"Drinks After Work," the latest release from Toby Keith, was released this past Tuesday. At a press event on release day at Nashville's BMI office, the singer said the early reception to the new music has taken him by surprise. "The scary thing is that I'm hearing that I'm getting good reviews," he said with a laugh. "That's freaky. Some of my fiercest haters are giving it great reviews. I bet we don't sell any, if I'm not making them mad," he joked.
Actually, industry sources suggest that Keith's "Drinks" may launch with 35,000 sold in its first week, and debut in the top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart. It could mark his 14th top 10 set on the tally, and would be his 12th studio album in a row to reach the top 10.
The singer says that the making of this album was a little bit unusual – due to the impact of the Oklahoma tornadoes in May. "I'll always remember this album as the one I didn't finish on normal time because of the tornadoes. I was in Nashville the day the tornado hit. We were at Ocean Way Studios, and my assistant pulled a iPad up. It had a local weather app rolling a live stream. It was crossing I-35, and was headed about a mile and a half from my sisters house, going right down her road. I said I had to cut and leave. I left the next morning, and I didn't have the album done. I didn't get it done until later, but we needed a single. So, that's how 'Drinks After Work' became the first single. We hadn't picked a single, but we only had two things done. So, the album was put together in pieces."
The lead single and title track is also the only song among the ten cuts that Keith didn't write. Luke Laird, Barry Dean, and Natalie Hemby penned the tune, which sits at No. 32 on the Hot Country Songs chart this week. Though he has written most of his music over the years, there are a few exceptions to that rule.
"Every two or three years, someone will bring me something that intrigues me," he says. "The second I heard 'Red Solo Cup,' I thought this is so what I do live in my show. I have to feed that too. If I hear a great song that I don't have in my arsenal, I jump on it," he says, though he does admit "It might not have been a single had the tornado not hit. I heard it, and thought 'This is really different. I want to try this.' Mark Wright sent it to me, and said 'You gotta hear this.' I said 'I don't think I can sing this,' and he said 'Hell, yeah, you can sing it.' We go in to the studio, and I knew I was going to have to put some extra time on it. I got it done, and when the tornado hit, it was one of only two things we had done. If we got to the end of the album, it might not have been first, and you know how things change in the process of singles," he surmises.
The set is available as both a 10 and 13-cut package, as well as a Walmart-exclusive package with the three bonus cuts and a 65-page 'Zine magazine. Keith says it's all designed to draw as much interest from the fans as possible.
"People don't buy albums anymore. But, you put them out and you hope your fans buy it. You put the deluxe version out for someone who would buy it, and then say 'I didn't get enough.' Then, they've got the 'Zine pack out. If you're a fantastic fan, that booklet is phenomenal. I didn't have any idea of what they were doing when they started. But, once I saw it, I thought if I were a fan, and had bought everything the artist did, I would have that," he says, adding that packages like that helps both artist as well as retail. "It gives you a couple new places to go, and it gives Walmart – one of our biggest vendors at retail, a different thing than everyone else gets. Whoever comes to the table the strongest and says 'We're going to support you,' we're going to give something extra to sell that they can't get anywhere else to help drive customers into their store, so we can make it a two-way street."
2013 marks two decades of hits for Keith, with his first hit, "Should've Been A Cowboy," remaining a centerpiece of his catalog.
"I can never mention my career without talking about that song. If you don't have that song, then 'He Ain't Worth Missing' maybe doesn't go top-20. It got top-five, but it rode the heels of a great song. What if we came with that first, and what if we didn't have 'Should've Been A Cowboy?' You never know," he says.
Additional reporting by @Keith_Caulfield in Los Angeles.