Interview: Tim McGraw Discusses ‘Damn Country Music’ and 25 Years in the Industry
Damn Country Music, set for release on Nov. 6 and available for pre-order on Amazon and iTunes now, will be McGraw's third record with Big Machine Label Group, and it covers a spectrum of sounds, from traditional country to things that are newer and more progressive.
In advance of his new project's release, The Boot sat down with McGraw to discuss not only the disc itself but also what he's learned in his 25 years in the music industry -- and where he hopes to go from here.
How would you describe Damn Country Music?
I think it’s like a life in passing: It doesn’t have a theme, the album itself. One song doesn’t necessarily tie into the next song. It’s not, like, thematic … Each song tells a story of its own. Each song is like its own little movie.
I think what the title track, "Damn Country Music," does is, it sort of ties it all together. It sort of explains and talks about the passion you have for something and what it costs to have that passion, to fight for it and love it, like I do country music, and how I started out in country music, moving to town and all those things. So I think it lays out, "This is what country music is to me," and then the album explains it.
Did you intend to cover so many different styles of music on the record?
I just made the album I wanted to make right now. I don’t think I’m making any statement. There’s some traditional country stuff on there, but there’s also some contemporary, sort of modern stuff on it, too. I think, overall, all of it sort of falls within the atmosphere that I make music in.
What were some of your influences in making Damn Country Music?
I’m always being influenced by things. I’m always being influenced by things that my daughters hear, things that my wife [Faith Hill] listens to, things that I hear on TV and things that I hear on the radio. And then I also get influenced by things that I’ll hear that I haven’t heard in years and years and years and years. I’ll put a Keith Whitley record in, and go, "My God, how good was that?" So, there’s some of that on this record. I think it’s sort of an all-encompassing influence of the kind of music I like to make.
How did you choose the songs for the record?
[I picked] stuff that moved me. I’d find things that moved me. And things that I felt like I could do well ... You always cut more things than end up being a reality. Sometimes there’s songs that you really like, but you didn’t do them the way you want to do them. These are what I felt [were] the ones I connected with the most.
One of the benefits of being around as long as I have, is you get to know yourself as an artist ... You learn what you do well. You learn what you don’t do well ... If you don’t emotionally invest in something, it’s not going to translate.
Did you write any of the songs on Damn Country Music?
I didn’t. I wrote for it -- I wrote plenty of them -- but everybody else beat mine out.
Your daughter Gracie sings with you for the first time on "Here Tonight." Why did you choose her to sing on that song?
I was scared to ask her -- I was. I didn’t plan on it; I was just making the record. I certainly didn’t plan on having her sing on it or anything.
I was doing this song, and as I was doing the vocal on it, I was thinking, "Man, I bet Gracie’s vocal would sound really cool on this." I just knew the way she sang, because she’s my daughter, and I know how she sings.
She had such an energy. If you’re in a room and Gracie walks in, you know she’s there before you ever turn around. She just has this energy about her when she walks into a place. And when she sings, it’s the same way. Every time I’d go home at night after being in the studio, I’d just hear her voice on this record.
Your first Top 40 single, "Indian Outlaw," was released in 1994, so more than 20 years ago. What have you learned since then?
One of the benefits of being around as long as I have, is you get to know yourself as an artist. So I know what I do as an artist. But I also know that, as an artist, I like to keep windows open and listen to stuff and sort of take things in as I go. I can stay on my road, do the kind of things I love to do, but I can also bring something in that I hear, or something in that I like, or something in that influences me from other kinds of music, or even country music, new artists that I like.
I think that’s another good thing about being around as long as I am as an artist: You learn what you do well. You learn what you don’t do well. I’ve probably done a few things that I didn’t do well. But, for the most part, you sort of know what you do well, and know what you can deliver and know how you can emotionally invest in something. Because, if you don’t emotionally invest in something, it’s not going to translate, and somebody’s not going to get any emotion out of it.
If we get to talk again 10 years from now, what will we be talking about?
Hopefully we’ll be talking about a record. I love making music. I can tell you this: If I don’t feel like I’ve gotten better, if I don’t feel like I’m progressing, if I don’t feel like I’m making better records than I did before, then we won’t be talking about making music.
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