Interview: Rodney Atkins Is ‘in Pursuit of Life Songs’ on ‘Caught Up in the Country’
Ever since Rodney Atkins finished work on Caught Up in the Country, his new album released on Friday (May 10), he's had some extra time on his hands. The singer has been directing his creative energy toward a different pursuit: woodworking.
"I didn't know what I was gonna do. I like to get up [early in the morning] and work on stuff," he relates to The Boot. "I started making tables -- making furniture -- like, with reclaimed wood. I realized, actually, that the ProTools desk where I work was too small, so I was like, 'I need a bigger desk.' So that was the first thing I did."
Atkins doesn't necessarily think he's a particularly gifted woodworker, but he's always put more stock in dedication and hard work than in natural talent. That goes for his musical career, too.
"I just started doing it. I don't have any skills in music, either," Atkins muses. "That's why I say I'm a song mechanic: I just keep on writing and singing until I finally get there.
"You can have all kinds of talent, but if you don't count on that talent, it's that thing of -- people go and sing songs and have hits, but if people don't remember the song, it doesn't hang around," he continues. "Talent's great, but if it doesn't have impact, you didn't use [your talent] as much as you could have."
"It's like I said: The ultimate goal is that we all forget where we are."
Creating songs that will withstand the passage of time, songs that will still be known and loved by fans for decades to come, was a priority for Atkins when he was writing the batch of tracks that became Caught Up in the Country. The most difficult part, as it happened, turned out to be recording the songs in a way that was simple enough to let each track's meaning shine through.
"It's like [the sculpture of] David, figuring out what to take away, just chipping away at it until, 'Oh wow, there's something in there,'" the singer explains. "You let the song figure out you."
Caught Up in the Country is rife with natural imagery, in no small part because of Atkins' own spiritual connection to natural landscapes. "Some people go to church and think about fishing, and some people go fishing and think about God," Atkins says. "Th[e latter is] me, and I think a lot of people are that way."
With music, the singer shoots for a visceral association with nature: He wants his listeners to feel the blades of grass tickling their ankles and smell the campfire smoldering in front of them.
"I definitely want them to be transported," he admits. "Like the times I've done USO stuff. It's crazy how we can be in a war zone in Afghanistan, the front lines are right over there ... we're sitting there with all of those men and women singing "Farmer's Daughter," and we all forget where we are.
"We were talking about songs that can be hits, but they don't really have an impact. [I] want things that will be around a long time," Atkins continues, going on to say that he's noticed that the songs that have the biggest impact in his USO performances are the ones that speak straight to the heart of everyone in the room.
"That's what they're fighting for, is the farmer's daughter. And [relationships like the one in] "Watching You,"" Atkins says. "When [a song] does that, that's the magic trick of music."
One song on Atkins' new album, "Young Man," has taken on a particularly important role in his live show: When he's performing it onstage, the singer says, it takes on a spiritual quality, and can transcend the barriers of difference between people in the audience.
"Once we started playing it live, it lifted me in this way," Adkins describes. "It's a 'hallelujah' live song ... I love it when songs do that. You're not just trying to sing the song and perform it, but it goes somewhere."
As Adkins says, he can find God in a lot of places besides church, like in the natural world while he's fishing. Adkins sees God in great live music experiences, too.
"Of course," he says. "It's like I said: The ultimate goal is that we all forget where we are."
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