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Steve Wariner Interview: Country Legend Talks New Album, Art Exhibit + Longtime Stalker

Steve Wariner
EB Media

Steve Wariner needs no big introduction to country music fans. The singer-songwriter and guitarist has placed more than 50 singles in the Billboard country charts, including 10 No. 1 hits.

In addition to his own hits like ‘Your Memory,’ ‘All Roads Lead to You,’ ‘Some Fools Never Learn’ and ‘Holes in the Floor of Heaven,’ Wariner has penned hits for other artists, including Garth Brooks, Clint Black and Bryan White. He has won Grammys and CMA Awards, and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Wariner recently released his newest album, ‘It Ain’t All Bad,’ which is his first vocal record in nearly a decade. The Boot caught up with the musician to talk about the new album, his upcoming art exhibit, a longtime stalker that he’s been dealing with and more in the following interview.

Tell me about ‘It Ain’t All Bad.’ Where did that title come from?

The first song on the album is a song that I wrote with Allen Shamblin. We wrote it six or seven years ago, I guess, and the title is ‘It Ain’t All Bad.’ My joke is, it’s not great grammar, but I think it’s a really good song. [Laughs.]

That song speaks about this crazy world — you know, gas prices keep going up, but as crazy as this old world is, as long as I’ve got you, hey, it’s all good. It ain’t all bad.

You’ve obviously done a lot of co-writing with different people. Do you ever just wind up sitting there staring at somebody, and never come up with anything?

Nah, not really. I actually don’t write with a lot of people, I write with a really small circle of people, and everybody that I write with are people that I really . . . if I get with these people, I know something’s coming out of it. They’re such great writers that it’s not a problem. I have done that over the years, though — I have done that where you sit and go, ‘Okay, let’s go eat lunch.’ [Laughs.] That does happen. That’s just natural. But some of these people that I work with, man, the chemistry is just so good, we’re going to write something.

That’s the beauty of some of the writers on this album, like Bill Anderson, Allen Shamblin, Kent Blazy — the quality is so high, they’re just so good, I’m lucky to be in the room with them. [Laughs.] I’m glad they let me in on it!

It’s been a long stretch since your last vocal project. Was that deliberate, or why such a long time?

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t deliberate. It kinda snuck up on me. I didn’t realize it had been that long. I did a couple of guitar projects that, we were lucky to get in with the Chet Atkins tribute album that I did, that won a Grammy, and on the heels of that — you know, winning a Grammy has an effect that makes you maybe want to do another one like that! [Laughs.] So I just stayed in the guitar mode, and did another very self-indulgent project called ‘Guitar Laboratory,’ and I don’t regret it. I think it was a good thing to do. We stayed right in that mode, and got a lot of real good ink and press; the reviews were really good on that project, and it was very, very different for me.

But during that period of time I continued to write, and pitch songs, and do my thing as a writer, and was lucky to be getting some cuts. And then I selfishly took a few songs away for me, when I knew I was going to be getting back into the studio. Well, I didn’t realize eight years had gone by; I had about eight years of stuff accumulated, and some of my favorite songs, and so we went into the studio and started cutting it, and that’s what this album is.

What was your goal in recording this? This is a very diverse project, as far as, there’s some really contemporary, up-tempo stuff, and there’s some really traditional stuff, and just about anything you could imagine in between.

Yeah, it’s pretty all over the map, more so than anything I’ve ever done. I think that’s just because of that eight-year period. That’s just the stuff that I did over that period of time.

There was really no big goal. I had about 30 songs or so that I just loved, and then I whittled it down from there, and went in and we cut — I probably cut about 15 songs out of that 30. I cut 15 and wound up with 12. But I think my goal really was just to get great players, go into the studio and try to cut these songs as great as we could do it, and try to interpret these songs and get across the meaning of them.

That’s one of the nice things about having your own label and being your own boss — there’s nobody to answer to. And then the bad thing is, there’s nobody to answer to. [Laughs.] It’s a bad thing, too. Sometimes you go, ‘Man, it’s pretty daunting.’ All of the decisions are yours. But it’s a good thing in one way. A double-edged sword, so to speak.

Does it give you any pause to think that all of the money that’s on the line is yours? There’s no shared risk there.

Yeah, you’re exactly right about that, and it’s a little bit different when you have people kinda looking over your shoulder. But I like it. I like the challenge, and I felt confident enough in the material and what we were saying. And then it’s just a matter of getting the right players and getting it on tape.

I feel pretty blessed to get to do it. I’ve had this studio out here for many years, about 12 years now. So that’s kinda cool, to have a work place and not have to be watching the clock.

Recording itself has changed so much over the past decade. How does that change the way you work?

I’m kind of old school in the way I make records. I still mix to analog tape, and I’m sort of one of those guys that straddles both worlds. I am working in Pro Tools; I work in the digital format in editing and all that, but when it comes down to the mixing, I order up analog tape and bring it in, which is not easy to do anymore, just finding analog tape! [Laughs.] There’s still a few outlets. But I’m still a big believer in tape, so we do a little bit of both, and I think it sounds — I’m really proud of how this record sounds. Sonically I think it sounds really nice.

I love making records. I probably like that process a little too much, because when it gets down to mixing, at some point you’ve got to quit. At some point you’ve got to step away and say, “It’s done.” It can be too much fun.

When you have a studio of your own, and nobody’s forcing you to leave, you could just become obsessed.

You really can; it’s like, “How long must I work on these drums?” Someone said this years ago, and I love it — the real quandary to have is, sometimes when people are having so much fun, the quest is to not stir the batter so much that the biscuits don’t rise.

Are you going to try to go at a whole radio campaign, or is that not sensible in the environment that’s out there?

No, we’re not going to go for radio, not at all. We’ll probably go for some secondary radio stuff, maybe, but no, we’re not doing that. We’re just going to get out and work it and play it, and do the press stuff, and get out and tour and deliver some music to people who’ve been saying, “When’s Steve gonna do another singing album?” It’s finally time to do it, and our company is going to have it distributed — I think it’s going to be more available than some of my records in the past at various outlets.

Social media is such a big part of marketing music now. Is the internet better or worse for an artist in your position? It affords you the chance to take your music right to your fan base, but they can also take it from you without paying.

Yeah, I sure do understand what you mean there. I think that’s just the world we’re in. We have no choice there. I think you just have to understand that’s how it is. It’s like, the other night I played a show, and there were so many phone cameras filming the whole show, and we were just laughing. Back in the old days, people used to actually send people out there to take cameras out of people’s hands. [Laughs.] There’s no stopping that nowadays. The genie’s out of the bottle.

I think you safeguard the best you can, as far as music being given away, but there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s a different world than it used to be, and it’s real easy for it to be passed around without being compensated.

You’ve won many, many awards. Is there any one that means more to you than the others?

There’s one that’s special to me, the Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award that I won a few years ago. I think it was primarily aimed at my work with diabetes research that I was doing at the time. I still do a lot of that, but I was really heavy into it at the time. My daughter is diabetic, so at the time I was really into it a lot. But that one is an award that — I loved Miss Minnie, and she did such great work. She was one of my favorite people.

But gosh, I’m tickled any time you stand up in front of people and hold an award, and thank people. It’s incredible to be even nominated, so it would be hard to put my finger on any one. But that one sticks out, because Miss Minnie always did great work, and I’m proud of that.

I don’t know if you can talk about this or not, but it recently came out that you had filed for a restraining order against a longtime stalker. What can you say about that?

I’m told by lawyers, as you might imagine, not to talk about it, but here’s what I can say about that, is that’s an ongoing thing that’s been going on for a lot of years. It’s one of those things that in the past couple of years has really escalated, and it kind of went away for a while, and then it came back. It’s escalated to the point where I had to take some kind of action.

She was actually incarcerated for a few days for coming to Nashville last year, and as it escalated this last couple of years, it’s just something that I had to do to protect my family. That’s about all I can say about it. It’s unfortunate, and I hate it, but it’s just something that you’ve got to do.

What’s it like for you to be the object of a thing like that? It’s such a random thing for some person to just pluck you out of all the different people they could be obsessed with. That has to be puzzling, from your perspective.

That’s a good word, puzzling. The misinformation and the stuff that’s not true is the stuff that really bothers you, the stuff that’s said and insinuated that’s just flat-out not true. You always hear about that with other people, but it’s funny — I don’t mean “funny,” but yes, it’s puzzling, and that’s a good way to say it. It’s just kind of odd.

What’s the best-case scenario for you? It doesn’t really seem like a person who’s been that sick for that long is going to be well one day.

Yeah. I guess all you can do is put stuff in place to protect yourself and your family, and that’s all you can do. You have no idea who these people are. I have no idea who this is, it’s nobody I’ve ever had any contact with. It’s not good. [Laughs.]

You have an art exhibit coming up, correct?

Yeah, I’m really excited about that, man. It’s gonna be good. I’ve had my art displayed randomly here and there, but I’ve never really done a whole, full-blown show. The Tennessee State Museum came to us and asked if we’d be interested in doing this, a three-month show, and I’m gonna have about 20 pieces in there. A lot of it is gonna be musical kind of themes, but a lot of it’s not. There’s watercolors, pen and ink, mixed media, encaustic work — beeswax and more abstract kind of work. Like my record, it’s kind of all over the map, style-wise. [Laughs.] But I’m really excited about it.

Art is something that I’ve always studied on my own. I never did it formally. I moved to Nashville and got into the music business before … I always say this music thing got in the way of my art career, because I planned to go to art school, and I came here instead. But I’ve studied it on my own for years, and I paint and draw all the time. All of my brothers are artistic, and my Dad used to paint and draw. I have a brother, that’s what he does; he’s an illustrator, and he does fine art, too. He’s the artist; I just kinda dabble with it, but he’s really good. You’ve probably seen his work in magazines and didn’t know it.

But this is gonna be fun. We’re gonna have a big gala on Oct. 10 with a bunch of my friends, artist friends, and Opry folks. A big blowout on Oct 10, and then it’ll run for three months.

Congratulations on that. It’s a great thing to get to do.

Thanks! The art thing, it takes me away from the usual music stuff. It’s a real nice pause for me, to step away and do something very different. I love it.

Is there anything else you want to say about your record, or whatever else you’ve got coming up?

It’s been a long time coming, I’ll say that. But we’re just getting ready to hit the road, so I’m excited about it. It’s fun to get out and play new music.

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