Your last album, Mr. Misunderstood, arrived as a surprise release, secretly mailed to fans and announced at the CMA Awards. Would you ever do that again?
It was the most fun I ever had. It wasn’t preconceived [by the record company], and I think that’s what made it work. I think that’s why it had the success it had. I think that for me, the one lesson we learned there is, just trust the music, and trust that if you put it in the hands of your fan base, you’re going to end up where you want to end up.
Mr. Misunderstood felt much more personal than 2014’s The Outsiders, which was conceived as a thematic album. Were you looking inward when you wrote Mr. Misunderstood?
For The Outsiders, I had written 150 to 160 songs, and it was pretty easy to pick where the theme was. I had been coming off the Chief album, which was a big commercial success, and I just did not want to get boxed in. I did not want to be the center of country music. We had just won album of the year at the CMA Awards, and we’re in all these award categories we had never been in before, and I was very, very uncomfortable in that spot. I started hearing people say they knew the style I was going to be and comparing me to other people. And it started driving me nuts, because I don’t want to be a style. I don’t want to be that thing.
So The Outsiders was me just going musically crazy. It’s a little schizophrenic. It’s a little nutty. But that’s what it was supposed to be. Whether it’s everybody’s cup of tea or not, that was me getting that out of my system to some extent. I was trying to do that. So it had a thing. It was preconceived.
Mr. Misunderstood wasn’t. It was just music broken down to its core. And we kept it that way with the way we distributed it. We did the same thing with the tour. There were no bells and whistles to this tour. It was lights, sound and us.