Interview: Tim McGraw Is Soaking Up the Slowdown in Life and Music
It's hard not to notice. Tim McGraw has been taking interviews from a lawn chair on his shaded back porch in rural Nashville and talking with a broad smile about his two daughters who've moved away and the one that will soon join them.
The singer lights up when he gets to talk about wife Faith Hill's fried chicken and uses words like "tapestry" to describe his new Here on Earth album, out Aug. 21 on Big Machine Records. Echoes of Glen Campbell and the Eagles linger far longer than any contemporary artist across the 16 songs. While once he boasted of "Lil' Wayne pumpin' on my iPod," McGraw now sneaks in Elton John references and compares a new addiction of the heart to hearing Sheryl Crow on the radio for the very first time.
The 53-year-old superstar admits that, yes, this is a more mature album, and, yes, it is reflective of where he is in life at this moment.
"We've all (his family) been here and we've been watching movies every night, making dinners and they've gone whole hog outside setting the table every night," he says with enthusiasm early in our conversation.
But moments come and go like daughters, and more than anything, McGraw wanted — perhaps even needed — to make something for a very strange, very introspective 2020.
"I love rocking songs," he says. "I've done plenty of those songs throughout my career, but not every album has to have that. And not every place in your life needs that."
The process for this project began nearly three years ago, toward the end of the Soul2Soul Tour. McGraw was being pitched songs that formed a narrative, so he rushed to record them, knowing he's at his vocal best while having to share a stage with wife Faith Hill nightly.
"I always say it's like a NASCAR trying to keep up with an Indy car," he says with a chuckle.
It wasn't his goal to make a concept album, but he knew he wanted to make an album that was a "tapestry of life" in a lot of ways. While McGraw didn't write any of the songs, several fit like weekend denim. He has already spoken about how personal his single "I Called Mama" is to him, but two others ("L.A." and "Not From California") tie a thread to his daughters who are living on the west coast. "Cause the thing I love most about L.A. is you," he sings during the album's opener. It's a love song if you want it to be, but it's also a symphonic nod to his 2020 state of mind.
"I think ["L.A."] is probably one of my favorite records I've made in my entire career," he says, steering away from feelings and toward function, like fathers do. "I wanted it to be first because of ... that spiraling string section right at the beginning of it. I wanted to set the tone right away for a lot of reasons. To catch you attention, for sure, and to let you know this was almost like a timeless record in a lot of ways, but also it sort of pulls you instantly into the rabbit hole. It sort of takes you into escapism a bit."
"Gravy" and "Here on Earth" provide a 30,000-foot point of view, while others — like the radio single and "If I Was a Cowboy" — peek inside someone's heart and mind.
"We recorded this with the full band in there onto old 2-inch tape, analog," McGraw admits. "We recorded it all analog and transferred it to digital. I think that that gives a certain warmth to the sound and a certain bigness to the sound that maybe you don't get quite as much of if you're going straight digital."
Country music songwriting veterans Tom Douglas, the Warren Brothers, Lori McKenna and Marcus Hummon are featured prominently across Here on Earth, McGraw's first studio solo album in five years and another co-produced by Byron Gallimore. That it's being released in 2020 is something like destiny, because the visual and emotional journey he's been crafting since 2017 matches the sound of life right now.
"We even went back and remixed a few things just to make sure the emotional tone was right after all of this happened," McGraw says, referring certainly to the pandemic, but also social unrest and conversations about race in America. "Even not touring or anything else, it seems to us that this music ... and the story that it tells is, I think, pretty needed, I guess. As an artist, I think I needed to release it at this time."
Hill and the couple's three daughters surprised McGraw with an at-home album release party, and the couple danced like nobody was watching to "Damn Sure Do," a grateful love song if there ever was one. It was a far cry from the industry party six years ago, when Sundown Heaven Town dropped and drinks flowed. Their intimate family gathering was better suited to this album, though — it matches a moment. Here on Earth is where McGraw is now, but not necessarily where he's headed. The proof may be in his workout.
"Oh yeah, I still hit it pretty hard," McGraw says of his legendary exercise routine. "It’s a little different when we're not touring because ... knowing you have to be in those jeans every night makes a big difference. In front of 20,000 people you don't want to have your gut hanging over."
On Friday night, McGraw will hold a livestream concert event to celebrate the release of Here on Earth. Get tickets here.
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