Story Behind the Song: Jake Owen, ‘What We Ain’t Got’
Shortly after songwriter Travis Meadows got out of rehab, he penned the deeply personal "What We Ain't Got." The song originally appeared on his 2011 album Killin' Uncle Buzzy, but when word about Meadows' talent started getting around, Jake Owen heard the song and asked to record it.
Owen's version of "What We Ain't Got" was a turn for him as an artist. He released it as a single in 2014, from his Days of Gold album. Read on to hear Meadows' recollection of writing the song, and how Owen came to record it.
That’s funny, because that particular portion of my life, I had just gotten out of rehab for the last time, and one of the counselors suggested that I keep a journal because I had had some failed attempts at getting sober previously. She said, “Maybe a journal would help,” and I said, “I don’t write journals, but I write songs.” She said, “The thing about a journal is that you can see your progress, and it may encourage you to kind of keep going.” So that’s what I started doing: I started documenting the whole process of getting sober.
But, to be completely honest with you, most of that is kind of a blur because I was coming out — I was legitimately crazy — I was detoxing off of alcohol, and I had just gotten out of rehab. I do remember, I was writing with a young man named Travis Jerome [Goff], and the song just started happening. I don’t remember a lot of the details, to be honest with you, on how that song unfolded ...
[Killin' Uncle Buzzy] was the first record that I had ever just been 100-percent honest and told my story. Up to that point, I had always just written songs and elaborated as much as I needed to in order to make the song a complete thought. There’s not one lie on that record — just me going through what I was going through and making it rhyme. It was very fulfilling, but it was a little bit challenging because, in the normal process of songwriting, you get to a point where you’re going, “Does she have blonde hair? Brown hair? Is it a girl?” There was none of that it; it was “Here’s where I am; this is where I’m at," and make that rhyme. It was a really interesting time.
That record was a real oddity because I had already been in town for six or seven years with pretty much nothing going on. I’d had a publishing deal and really not many songs being recorded by other artists. And something really magical happened with that record because not only did I learn about myself and I learned about the craft of songwriting, and by the time that that record was recorded, I was nine months sober, which was a real positive thing. Then it just started growing legs and getting on famous people’s buses, and everybody in town started paying attention, which is really weird to me, because it was a homework assignment. I never even intended for anybody to hear that record. That was me, you know, doing a math project for my teacher. She said keep a journal, so that’s what I did ...
I think ... my publishing company sent that record over to Jake, and then he called me and said he was going to record that song. I asked him had he lost his mind, because it was not anything like what’s popular on the radio today, much less what he’s known for recording. I remember him telling me, “I want to be a career artist, I want to have longevity, and the songs I’ve been doing have been very good to me, but I love this song, and I want it to be a part of who I am, because I feel like this song will give me longevity in my career. I think people will remember me for this song and, in turn, remember you as the writer.”
He was a gentleman through that process, and I love him for it.
All of Jake Owen's Singles, Ranked