The 31-year-old's sophomore album, Suffer In Peace, bows at No. 4 on the Billboard 200.
"A Guy Walks Into a Bar" is surprisingly vulnerable. How important was it to show that side of yourself?
It's very important to me, because I'm not a one-dimensional person, some country bumpkin that likes to eat chicken tenders and ride four-wheelers. I also like the beach. I like Cabo. I like sushi. There's a lot more behind the picture than the wall.
Country radio is rife with songs about partying the pain away. Why did you steer away from that trend?
I'm in it for the marathon, not the sprint. I'm thinking, "Let's not release a single just because that's the thing that's popping right now." One of my goals is to be known 100 years from now and make the Country Music Hall of Fame. You don't get those achievements by skimming the surface.
Some critics claim that your first hit, 2013's "Redneck Crazy," promotes violence towards women. What's your reaction to the controversy?
I cut "Redneck Crazy" because I had an ex cheat on me, so I felt those emotions. I've learned that if you're not getting any backlash, then you're not doing something right.
This story originally appeared in the May 16 issue of Billboard.