Kid Rock: The 'Born Free' Cover Q&A

Kicked back on the sofa at his Nashville condo as an October storm rumbles through town, sipping on a cup of tea and puffing a stubby cigar, a relaxed

The leadoff single "Born Free" is unabashedly patriotic, but you've always been patriotic.

It's bigger than that. I read stuff now and then, "we get it, Kid Rock, you're American and you love it." I'm not gonna ever apologize for that, that's who I am and I'm proud to be so. If it gets a little old some times, I'm sorry, hit fast forward. But this song is bigger than that. [It was insired by] playing for the guys at UAE and around Afghanistan at Christmas time, in Iraq the five or six times I've been. And I think, man, how f*cked up would it be born here. Born in China, to be born in East Germany not too long ago. North Korea. there's so many examples of just how lucky we are to be born anywhere in this world that is free.

It's just kind of a journey through a life where whatever happens happens. You're this young kid and you grow up and at the end of your life you look at it and you can look at it, fill in the blanks about what's happened, trials and tribulations, and you can go, "well, sh*t, I was born free." This stuff that we take for granted -- I know I've taken for it for granted before -- but being over there with our troops in those situations, and traveling the world more as I've gotten older and had success in Europe or what not, it's really opened it up to me that, wow, being born free is a pretty big deal.

It's a human story and patriotic, but it's not political.

That's just where I am. I've never been way too far right and I've never been way too far left. There's things that I agree with on both sides of the fence. That makes it tough to vote. I still believe I have a lot of liberal thoughts, but I also believe when you work hard you shouldn't be penalized and pay more because you work hard. Because in my situation, I've risked everything. I could have gone to college, I could have gone into the family business, but I risked everything. I know a lot of people who are struggling musicians, it's a hard life, and I've risked being that. The rewards are tremendous now that I've made it, I thank God every day. But I put it all on the line for it. I held up the middle finger at all my opportunities and said "I'm doing music." And, thank God, I worked hard, had some lucky breaks and here we are.

On "Slow My Roll," it's unusual to hear you sing about "finding yourself." Is that where you are now?

I've been gearing up to it with songs like "Roll On." I know I can't do what I've been doing the last 20 years forever, I understand that. But I think I've done a pretty good job of balancing it out. I've had my little run-ins here and there, but I haven't been to rehab. I've had my parties, I'll continue to have my fun. I think you've got to play at the level you're at. To sit here and try to do what I was doing at 22, I'd be out of mind. I've got to slow it down, but I didn't say "stop my roll," I said "slow my roll." I think it's important to always sing where I'm at, not try to make these songs relate to the youth. I've seen people do it and it just kind of makes me go, "man what are they doing? That's not where they're at or who they are." I loved Bob Seger's last album "Face The Promise," it just touched me so much. Whatever you think of the recording -- I thought it was great -- but just to hear him sing about where he's at in life, even not being there myself, I can relate. I've really taken a lot of direction from him, I think he's done it so gracefully.

"Care," a ballad, is unusually contemplative and has a socially conscious theme.

That's got Martina McBride and T.I., what a group. I've been told by people I really look up to, like Rev Run, "you know what you do best?" And I'm waiting to hear you're best on the turntables or you write songs, and he says "you bring people together better than anyone I've ever met in my life." I sat back and thought about it and, I don't sit around and toot my own horn, but I give credit where it's due, and, yeah, I'm pretty good at that. I am good at bringing people together and that song is a great example. What format is it gonna be? I don't know, but it's a good song, man.

The lyric "they're screamin' on the left, yelling on the right/I'm sittin' in the middle trying to live my life," that seems to be what you were speaking about earlier.

I think that speaks to a lot of people. I think just the climate of things in this country, with tea parties and right wingers and left wingers and all the politicians, people are fed up with this. We don't want a bunch of pot-smoking hippies running our country and we don't want a bunch of bible-thumping, "don't do anything but worship our Lord" types, either. There's a lot people that are somewhere in between. We can all get after it and still have our views and not be at each others' throats. We can all care without having to collide so much.

"Purple Sky" has a bit of a country vibe.

That was started by Jason Boland, a country singer, Oklahoma/Texas guy. I always enjoyed his stuff. I found that song, it was called "Telephone Romeo," it wasn't quite there yet. I switched it around and made it about what I perceived to be a relationship about the girl you grow up next door to, she's really the one you're supposed to be with, but you've got to go out and see it all first yet to realize that.

I bet Jason was proud to get your call.

Oh yeah. I see a house in his future.

The ballad "When It Rains" feels a little melancholy, a little nostalgic.

Yeah, it's about losing your best friend, somebody really important in your life. I was channeling Joe C. [a member of Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker band who died in 2000] a little bit, which I've never really addressed a lot in songs. It's a weird feeling to get into, very dark, very sad. I just tried to take that and flip it around a little bit. When it rains, when you cry and you can't stop, you really start thinking about some of those things.

The way you close it out reminds me of Seger's "Night Moves," that kind of passion.

Rick had me singing up there, I was like "I can't get that high," he said "yes you can, I've heard you do it when you're sitting around drunk at your house screamin'. I've heard you do it, right in key, many nights. Now just do it here on the mike." I'm like, "can I get drunk first?" He was really building that confidence in me with my singing, "you're a great singer." I wouldn't say great. I get by, I do alright, but that's never been my thing. I've gotten very powerful over the years from singing so much, so I know I'm better than I've ever been, but doing stuff like that, in those type of keys, I don't know.

When "God Bless Saturday Night" comes around on the record, it's perfect timing.

That started out as a really heavy rock and roll thing, and then when we got in there with Rick he said "let's channel some of that Muscle Shoals type of thing, keep it true with what we've going on the record." He was really cool about the continuity of the record, without telling people what to play at all He's really good at setting up the vibe. Even in the studio, if he said "wow, that might be the worst thing I've ever heard," he'd laugh about it. There was never any screaming or yelling, it was always "let's do it a different way." Then when we'd hit one, he'd say, "that was no joke, see you guys tomorrow."

You hit one on "Collide." Again, not to compare, because it's all your own, but it calls to mind Seger's quieter moments.

That's why we wanted [Seger] on there on piano, like on some of those tunes he did. And that's Sheryl Crow on the vocal with me. People say you can never top "Picture." I love it when people say "you can never." Any of those things, I'm like, "is this the bigger dick game? Because I love that game."

You stay in a similar vein on "Flying High."

That's our porch song. That's Zac Brown on that song with me. We've become such good friends, we always do "Chicken Fried" or "All Summer Long." With all these guys I'm buddies with, Jamey Johnson, these guys, we say we've got to write one of our own so when we keep popping into each other we've got something to sing. I wrote that song, and after I got done with it I thought it would be a great one for Zac to be on, and when I played it for him he was like, "I love it, let's do it."

"Times Like These" sounds personal.

It's all about Detroit. Detroit was really the catalyst with the decline of the auto industry, and it sent a shockwave around the world and led to these economic times we're in. That became apparent when Time magazine came and set up shop in Detroit , bought a house just to be there to report on it all, all the media conglomerates were down there reporting on this, Sports Illustrated, because they thought it was the catalyst, too. It's right there in my face, with my neighbors losing their houses and their jobs and the struggles they're going through. When I had my two stadium shows at Comerica [Stadium] a few years ago, I thought we've gotta sing something about this. I wanted it to be the truth, and it's a hard truth, but I also wanted it to be inspirational, which is where we went with the second and third verses. "I'm still here," you know.

When we played that and showed big images of Ford and everything great in Detroit, people were in tears. It's really heavy, but really powerful, just saying Detroit 's still class and style, we've got a lot of great heritage here and a lot of good people. Whenever you get a lot of people that really want something to happen for the better, no matter what it is, it usually takes place, and that's what's going on in Detroit now. People really do care what's going on there and want to help, from the inner city to the suburbs. It's gonna happen. I don't know what the time frame is, but people really give a sh*t. The people have turned a corner, they are really starting to unite there. There's been a lot of stuff since the '67 riots, white flight, tension between the city and the suburbs. I didn't really grow up with that because I had friends on both sides. It was really weird to me when nationally and internationally people would always ask me about it. But right now, people really want to get together, whatever side of 8 Mile they're on, they want to see Detroit do well.

"Rock On" is a great ballad, with a misleading title.

That's our "Freebird."

That's funny, because I was going to say it reminds me of when Ronnie Van Zant would take on a ballad, that kind of grit.

[laughs] Audrey Freed and Keith Gattis wrote that and we re-worked it, but it was really their baby. That's age, too. Back in my younger days if a girl really did me wrong and broke my heart I was "f*ck you. f*ck you, and get your sh*t and get out of my life." Now I guess I'm a little wiser, maybe more confident in my own skin and it's, "hey baby, rock on."

You get a kind of roadhouse shuffle going on with "Rock Bottom Blues."

That one's a blast to play. It had more of a "Tumblin' Dice" feel to it and [drummer] Chad Smith just started bangin' out this shuffle beat and everyone started getting their lick on here and there and I started singing it, and Rick was like, "hold on, stop, let's record." It was just fun, we were just having a ball. Kind of like Mick Jagger's writing, what the hell's he talking about? I don't know, but it just sounds fun.

Again, it feels like you're assessing things on "For the First Time," like you feel good.

That's very personal. I feel like I've gotten all the bullsh*t and drama out of my life. I'm not gonna let it back in. I feel more comfortable than I've ever felt in my own skin. I feel like I've gotten the bad people out, the hangers-on, and I still have my same circle of friends I grew up with, I still live next to the same town I grew up in. You wonder as you're having success, "why am I not out in the Hollywood sunshine, why am I staying here, it's winter time, man, I don't need to be here." But I have my son there I'm raising and now I see I made the right call.

It all makes perfect sense now. Go where you're celebrated, not tolerated. I'm celebrated in Detroit. There's no money, no sunshine, no pretty girl on the face of the earth that could give that to me anywhere else. I go in my little restaurants and people say hello, they don't bother me. I feel good that they want me there. What matters to me is the little town where I live, Clarkston , Mich. , those people really know who I am. They know a lot more about me than even my closest fans. And that matters to me, because I live in that community, I have a son there, a family there. I can't control what the rest of the world thinks about some of the antics I go through and they make their assessments on. And I can't give them the whole truth every time, or counter a story when somebody writes something about me. But there they know exactly who I am. The pink elephant syndrome is over there.

And it's not just about "Kid Rock's from Detroit and he loves it there." Wherever anybody's from, whether you live in Spain or in Tennessee like you, you should be proud of where you come from and be a good person in your community there. Man, there's nothing on earth that can make you feel better than that, to have people that care about you and you care about them, 'cause we all got to pick a spot.

Will these tracks on "Born Free" be on iTunes?

Nope, no iTunes. I was almost going to e-mail Steve Jobs the other day because I heard somewhere that anybody can e-mail him. But I guess I can say this in Billboard: Hey Steve, I f*cking respect the hell out of you, because you built a great company. I have a lot of stock in it, I think it's one of the greatest American companies going, now that Budweiser sold out. He runs it the way he wants to run it, doesn't make any apologies, and if you don't like it, f*ck you. And, guess what, I can really relate to that. It's my music and I can sell it the way I want to sell it and have it heard the way I want it to be heard. I'm sure he can respect that, too. It's a choice for me.

It was opened up when the record companies had an opportunity to make this deal with iTunes they could have really leveled the playing field. All that horror sh*t that happened with Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and all those great artists back in the day, this is a chance to say "we can really make this right, let's just figure out the right amount of money to where it's cheaper for the fans but still we can cut in everybody evenly." So what do they do, they use the same system, where they still say 'let's f*ck the artists," and then they're f*cking themselves. Then they come to the artist and say, "hey we need you to stand up for this," I'm like, "stand up for it? I'm glad you're getting f*cked. You've been f*ckin' us for years." But I think the world of Apple, I have a lot of their products, but I have troubles with the record companies, I have trouble with the way iTunes says everybody's music's worth the same price. I don't think that's right, there's music it out there that's not worth a penny. They should be giving it away, or they should be making the artist pay people to listen to it. There's other stuff that's worth a little more. That's the great thing about America , we're not scared to pay what something's worth.

Concerts are the same way, a tour is worth more in some markets than it is in others.

Playing Madison Square Garden and playing Johnson City, Tenn. is two different prices. It's just the economy and what people make in those markets. I always try to be very careful about that.

How much did you tour this year?

Not a ton. I got that little bit in with Bon Jovi, a few shows in London, we played some stadiums here, made a little bit of money, kept the band happy, didn't have to worry about the rigs, the lights, just show up and play and jet out of there. It was really about gearing up for this record, making sure I don't get rusty.

Well, if there was ever a year to sit one out, this might have been it.

That's what I thought, too. I had a great summer. This record was very easy to do. Just working on it not under the gun, not working on it 15 hours a day like I used to in my studio, gave me more time with my family and friends to enjoy.

How is the partnership with Jim Beam going?

Awesome. That's been a gift from God. I love Jim Beam, I've been singing about Jim Beam since the early '90s on my records. A lot of that I got from Hank [Williams, Jr.], listening to his records. I took a liking to Jim Beam. I don't endorse things that I don't use. I endorse beer and whiskey, and I know a lot about 'em. They approached me and it's been great for both of us. The Red Stag stuff is awesome. I'm the spokesperson, we're looking at international. It's a cherry-flavored bourbon. I love it. I'll sip a Stag and have a couple beers and I'll get to feeling right. We did a thing with Red Stag where you can download these exclusive live tracks with a bottle. The great thing about that is the liquor control won't let them raise prices on this stuff, so it's basically you buy a bottle of Beam for the same price it's always been, and if you're a Kid Rock fan you can download some of our Comerica Stadium stuff. [The Jim Beam people are] really innovative, they're out with us on the road taking care of the fans. They wrap their own bus, have people come on there, contest winners, Grade A all the way. It was a no-brainer, with me loving their bourbon, all their work with the military and me sharing in that.

What are your plans for touring next year?

We're starting in January in arenas. The last few years with "Rock N Roll Jesus" we stripped it down and went out with a flag and video screen and that was it, "let me see if the merit of my music can stand up." But now I'm gonna take it back and have some fun. I want to make it as good as I can and still give them a fair ticket price.

Are you going to blow sh*t up again?

Maybe. That's always fun. I'm going to make the show like stadium rock on "Bawitdaba" and "So Hot" and some of those big songs, and then strip it down on "Flying High" with a couple of guitars, kind of a bluegrass setting, make it a journey like I do on the record.

How much attention do you pay to the business side of things?

I care about my fans. Just like today somebody sent me an e-mail saying, "Hey, I just pre-ordered the record," and I looked at the receipt and I was like why the f*ck is it $5 to ship a CD? I said to "[manager] Ken [Levitan], get on this, because I guarantee you the record company has some sort of back door deal where they're just f*cking you again. I don't mind everybody making money, it's fine. But why the f*ck are you ripping people off? That just makes me look bad. Those are the things I worry about. If Ticketmaster wants to charge $80 for a service charge-exaggerating-go ahead, but don't put it under my ticket price. My ticket price is $45, I want it to say "Kid Rock, $45," and then say "Ticketmaster, $80 service fee" or whatever your bullsh*t is.

You've always been pretty accessible to the media and radio, are you still?

I don't really do morning shows any more. People want you to be a rock 'n roller and I am. And rock 'n rollers don't get up at 7 a.m. and go on the radio. Sorry. If you want me to be Kid Rock, and you have fun talking about it all day long and all this wild stuff, well, wild stuff doesn't go on at 9 in the morning. Unless you're still up.

Do you play the game and go out and meet with radio and all that?

I play it halfway. On this record, we have to see all these radio stations and I'm like, "hey, before we do that, let's invite all these programmers to my place for a Halloween party, for a Devil's Night party, play a half hour for them." I don't care what format it is, I want the people there first to be the ones that have supported us, gone out of their way for us. The people that have been cool, not the people that say "if he doesn't do this we're not playing his music," leave those people at home.

Any thoughts on the way this whole Waffle House thing shook out.

It got reported correctly but it wasn't the whole truth. The whole truth was these people wanted $2.9 million. They got $40,000 and the attorneys ate that up, so at the end of the day there was nothing left. And I'm happy to be in a country where I can be judged by my peers.

Your peers?

[laughs] Well, there were 12 people and they looked to be hard-working people to me. It was six black, six white, in the middle of Dekalb County , Georgia . People said "you're going down South, they're gonna look at this Yankee and blah, blah, blah," there wasn't none of that, man. They heard the facts and they determined who was lying and who wasn't, and I feel like I came out OK. The people that won were the f*ckin' attorneys.

Reports made it sound like you lost.

I did lose! They said I lost because they say they wanted $6,000 and they got $40,0000. Bullsh*t! You think they had me sitting in court for six grand? Hell no, they wanted $2.9 million.