"At some point, you have to check your ego at the door and allow things to happen the way they should," reckons Jake Owen. He's talking about life in general, but specifically, the country star is also addressing the decision to bring in outside writers to supplement his efforts on 'Barefoot Blue Jean Night.' The move obviously worked, as the album and its title track became his first No. 1 album and single, as well as his first platinum-seller.

With 'Barefoot,' Jake blew off the doors of his previous two sets: in addition to widening his songwriting circle, he played guitar for the first time on one of his songs, and he expanded his emotional range, playing off both his vulnerability on 'Alone With You' and his friskiness on 'Heaven.'

As Jake, 30, said during his recent AOL Music Sessions taping at AOL's Beverly Hills studio, he's succeeding beyond his wildest dreams: "I'm doing things now that five or six years, if you would have said, 'This is what you're going to be doing in six years,' I would have laughed at you."

But that's not to say he doesn't have his moments. "I'm sure the folks around me will tell you that I can be a d---head sometimes," he jokes. If that's the case, the country star kept all his terrible tendencies in check during his afternoon at AOL. He couldn't have been more charming as he discussed lip-shaped tattoos, the comforts of a good dog, and how "weird" it is to talk about yourself all the time.

A lot of artists say that a third album is what makes a career. Given the success of your last two albums, did you feel any extra pressure going into making this one?

I don't know if I necessarily felt the pressure to put something out that was the definitive mark of my career, but I felt like I had had enough previous experiences before with the first two albums, having written pretty much everything on those. It was time for me to open up to the amazing talent in Nashville, as far as songwriters go, and reach out to those folks for great songs, which I did. For the first time in my career, the first song released to radio is a song I didn't write. Every song I've ever released previously were songs that I wrote.

Joseph Llanes for The Boot
Joseph Llanes for The Boot

That's refreshing, as a lot of songwriter/artists let their egos get in the way and refuse to look for outside songs. But you were smart about choosing what was best for you.

I don't know if I'm that smart. [laughs] But I just know that at some point you have to check your ego at the door and allow things to happen the way that they should. There's a feeling that you get when things are right. I've always based my life off my gut instinct, and the feeling I had going into this record with choosing outside songs and how I was going to make it with my producer, just felt good.

It sounds like you had a very good way of road-testing the songs on this new album, or rather boat-testing them.

I am big into water sports and just being out on the water. That is second nature to me, being from Florida. I wakeboard in the summer, and when I was making my record this year, I'd be in the studio all day and couldn't wait to get out on the lake and go wakeboarding that evening. I'd take all the mixes out on the boat, and as the sun was going down and the breeze was blowing -- it sounds crazy, but you hear the water splashing onto the other parts of the water as the boat cuts through the river, and I would hear my music in the background. If it felt like I wanted to be on a boat listening to that kind of music, then I felt like I was in the right place. I got tired of being on the lake and hearing everybody else's songs, not mine. So I wanted to make an album that people could turn up and crank it up when they're out having a good time with their friends, and I think I did that.

Your producer was the legendary Tony Brown, who's worked with the likes of Elvis Presley, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett and George Strait, just to name a few. What attracted you to him and what did you learn from him?

He's worked with so many folks before who will go down in history as some of the greatest artists to ever put out albums. I knew by leaning against a guy like that and asking him for his opinion and his knowledge was definitely going to help me out with my album. I learned a lot from him as far as not over-thinking certain things, letting it happen. That was a really cool moment for me, to work with Tony.

It's been a really big year for you so far: you turned 30, you had your first No. 1 album and your first No. 1 single. Thirty must be looking pretty good!

And I've sold platinum on [the song 'Barefoot Blue Jean Night'] already, and I've never done that. There's a lot of things I'm so appreciative for, but like I said, when I made the record I didn't feel pressure, I just wanted to feel good about it. There's a difference between feeling pressure and feeling good, and I felt good about the songs that I recorded and I felt good where I was in my life. I think if you just look at life in a positive way, positive things will happen.

'Alone With You' is not a song that you normally hear a guy sing. What attracted you to it?

'Alone With You' is a song I instantly gravitated toward just because I've been there. It's a song about being in an odd relationship with someone where it's not even really a relationship, you really don't even have that much in common with that person except for sexually. You use each other for convenience. I've been there. A lot of people have been there -- it's called a 'booty call'! [laughs] I think saying, "don't leave me here like this, don't tease me and my emotions and then leave," is something that would come from a girl, but coming from a guy's perspective it's pretty vulnerable. I think guys still feel the same way. There's going to be some times where the guy doesn't want her to go, he's more into it than she is or vice versa.

Watch Jake Sing 'Alone With You' Live in Our Studio

'Heaven' puts to music the idea that heaven really is a place on earth ... you can stop at a grocery store on your way to heaven. What does that song mean to you?

'Heaven' is a song that's obviously not the kind of heaven that we're all hopefully going to when it's all said and done, but it's the kind of heaven that you can take your significant other to on any given night. There is a spot on top of a hill down this county road that we can go to this evening, but I'm going to take you to heaven euphorically. I'm going to take you there and make you feel good. It's kind of a cocky song coming from a man's perspective. [laughs] I mean, you go from a song like 'Alone With You' that's very vulnerable saying, "please don't leave, don't go, I need you here now," to a song going, "girl, I'm going to take you to heaven tonight and have you back by tomorrow morning." [laughs] Conway Twitty was pretty good at singing songs that were very masculine and told a woman how he felt, and I like those kind of songs.

What I really liked about it is that it's so subtle. If someone's in the car with their kid, the child is not going to get the nuances.

[laughs] No, the kid's going to be totally singing along, "hey baby, I was hoping," and have no idea that the guy is totally talking about getting it on. But that's cool, they'll figure it out later in life.

'The Journey of Your Life' is just you and the guitar and is also the first song on which you've played guitar on one of your albums. How did you come up with that idea?

The same way that songwriters move to Nashville to just be songwriters, there's guys that move to Nashville who just want to be studio musicians. There's good money to be made being a studio musician. But when you have the same band playing on all these albums, they start tending to sound alike. There were certain aspects of this album that I wanted to sound different. 'The Journey of Your Life' is a song I'd been playing for a while by myself on the road, just on a barstool. The guitar players [in my band] were like, "Dude, why don't you just play that?" I was flattered because that's what they do every single day. So when I hear the song, it sounds like me playing my song. It doesn't sound like me singing along to some guy playing the song I wanted him to play. There aren't very many folks that go in there and play on their own albums anymore, so I was just flattered that they allowed me to do that. I think it added a bit of validation to who I am as an artist.

Also in 'Journey of Your Life,' there's a line about needing a good dog. That's a line that hits home for you, right?

Yeah, I got two good dogs. Dogs keep you sane. You can be mad and come home, and your dog will look at you and be like, "All I want is a scratch on my head." There's simple things in that song that were stated very simply, yet they're very profound. I've had a really interesting journey in my life, I'm doing things now that five or six years ago if you would have said, "Here, sign this piece of paper, this is what you're going to be doing in six years," I would have just laughed at you. Life's full of crazy turns and twists.

I noticed a new tattoo on the inside of your arm. How many are you up to and what occasion is worth getting new ink for?

Ten years ago if somebody was to say, "hey man, you have any tattoos?", I'd be like, "No, I'm never going to get a tattoo." But it just happens. Sometimes you happen to be in a certain place at a certain time, and the opportunity presents itself and you just roll with it. I didn't wake up one day and go, "You know what I really want to go get is a set of lips tattooed on the inside part of my right arm," it just kind of happened that way. [laughs]


What have you learned from Keith Urban, being out on tour with him?

What people do know about him is what's obvious when you see him on stage: he's an amazing musician. I would put him up there with the best guitar players in the world. He's unbelievable, I've never seen anyone in my life play guitar like that, and as a singer/songwriter he's just well-rounded. He's a really solid guy you can learn a lot from. He's gone through a lot in his life, battled addiction and things like that .... and now he's at a point where when you talk to him, he's very present with you. He's appreciative of where he is in his life now. I made my record before touring with Keith, but once I got out there with Keith, everything that I thought and hoped for he reassured me. If you look at things in a positive way, you get positivity.

Being present in the moment has to be hard for an artist, because you're pulled so many different directions all the time.

Even right now, sitting in here with you answering your questions, I'm answering them to you but I'm also answering them to the people behind the camera and the 15 or 20 other people that are in this room. It's sometimes hard; people don't realize you get to the point of your career where you're constantly talking and explaining yourself. [There are] days and days of explaining who I am and what I do, so it's easy to get self-centered. You realize that all you ever do is talk about yourself. [laughs] That's weird for me, because I never really did that growing up. I just hung out with my friends, and I sat down on a barstool and played music, catering to them. I still do that, but sometimes it's easy to get wrapped up in who you are and what you're doing and let your ego get in the way. Until you sit back and say, "I'm pretty lucky to be able to do what I do, and I was given a gift that I need to share with people to my best ability," -- when you do that and understand that, you'll be happy. I don't like to be too self-involved.

How do you balance that out?

I try to just be good to the people around me. I'm not a perfect person. I'm sure the folks around me will tell you that I can be a d----head sometimes. Anyone can in any business, but I try to show people what my true identity is as far as being generous and appreciative. I do a charity event every year in my hometown (a concert benefiting St. Jude and the Mardy Fish Foundation), and this is our sixth year. Those are the things that go hand-in-hand with your career. As far as defining who you are as a person, I think it all depends on how you treat those around you. Not just charity work, it's the people you work with, the people you don't work with, it's complete strangers that you walk up to on a corner and how you treat folks in general that will define who you are.