Tim McGraw can put a time stamp on the moment his hustle began. Twenty years ago, the country kingpin, now 47, scored his first Billboard 200 No. 1 with "Not a Moment Too Soon" (Curb), and he hasn't let up since -- even four of his greatest-hits albums crowned the Country Albums chart. He's currently riding a streak of five consecutive chart-topping studio LPs, which means Sundown Heaven Town (Sept. 16, Big Machine) comes with big momentum -- and yet another hit in "Meanwhile Back at Mama's," featuring his wife Faith Hill, which is No. 11 on the Sept. 20 Hot Country Songs chart.
Your LP's curveball first single, "Looking for That Girl," features Auto-Tune. Were you aiming to shock people?
I just like the freshness of it. It was something different for me, and as an artist you don't want to be predictable. It's important to push yourself. When I open my mouth, it's going to come out country no matter how pop- or progressive- or modern-sounding the tracks are. But I don't think you have to come with a record that you know is a guaranteed, right-down-the-middle country radio song, or any radio song for that matter. I can't make a record that my label wants or management thinks I should make or what I think my fans want to hear. All of those things come into play, but ultimately, you have to put all that stuff outside the [studio] door and come up with something that stirs it up a bit. If you do that and lead that way, then you'll have some success.