Interview: Justin Moore’s Unexpected Partnership With a Punk Rocker Steers His New Album, ‘Straight Outta the Country’
A strange thing has happened since Justin Moore last released new music. Words like "traditionalist" and "conservative" have become supercharged, almost divisive descriptors. A liberal-leaning country music consumer might be quick to heap all of his or her fears and opposing ideologies onto an artist that identifies as such.
It's the equivalent to the opposite: labeling anyone with a progressive bent as "not real country." In reality, there are few monoliths in country music.
Someone looking to justify his worldview can find a few lyrics across Moore's new Straight Outta the Country album that satisfy. Heck, his current single "We Didn't Have Much" refers to "Luke and Bo," the Duke boys from '80s television who drove a car with the Confederate flag on the roof. There's an emotional rabbit hole there that's tempting.
Moore — a seasoned 37-year-old country veteran who isn't afraid to offer political opinions — resists. The seven songs on the new album (plus an acoustic version of the single) represent the same America he's always represented. He's rooted in country tradition, even if he grew up during country's early '00s pop invasion. He's a conservative who sings about God, family, Hank, his grandfather, guns on occasion, quiet conversations with his kids more frequently and big land in small towns.
"I control what I can control and I don’t really worry about anything else," Moore says when asked if the supercharging of American ideologies is frustrating. "It’s kind of a good thing to be in a business like this, to be pretty even keel and easy going like I am. I just don’t really listen to the outside noise."
There's not much of that in Poyen, Ark., where Moore lives with his wife and four kids on a property shared by his parents, Tommy and Charlene. His daughters' ball practice and schoolwork, plus a lack of comfort with the technology, has made it difficult for him to check in on Nashville or write new songs via Zoom with much consistency. These new songs were all in consideration as cuts on Late Nights and Longnecks (2019), he admits; in fact, "She Ain't Mine No More" — a modern-day Brooks & Dunn song if there ever was one — was in contention to be a single from that album.
"People have been asking me, 'Man, how hard was it to record an album through all of this?' Fortunately, we pretty much had it all done," he says. COVID-19 aside (he and wife Kate caught it last December), pandemic life has reminded him about the importance of putting family first.
Songwriters Casey Beathard, Randy Montana and Chase McGill helped with songs on this new project, as they've done with his previous albums. Longtime collaborator Jeremey Stover produced and co-wrote several tracks, too. Other writers include veterans Rhett Akins, Josh Thompson and Hardy ... oh, and the guitarist for the punk rock band Boys Like Girls played a major role.
There's the twist. The Paul DiGiovanni / Justin Moore relationship is yin and yang on paper. One's from Boston, the other from Poyen. One had a big hit with Taylor Swift, the other idolized Charlie Daniels.
“I think that’s why it does work is because we’re so different," Moore says. “Paul brings an element that we don’t. He may say something that helps us take a song in a different direction than we ever thought about. Jeremy and I pretty much finish each other’s sentences, so it’s kind of nice to have a guy that not only grew up different, but musically comes from a different background."
The vulnerable "More Than Me" is where the collaboration shines brightest. Moore sings, and DiGiovanni does everything else on the acoustic letter to the singer's kids that stands out among the fully produced album. How perfect and juiced up a song needs to be is frequently a point of contention for Stover and Moore. Maybe not being able to get to a Nashville recording studio was a good thing for this song.
"God’s been good to me / Gave me all and your mama / Pretty much all that I’ve ever wanted / But I pray he shines down on you more than me," he sings during the second verse of "More Than Me," a song that started with a conversation with his then 9-year-old daughter, Ella.
“She came home and was talking about one of her buddies having boyfriend problems or something. I’m going ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa!’ We’re not even going there,” he remembers, laughing. His advice became the chorus: "I know the world’s gonna think the world of you / But I swear on the stars above you / No one’s gonna love you more than me."
In looking for words that divide us, someone's liable to miss an emotion that binds us. That's "More Than Me," a sweet country tear-jerker for any mom and dad. That's "Straight Outta the Country," a hell-raiser Moore can't wait to play live in 2021. That's "We Didn't Have Much."
Your "Luke and Bo" might have been Ash and Pikachu (Pokemon, anyone?), which is the point. You get to pick the rabbit you chase down a hole on conservative country projects like Straight Outta the Country. Moore's comfortable with where his has gotten him.
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