Joel Crouse, 2014
 Kristin Barlow

The former Taylor Swift opener talks his debut album 'Even the River Runs.'

Joel Crouse has an interesting idea to promote his just-dropped debut album Even The River Runs -- he wants to try shoplifting his own record.

"A lot of people have told me not to do this, but now that it's out, I want to try walking out of the store with one -- without paying for it," he tells Billboard, joking. "I'm not saying that I'm for stealing, but if I walk out with the record, the alarm goes off, and they ask me what I'm doing, I just want to see what they would say. It's got my name and picture on it, so it is mine."

As Crouse is talking, his publicist raises her eye in warning to the singer that he might not want to promote his record in such a manner. Crouse takes a laugh and turns serious. "Honestly, it's a blessing, and I am so excited about it -- about the record. Not stealing it."

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The new disc, which features Crouse's current single "Don't Tell Me," is different for a lot of reasons. One is that the retro-looking cover does not feature his face -- almost unheard of for a new country artist.

"I had a lot of people tell me that I should think about putting my face on the cover, but I've always been a fan of old vinyl albums. I think there's nothing wrong with bringing back a little bit of album artwork, something a little more creative," Crouse says. "The cool thing about the art here is that it's border-lined with my guitar straps, so it is kind of personal."

He does stress that his likeness appears inside the CD jacket. "There's pictures inside, and people can turn it over to the back if they want to see me," he says.

 

"Don't Tell Me" has already gotten attention from SiriusXM, something that pleases Crouse immensely. He says the song stems from an all-too-rare visit home. "It's basically this really true story that I had happen a few years back. I was already living in Nashville, but I'm from Holland, MA. It's a very small town of 2,000 people, and I went home to visit. I got together with some old high school buddies.

"I ended up with a horrible hangover, but I also ended not calling my girlfriend for about eight hours -- and I was supposed to go meet up with her. That is pretty much the story of me not calling and showing up when I was supposed to. Hopefully, people will learn from my mistakes. It's a good bar tune, and I think people are going to dig it," he says.

With his first single, "If You Want Some," hitting the charts in early 2013, Crouse is more than ready to get an album out. 

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"I've got to keep in touch with the fans that I made on the Taylor Swift tour, as well as the Darius Rucker tour. I've got a few songs on iTunes that have held the fans over, but everyone has been waiting for this record for two years. Now it's getting released, and it feels like a big sigh of relief. I can't wait for the fans to hear the studio tracks. They've been coming to the shows, singing my songs, but they've only heard them on YouTube."

Crouse admits he's blown away by how much his fans are dedicated to him and his music. "They show up to meet and greets, and I've gotten some great gifts from the fans. I'm a big fan of lions. They're one of my favorite animals, and they will bring me little stuffed lions. They'll send me my favorite candy, so it's cool to get on that personal level with them using Twitter and Instagram. They're great. I couldn't do it without them."

Crouse will be opening for Love & Theft on their Night That You'll Never Forget tour, which begins Oct. 16 in Portland, ME.