Tim McGraw, ‘Two Lanes of Freedom’ Drives Legendary Career Into Fresh Territory (Exclusive Interview)
When Tim McGraw repeats, "Where you wanna go? / Where you wanna go?," in his anthemic new song, "Two Lanes of Freedom," the vocal buildup is powerful, as the open-ended question sets the tone for the entire project. The track was an easy choice for the country icon when it came to titling his 12th studio album, as its foot-on-the-gas mentality mirrors his own musical mindset. Where this 20-year veteran of the business wants to go is not to career reinvention but more to an accelerated career momentum.
"There's something special about this record to me, in the optimism that it has," Tim tells The Boot, relaxing in the lounge of a Nashville recording studio. "I'm looking forward to more stuff than I've ever had happen before; there's more ahead of me than behind me. I feel like I've grabbed another gear."
Much of the press surrounding Two Lanes of Freedom, which hit stores today (Feb. 5), centers around the fact that it's Tim's first album on a new record label, coming on the heels of a contentious split from Curb Records, his label home for more than two decades. While the singer has won freedom from his Curb contract in the first ruling of what is an ongoing legal battle, not too much should be read into the title of his first Big Machine Records release. This 'freedom' is all about the music.
"Nothing good happens from anything without concentrating on what you do musically," the Louisiana native explains, when asked if the pending lawsuits affected the making of this new album. "All this other stuff you can't do anything about ... You can't make people do the things that you think are right, but you can make your music the way you want to make your music and that's what I concentrate on."
Two Lanes of Freedom came out of the gates with attitude, as its first single, "Truck Yeah," got the party started with its infectious ode to cold beer, muddy tires, Friday night football and all those things that make a "hillbilly proud." Instead of balancing the uptempo tune with a ballad for the second single, Tim kept the energy level high with "One of Those Nights." "Everybody loves a song that can put them in the mind of something that they did growing up," the 45-year-old says of the nostalgic hit.
The universal appeal of the album certainly stretches to the slower tracks, as well, as the part-time movie star chose ballads that paint vivid character portraits. In "Friend of a Friend," the protagonist longs for an old flame who has moved away and married, but like a plot twist in a movie, the song ends with unexpected optimism for a rekindling. The more flawed character in "Number 37405" also tugs at the heartstrings, as the song details the deadly decision that put a once promising young talent behind bars.
"People want to project themselves into the song, or project themselves onto the screen when they're in a movie," muses the singer, who has had supporting roles in several films including "The Blind Side" and "Friday Night Lights." "They find a character that they can identify with and walk through this scenario with them. That's what music does when it strikes the right chord."
"Book of John" is the tune that hits home hardest for the singer, who has three daughters with wife Faith Hill. The poignant lyrics tell the story of a son going through his late father's scrapbook, and though Tim didn't have a long relationship with his father, the late baseball legend Tug McGraw, he says upon hearing the song for the first time, the impact was profound.
"I knew instantly that I wanted to record it," he recalls. "Growing up, our family life was very chaotic. I didn't know my dad until I was an adult, and we never really had a father/son relationship. So I don't really have a deep well of father/son experience. Then having daughters, I don't have any of it on the other end. So when I heard it, it was a way for me to emote and sort of find a little bit of that that I didn't really have much of ... It's a tough song to sing live."
Closing the 11-track album is another nod to the open road, "Highway Don't Care," a duet with Taylor Swift that features Keith Urban on guitar. Sadly, Tim couldn't earn any brownie points with his daughters by bringing them into the studio for that song, as the artists' recording sessions were done separately. But the result, the singer says, is something he's been wanting to do for a long time with his two friends. "When we got it back, it was pretty spectacular. Taylor's voice on there, she just really nailed it. And Keith's guitar playing ... I don't think you'll find a more talented guy around."
Tim credits Taylor, Keith and especially his powerhouse vocalist wife, Faith, with making him want to be a better musician. After 32 No. 1 singles, 41 million albums sold, 12 CMA Awards and a laundry list of other accolades, this country superstar is always looking ahead to his next best project. And this time, he's looking forward with an electrified spirit that came from Freedom.
"I don't think I'm anywhere close to doing the things I want to do. There's so much more ahead of me, and I have a lot of room to get better," Tim insists. "Sonically, there's a freshness to this record and a drive behind it that is new to me and headed in a different place. But I won't know that until I go into the studio for the next record and see where it takes me."
Watch Tim McGraw's 'One of Those Nights' Video