Jake Owen Goes ‘Barefoot’ Down a Positive Path
Jake Owen is a walking testament to the power of positive thinking. Take his new single, for instance, the smash summer singalong, ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night.’ He was considering that song for his next album right as his girlfriend was breaking up with him, and his music was costing him the relationship. Still, she gave him the thumbs-up on the tune, so Jake took heed and gave the song a shot. Fast-forward to months later: the song is now his biggest-selling single ever, with over 800,000 downloads. And his love interest in the song’s video, Lacey, is now his real-life girlfriend. The release of his new CD, ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night’ this week is a turning point of sorts for Jake, and he marks another major milestone as well, as he turns 30.
Jake took pains to make sure the songs on the new CD were exactly right, going straight to the publishing companies himself for songs rather than going through label reps and impersonal, red-tape channels. He also changed his way of thinking, taking cues and inspiration from tour mate Keith Urban and learning to adopt a positive outlook instead of getting frustrated and placing blame when things weren’t going in the direction he wanted as he worked so hard. The Boot sat down with him recently to chat about his new zen-like approach to the business, the satisfaction of watching the biggest song of his career unfold, and why, with his daredevil ways, you’re likely to see him bleeding again sometime in the very near future.
‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night’ is a monster hit for you. Did you know when you first heard it what a smash it could be?
I was almost finished with my record. I had that song on my email. I listened to it over and over one night when my girlfriend at the time came downstairs, and we were breaking up. She said, ‘You’re an idiot if you don’t record this.’ I think she thought I was an idiot anyway, which is why she was leaving, but I did listen. [Laughs] She liked it, and for a girl who never mentioned much about my music, because I think my music is the one thing that kept me away from her, so she never complimented me much on it — for her to say that, I knew. I already knew in my mind it was a good song, but when she said that, I was like, all right, I’m cutting it. So it worked out. It’s weird, I knew it would be a hit, but I didn’t know it would be this big. I don’t know what else to base it off of, because I’ve never had anything like that. I’ve had hits on the radio, but this is different. I keep telling folks, there’s a difference between a hit song and a career song, and this is a career song.
You recorded a lot of outside songs for this project. Was there a conscious effort early on to record your own stuff, and did you look more for outside material this time around?
The best way to put it is that I knew that this being my third record, I had to make the best record possible. I write great songs; I have written great songs over the past couple of years, but I knew I needed to find better ones. Songs that … would send people to the store to buy the record, that would make people tell their friend, “Dude, have you heard Jake Owen’s new song?” I knew that I had written songs that even though they were great, the flavor of them wasn’t where I am right now. I know that’s weird to think that I wrote it but yet it wasn’t there. So I kind of had to put a lot more emphasis on finding great songs.
Did the process take longer that way?
Not really. If anything, it was more satisfying to spend my time dedicated towards what I knew I was looking for, as opposed to feeling like I had to write it. It almost was a relief. There’s no way possible I can out-write all of Nashville. I’d be crazy to think I can. So if I had a day or two off, instead of letting the labels set up 15 minutes of publishers playing two songs, I started going to publishing companies on my own, and with no appointment. I would just walk in. I walked in Warner Chappell one day and said, ‘Hey I’m Jake, and I’m just here to see if there are any pluggers who would wanna play me some songs because I’m looking for great songs.’ They were like, “Really?” And I said, “Yeah, seriously, y’all are a publishing company, you’ve got great songs, right?” So they sat in a room with me and were like, we can’t believe you’re sitting here, but if you don’t care, we’ll play you however many songs you want to hear. I just figured why not go to them, I know what I’m looking for, instead of letting five people at a label talk to four other people, who will finally get back to me. I figured let me just go to the source.
Do you feel like you’ve grown as an artist on this record?
I feel honestly like I couldn’t have made a better record. Where I don’t think I could’ve said that on my last record. I know I couldn’t have. I didn’t have the time last time. I made a record full of songs that I think were just songs I wrote throughout the year that we ended up putting on an album — and I don’t feel like I cheated or slighted my fans at all. I still think it was a good record, but personally for me, I didn’t walk away from it like I’m walking away from this record, kind of wiping my hands and going, “Well, I did the absolute best I could do.” I don’t think I realized when I made my last record how important it was to make a record that changes your career, and I don’t want to just become complacent with where I am. I feel like the minute you become complacent, is the minute that you remain stagnant as well. Whether it was me or anyone else I heard put out ‘Barefoot Blue Jean’ with the production on it the way it is and all that, it’s kind of an exciting, different sounding song.
Do you have any favorites on the album? ‘Journey of Your Life’ is a special one to you, isn’t it?
Yeah, ‘Journey of Your Life’ is probably the best song I’ve ever recorded, because for me my granddad is the rock of our family and he’s instilled a lot of really strong morals and values within myself and my family. He’s really been the anchor of our family. It was just cool because I got to play guitar on that song, too. Tony Brown told me why don’t you go in there and play it — so that was really flattering, that a guy who’s such a musician as Tony, not to mention producer, would say go ahead and do your thing. It’s wild, I look back on my life over the last six years, and I signed my record deal in this room we’re sitting in. I played for Joe Galante sitting in one of those chairs, and then I ended up signing the actual deal in this room, and to think now I’m on my third record and talking to you about the success of it already really makes it all come full circle. I’m not just a new kid anymore trying to make people notice me. Now that I’ve got some people’s attention, it’s up to me how I use that and what I do with it. I just hope one day, I look around this room in here and there’s so many gold records — look at Clint Black there — 15 million albums sold worldwide. Man, I want to do that. I want to get to that point.
The video stars you and your real-life girlfriend, and it looks like so much fun. It must be cool having that visual memory now, that moment in time captured, especially since that song has become so huge for you?
“It’s cool how it all came together like that. Because I actually wasn’t dating Lacey before that video. We’d known each other for two years, because Lacey was in my ‘Eight Second Ride’ video a long time ago, and then I had flirted with her a little bit and it didn’t happen or work out. She was a little younger, and I was on the road, but we just kept in contact. That’s what I mean when I say I’m just really content with where I am in life because not only do I have a song on the radio that’s doing well, but I made a video that really represented who I am at this point in my life. That looks like me, that feels like me, those are my friends, that’s my boat, that’s my truck — so I can look back on it years from now and think that was where I was at that point in my life, and that’s my girlfriend, and we have that documented, the two of us in this video. If you watch the two of us together in it, it was very real, it wasn’t staged at all.
The Keith Urban tour is a huge show to be a part of. How challenging was that at first to tackle those size crowds, and what have you learned from Keith?
I think the most important thing I’ve learned from Keith in his sobriety and everything he’s gone through, is that he’s just a positive person. He’s very positive, and honestly I think there’s nothing more important on earth than being positive and believing and being happy. Because if you’re happy and you project happiness and positivity, people around you become positive. I’ve not always been that way. I feel like I’ve always been that way in my heart and soul, but I feel like this business can also wear you down and you can become jaded, and you can wonder why. But I looked at the tour as a huge opportunity. That’s such a huge platform that he’s allowed me to get out there and utilize in order to grow my career, the same way he was out with Kenny Chesney a few years back. But I also understand that people are there for a Keith Urban show. For me to gain fans, I have to go out there and do the best I can and treat people right and connect with them. It’s about building fans one day at a time. I’m so thankful for this tour this summer because just timing-wise it’s perfect with my single and it’s an arena kind of sounding song anyway, so to be able to go play arenas every day of the week is so cool.
I have to ask you about that planking picture … are you a daredevil by nature?
Yeah! I just like people going, “Whoa, did you see that?!” I’ve always been that kind of guy, I’m always the guy who is like, “Hey guys watch this!” The famous last words of a fool. But the bus plank was pretty scary, I don’t know why I did that. It was the middle of the day. We were in Boston and I was walking off the bus and I saw the other one parked in front of us, and I thought, you know I could get on top of these and plank across them, and that would be like an epic plank. I was thinking, nobody’s gonna be able to touch this plank. Because first of all, where are you gonna find two buses to do that, and it was cool.
You tweet a lot. Is there anything you’ve ever tweeted that you’re kind of like, “Oh crap, I shouldn’t have done that”?
Yeah, I’ve said some things recently on Twitter that the minute I put it out there I was like, “Oh, I probably shouldn’t have said that.” Because the majority of people will get your humor out of it. Like me, I try to be pretty funny, and most of my tweets … I try to be pretty humorous but sometimes people through text don’t get your humor, so they think you’re trying to be a d–k. It comes off wrong, and with the whole Not Jake Owen tweets, some people already think that’s me, and some people don’t know about it. But I don’t need to add to that.
You chose ‘Alone With You,’ as your next single, over one of your own songs. What was it about that song you liked so much that you made it the followup to “Barefoot Blue Jean Night’?
People just gravitate towards it, like the line in there about “you kiss me when you’re drunk.” The label wanted ‘The One That Got Away’ to be my single, and I wrote it, and obviously as a songwriter you want a song to be a single, you make a good amount of money. But I just knew, there are too many people coming to me to tell me they love that song. So I just told the label, “Y’all are gonna think I’m crazy, but let’s change it.” There’s like a lot of vulnerability in that song.
You have a twin brother. Do you have that twin thing going on, that special communication where twins know each other’s thoughts without having to talk or they have their own language.
Well, I’ve had things happen to me before where my shoulder or back was hurting or something, and then I talk to my brother the following day and he tore his rotator cuff or he had to have back surgery or something. It’s weird. But he’s not into music — he sells insurance in my hometown. He’s more the homebody business kind of guy.
Did it surprise you that your song ‘Eight Second Ride‘ was certified gold after all this time?
Yeah, it did. I wrote that song when I was 18 years old in college, 11 years ago. It just makes you feel good to know that a song that I wrote that long ago would do that well. It validates all the hard work and stuff that we’ve put in, because nobody really ever wanted that song to be a single anyway. I don’t know why. I just always knew from playing it that people enjoyed it. So so to have that is just validation that I was right all along.