things about going out on tour this year, is that I have more than 40 minutes. For the last three years, I've been opening shows. Now I'm getting to play an hour and a half or two hours, and I'm getting to see people sing along with songs that I know they didn't hear on the radio, which is fantastic.

Taking a line from your new song, 'King of Wasted Time,' is there one "game you'd like to replay," as far as your career is concerned?

I'm not sure I'd do anything differently. I know that I took the long way, but I don't ever want to diminish what happened the first 10 years of my career, on my way to having this kind of success. I wouldn't take back a second of all the miles I drove, all the times I loaded in the gear for the gig, all the transmissions that broke down or all the gigs where nobody cared and nobody showed up. It's all a part of the artist I am now, and I'm pretty happy with who I am and what I'm doing. I wouldn't change much.

Stealing another lyric from your new album -- this one from 'Not Giving Up on Me' -- finish this sentence: "Nothing matters more than ____."

My family. Period. You know how much music means to me, both as a musician and a fan of music, but when I started having kids, music quickly became what I do, not who I am. Who I am revolves around the people that live in my house.