One week from today, country traditionalist Aaron Watson will release of his 12th album, The Underdog. In an exclusive interview with Billboard, the singer said that much of the album has autobiographical tones, particularly "Fence Post."
"That song is kind of like a declaration of independence, but with no sour grapes involved. It's not a jab at Nashville. We have lots of allies there, and my booking agent has been there for the last decade. My distribution company is based there, we're playing the Ryman and the Grand Ole Opry in the next few months, so the song is not really about a region in particular, although I do say I would rather be a fencepost in Texas than the king of Tennessee. That was actually a saying that Sam Houston had said, and it kind of inspired me to write a song about my experiences in the music industry."
That being said, Watson admits the events he sings about actually did happen. "It is a true story. I had a guy at a major label on Music Row pretty much slam the door in my face and tell me I wasn't going to amount to too much. That hurt my feelings, I'm not going to lie. I grew up listening to George Strait, Merle Haggard, Alan Jackson, Keith Whitley and a lot of the great records that came out of Nashville. Having that experience of being told that you don't have what it takes will do two things: It will stop you in your tracks, or you can use that to fuel your passion. I decided at that point that it might not have turned out like I was hoping, but I was going to go back to Texas, and we're going to write the best songs we can write and record the best albums we can record. We're going to work our butts off and just do things the old-fashioned way -- earn it one honky-tonk at a time. I feel like we've developed a solid fanbase that grows year after year."
Watson's past three studio discs have each outperformed the last on the Billboard Country Albums chart, with his most recent release, 2012's Real Good Time, peaking at No. 9 on the chart and hitting No. 91 on the Billboard 200 -- exceptional numbers for an independent artist from Texas.
One of the highlights from the album is the '80s country vibe of "That Look," which Watson said was inspired by his wife Kimberly. "That song was inspired on a Sunday morning in the kitchen at our house. I had been on the road for about four days, we got in around 6 a.m. -- I jumped in the shower, got ready for church, made some coffee. I was cranky, hungry and sitting there at the kitchen table, and I was watching my beautiful wife make breakfast -- going back and forth while getting the kids ready for church. I'm just in this foul and grumpy mood, and I just realize this woman is amazing. I'm sitting on my can, she's gotten up, made breakfast, is getting the kids up, and I realized how much opposites attract. That's how I came up with the opening line: 'She keeps it all together, and I always come unwound/ She's cool, calm and collected, I want to paint the town.' So I came up with these lines and then this groove that reminded me of a Steve Wariner song. I wanted something big for the chorus, which reminded me of a Smokey Robinson/Motown feel to it, but when I sing on it, it countrifies it up. It's a real fun song, and one that is real fun for the dance floor. I wasn't really trying to write a hit, as much as I was just trying to tell her how much I love her, and let the whole world know how wonderful she is."
Watson is ready to take the stories represented on The Underdog out to his devoted fans. "We're simply going to give it 110 percent," he says. "Who knows if we'll chart again in the top 10 or not, but we're going to be very thankful for each one they buy, every spin that radio gives us. For us, this isn't a sprint as much as it is a long-distance race. Country music is the family business. It's how I take care of my wife and my kids, so we're just going to get out there in 2015 and do what we do -- put on shows, try to put out a good product, try to let people know how much we love them and appreciate them, and the number one thing I want people to think when they walk away from a show is that they got their money's worth. I want them to know how much I love my family, how much I love Jesus, and who I am -- and where my music comes from. I hope they walk away knowing they got a big dose of my heart and soul."
Billboard.com is excited to bring you this exclusive stream of The Underdog, which will hit stores on Feb. 17.