Though each of his two previous country albums hit No. 1, Darius Rucker says he feels his third -- "True Believers," which comes out May 21 -- is the most important of the bunch.
"On the second album (2010's 'Charleston, SC 1966') I was still trying to solidify my place in country music," Rucker tells Billboard. "With this one, I feel like part of the family but I also still feel like I have so much to prove. There's still the naysayers or whatever out there, so I've still got to make great records. It's kind of like once you're in the family you don't want to disappoint the family."
Rucker says he and producer Frank Rogers "wanted to take our time" with "True Believers" and fortunately weren't rushed in the process.
"I was on the road the whole time, out playing, so Capitol (Nashville) wasn't breathing down my neck," recalls Rucker, who wrote all but two of the album's 12 tracks. "They were like, 'Take your time. When you're ready, bring it in.' So I think we wrote close to 60 or 70 songs and worked on the sounds we wanted. The first two records sounded a lot alike; this time we just wanted to sound a little different. It's always going to be my voice and all that, but we just wanted the songs to shine a little brighter, maybe do a couple things that were a little more country."
"True Believers' " title track and first single peaked at No. 24 on the Country Songs chart, while his version of Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel" with Lady Antebellum rolled to No. 1 -- Rucker's sixth chart-topper.
"I'm a huge Old Crow Medicine Show fan, but 'Wagon Well' wasn't one I played a lot," says Rucker, who's also joined by Sheryl Crow on "Love Without You" and Mallary Hope on "I Will Love You Still." "Then one day at my daughter's high school talent show, the faculty band gets up and starts to play 'Wagon Wheel,' and just in that very simple setting I really heard the greatness of that song. I didn't know that, like, every college student of the last eight years knew that song. I just cut it thinking it would be a great song for my record; I didn't cut it thinking it was going to be a big single for me. But then when we got Lady A on it, it was like, 'Wow, that song could be a monster,' and, sure enough, it was."
Rucker is looking forward to promoting "True Believers" with his first-ever headlining tour, though he's also booked on a number of festivals throughout the summer. And while his band Hootie & the Blowfish are dormant at the moment, Rucker is expecting some sort of action next year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its 16-times platinum debut album "Cracked Rear View."
"Yeah there's talk about it," Rucker acknowledges. "There's a lot of ideas being thrown around by people -- when I hear the one that I'm enamored about, I'm sure we'll do it. Maybe it'll be a quick run or something, just 'cause it's 20 years, and maybe play the whole record front to back and some other songs after that. That may be the way to do it -- not too much, but we won't ignore it, either."