Easton Corbin, ‘All Over the Road’ Follows Traditional Country Map
When Easton Corbin references Keith Whitley, George Jones and Merle Haggard as having had a profound impact on his sound, it's clearly not just lip service. The Florida native grew up emulating those legends and his passion for true, traditional country quickly garnered the singer back-to-back No. 1 hits, "A Little More Country Than That" and "Roll With It," both from his 2010 debut. Easton also landed in the history books as the first solo male country artist in 17 years to have his first two singles reach the top. He then set about to tackle the most daunting task an artist can face -- following up that success and dodging the dreaded "sophomore curse." Though it was a year in the making, Easton painstakingly assembled his latest collection of tunes, All Over the Road, with producer Carson Chamberlain and then returned to the road himself, with a vengeance. Performing five nights a week has kept the exhausted artist in near perpetual motion the past few months, but he's excited to finally be serving up his latest CD of straight-up country. The Boot sat down with Easton recently during a rare, still moment to talk with him about his whirlwind success, his quest to school fans of contemporary country on the music's rich tradition and the song he's keeping a closely-guarded secret -- for now.
You had huge, instant success with your first two singles. Is there anything you would change about having experienced country stardom so quickly?
No, I'd probably do it all the same ... it worked out well. I've just been really busy. It's a lot of travel. I didn't realize how much travel it was! It's not just singing, it's a business out there a lot, too. That's one of the biggest things I didn't realize. These last two months have been the busiest I've ever been in my life! So yeah, sometimes you've got to step back, and take a deep breath and get your bearings because it's easy to get out there and working so hard.You get so tired. The singing is the easy part, it's all the traveling and talking and stuff. Flying is rough on you. I'm tired and worn out a lot, but I love to be out there with my fans.
With your first record, you earned a lot of comparisons to George Strait. Was that both a blessing and a curse, given you were trying to find your own identity?
My biggest influences were really Merle [Haggard], Keith Whitley and George Jones, but George Strait is an icon and a great influence, too. It was probably just the traditional sound. Because there ain't many people doing it. It's either him or Alan Jackson doing it now. When I listen to myself sometimes, I don't think I sound like George Strait, but it's just how different people interpret it. There's nothing wrong with that. I can think of a lot worse people to be compared to. There's just a lot of rock 'n' roll out there right now in country and not much country. I think it will swing back again but right now it's more rocky and poppy. It will go back to that traditional sound and then go back again the other way. But it's always who I've been. I've never envisioned myself doing any other type of music.
There's inevitably a lot of pressure that follows having a successful debut. So how meticulous were you when choosing material for your sophomore album?
I'm very hands-on. We did this album the same way as the first one. I was very blessed to have the success I had, so going into this record it was like, you know what, I'm going to step back and use the same formula that I used to make the first record, because that worked. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The deal it comes down to is being true to yourself, knowing what you like and being able to relate to the music. If you can do that and be real, I think the fans see and appreciate that.
Did you worry at all about how hard the album would be judged, coming off two huge singles?
It's human nature to want to do better on your second CD because people are looking at you even more. I was worried a little bit, but when we started to get these songs and pieces of the puzzle together and this record flowing like it ought to, I was proud of it. Now, whether anybody else likes it or not, that ain't my problem. I knew as long as I went in there and cut the best record I could, then that's what mattered.
Are they any ways this album is different from your first?
I think this record shows a little growth, especially with the new song "Are You With Me." To me, that song's an example of kind of challenging me as an artist and doing something a little bit different. That being said, it's still in that country vein and not out of the norm for what I would do. It's still [what] people recognize me for but a little stretch for me. I like the subject matter. I really, really like what the song's about.
How key is it having a guy like Carson Chamberlain produce you, who has such a solid background in country music?
Carson comes from that traditional background and played guitar for Keith Whitley, and he worked with Alan Jackson, so he is not only a great producer and great song guy but we're really good friends. He definitely understands what I do. He doesn't get away from that, which is very important. I guess you need those checks and balances in your career. He's a straight-up guy.
You have such a reverence for the country legends, do you still cover some of their songs in your shows?
I like that old stuff. But a lot of people don't know that stuff because they just don't hear it. I mean, younger people, they have no clue. I used to get up in my set sometimes and do some Haggard, some Conway [Twitty], some Keith Whitley. It's just funny because the crowd looks at you like, what's that? We were doing a campfire thing for a radio station and they told me you can do whatever you want. So I pulled out "Miami My Amy" and said, "I'm a big Keith Whitley fan and I'm gonna do a song here I don't know if any of y'all have heard it." I looked at this girl and said, "Have you ever heard of a song called 'Miami My Amy'?" And she just shook her head no. A lot of people are like that now. They just don't know the songs.
Since country is a little more pop-influenced right now, it is tough finding newer, traditional songs?
It took some time to find the right material. But there are a lot of good songs out there. Some of these songs have been around for a while, though. "Tulsa, Texas" has been around for five or six years. "A Little More Country" was around town for four or five years before I got to town. My single, "Lovin You Is Fun," is a little different than I've done before. It's definitely country, but the cadence was different. That's about as close to rapping as I'll probably ever get!
The title track seems pretty apropos considering your lifestyle these days!
Yeah, "All Over the Road" is a great song. It's uptempo, it's fun, and it makes you want to sing along. It makes you feel good. I think that's important. Especially since we haven't had a record out in a while. [We came out with] a one-two punch. It's a good-time song.
Do you like singing uptempo songs more, or are you a sucker for a good heartbreaker, too?
I love tearjerkers! When I was a kid I loved sad songs, I still love sad songs. [Merle Haggard's] "Sing Me Back Home" is one of my favorite sad songs. There's one song I want to cut that nobody's ever cut before and I'm talking it's a downer, but it's a good one. I won't let that one out of the bag yet, though. [laughs]