Jason Aldean Trusts His Instincts on Third Album
Jason Aldean releases his third album Tuesday, 'Wide Open.' The project's title not only reflects the country crooner's new musical direction, but also his philosophy on life. Aldean took time to talk with The Boot about some of his personal favorite songs on the CD. He also gets candid with us about the "weird" state of the music industry and the huge opportunity he passed up to follow his dreams.
The album's first single, 'She's Country,' actually sounds a bit influenced by rap music! How'd you decide to take that risk, given that it's such a different sound for you?
Because of how fast the words are, it's like rapid fire singing. I didn't know if I could get all the words out. I'm from Georgia and we talk slow down there! The more I listened to it in my car and started singing along with it, then I found the places I could breathe, so I knew I could sing it all the way through. Once that happened, we went in and cut it, and we thought we had something really cool in the studio ... but you never know until you put it out there.
The title track, 'Wide Open,' is a really cool song about a girl who may not know where she's going, but she knows she's not going to compromise to get there. Do you have that same philosophy?
'Wide Open' has a bunch of different meanings. One of them is that if there's something you want to do, you don't have to sell out to get it done. Also for me, it's the recording process. The first two records have been a learning experience for me, and on this third album I'm more comfortable now. When I recorded the first album, I was a singer. Now that I'm going into this third album, I feel more like an artist. I have my own style, my own way of doing things. On this third album, we hit our stride, we blew the doors off, spreading out wings. We're wide open now; we're at full speed.
Given that newfound confidence, how did you approach this record differently than your first two?
My first album was a situation where it was really easy, because we didn't have any expectations from anybody. They didn't know what we were going to do, and we didn't know either. So we went in and cut a record, and it was really relaxed atmosphere. Because of the success of that first record, the second record was more stressful. I put a lot of pressure on myself and second guessed myself on a lot of the things I wanted to cut. For this album, I didn't feel a lot of pressure. I started trusting my instincts and stopped listening to outside influences. If I found a song I liked, I recorded it because I'm the one that has to go out and sing them. So it was a lot easier for me to do the third album.
Having Randy Owen on the album was by far one of the highlights of my career. I grew up a huge fan of Alabama, and I still remember as a kid going to their concert. To have him not only show up at one of my shows and surprise me and come up and sing it with me, but have him come in studio and record one of their songs was something I'm really proud of. I always wanted to do one of their songs, but I always hate it when people redo a song and it's never as good as original. The only way I would have done this song was to have Randy come in and be part of it. It has a retro '80s vibe, and I think it's as close to the original as we could get. It's going to be a Wal-Mart exclusive; if you go in Wal-Mart and buy the record, then you can get the download for 'My Home's in Alabama.'
'Crazy Town' is a song about the highs and lows of making it as a singer in Nashville. Does that hit close to home?
If people want to know what it's like to be an artist and move to this town, [this song] hits the nail on the head. There are a ton of singers in this town, and it's all about finding what sets you apart from everybody else. Sometimes that takes years. You have to have thick skin. This town will chew you up in a heartbeat; you've got to be able to walk into a record label and have them not really care that you're there, half-ass listen to the stuff that you're playing and basically tell you to go home. I went through all that stuff.
Do you find you have to keep that thick skin even after you've found success?
I learned very early in my career there's always gonna be haters out there, people who hope you don't do well. I record music because more times than not, it's something I can relate to or something I've been through. People want to start ragging or saying you don't believe in it -- that just means you're doing well, because there's people out there that don't want you to. I take it with a grain of salt. The bottom line is I get to do music for a living. I don't have anybody force feeding me songs, I get to cut what I want.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a music career?
I've been playing music since I was young teenager, 13 or 14, and it was more or less a hobby in the beginning. I was learning to play guitar and sing, still trying to figure it out. In the meantime I was playing baseball, which is what I always thought I'd do. I ended up getting offered a scholarship to go to college and play. I didn't really want to go to school for another four years. At that point I had gotten into music pretty heavy and was really into it, and the allure of playing in bars, drinking, having fun and making money was a hell of a lot more appealing than going to college and playing baseball. I had two options, and it probably wasn't the smartest decision I ever made but luckily it worked out.
How did you develop your signature sound?
Back before I had my record deal, Michael and I would go in periodically and cut new songs to play for record labels. I remember one session we cut 'Johnny Cash' and 'Why.' It was that session, after all those years of us doing our thing, where finally it was like a light switch turned on and we knew we had it. It's country, but edgy -- not boring, and it doesn't sound anything like anybody else. That's exactly what we were looking for.
With music sales down in every genre, partly due to the trend of downloading individual songs rather than buying full albums, what do you think is the state of the music business today?
The state of music today is weird. I think possibly you will see record labels become obsolete. There really won't be a need for a record label if you can go online and sell your music. It's kind of a catch-22. As a music buyer, I think it's great. As an artist trying to sell my music and wanting people to hear the whole album, I don't like the idea of selling singles. Some of my favorite songs were album cuts. I think you will see more and more artists not cutting full length albums. You're already seeing that now a little bit. People aren't putting 14 songs on record any more, its getting back down to ten. And it's unfortunate because the reason we were cutting 14 or 15 songs [is because] when somebody bought an album you felt like you were getting your money's worth. All of us will have to be chameleons and adapt to what is going on at the time, because nobody really knows.