There’s a definite throwback feeling to “California,” the current single from Big & Rich. At least that’s one of the duo’s fellow country artists told member John Rich recently.
“I was out with Tracy Lawrence, and he said, ‘There’s something nostalgic about that song. I can’t put my finger on it,” Rich tells Billboard, admitting that what Lawrence is hearing is very much spot-on. “It has some of my favorite elements of music on it – there’s some 80s Country on there, and also some Eagles west-coast Country kind of stuff. It’s also a really fun song to sing. When the fans learn it, they sing it at the top of their lungs.”
The record is the lead track from their upcoming disc, Did It For The Party. Rich tells Billboard that the album – released on their own Big & Rich Records imprint – is one that those fans have been waiting on for a while.
“For three years, we’ve been writing and recording, testing songs out on the road, and listening to a lot of demos on the bus, going through the normal Big & Rich process that we’ve always gone through,” he says, hopeful that the wait since 2014’s Gravity will have been worth it. “We think we’ve got a real humdinger of a record coming out. We’re pumped for the whole world to weigh in on it.”
Ironically, the move to their own record company has resulted in the most consistent period in their chart careers – which is exactly why Rich said that it happened.
“A few years ago, Big Kenny and I stepped away from the mega record companies. We had been on one for about ten years. It worked for a while, and then it didn’t work. The bigger those companies get, the more their attention gets splintered up. When you’re cranking out the music that we do, and as much as we crank out, we wanted to really have more attention and focus on our music. We stepped away and established Big & Rich Records. We have aligned ourselves with a company called Thirty Tigers, which is a group of highly creative marketing people. Between them and our radio promotion staff, we’ve had more success with our last three singles – and now with ‘California’ – than we’ve had in a long time. I think a lot of that is due to the passion and the focus of the people that we work with.”
Rich confessed that many artists – if they were honest – would probably go down that same career path if they could. “A lot of artists will never admit this to you, but a lot are frustrated with their record labels. At every record label, you have so many artists that are scraping for attention. You’re doing everything you can to get your label to put that promotional muscle behind your music. It can be a frustrating experience.”
But, as masters of their own domain – or at least, career path, the buck stops with them – they are comfortable with that responsibility. “When we started our own situation, we became the bosses. We determine what song is the single, what the budgets are, when and how a song comes out, what we are going to call the album, how we schedule a tour, literally every possible decision is left up to Big Kenny and I. We like to work like that. It’s not a guarantee that you’re always going to succeed with your decision, but for us, if we’re going to fail at something, we’d rather fail because it was our decision and not because somebody else made it and it failed. You can sleep at night with failure if it was your call. So far, we have not experienced any failure with Big & Rich Records, and we really owe that to the fans and country radio for getting on board and playing these songs.”
One track that might very well be a future single from the new project is “Smoke In Her Eyes,” which might have a familiar lean to it for longtime fans. Part of that stems from the writers listed along with Rich, as he knows them well.
“Rodney Clawson and Vicky McGehee wrote that with me – we’ve all been friends for decades, and wrote ‘California,’ as well as ‘Smoke In Her Eyes.’ As people are beginning to hear the record, that seems to be one that a lot of people are potentially pointing at as possibly being a single.”
Moreover, the subject matter is akin to one of Rich’s favorite songs from the 90’s. “To me, it’s kind of like ‘Straight Tequila Night’ revisited. That’s one of my favorite stories ever portrayed in a Country song. It’s about a girl who walks into a bar, looking like a million bucks, but you do not want to engage this person. She is there on a mission, and it’s not something that you want to deal with. She says she’s not about to cry, but that’s just smoke in her eyes, but it’s a lie. She’s there to hurt you, man. I think that’s a pretty common characteristic of Big & Rich music. There’s always that plot twist – and that little quirk that happens in the storyline.”
Though the duo is known for their cutting-edge style, Big & Rich are also very aggressive in promoting the legacy of the Country format – as well as the artists that have fanned the flames of it. Rich says that that’s part of what they owe those that inspired them – and those coming down the musical pike.
“I think that for a new artist or a modern artist to really be the greatest they can be, they need to be aware and be educated on the history – you need to know what came before you to really know if the music that you are making is truly great or just great compared to what’s out there right now. There’s two levels of great: currently great or all-time great. For me, I strive to be all-time great. History will dictate whether I hit that level or not.”
He continues, “I think that hanging out with guys like Larry Gatlin and T.G. Sheppard – you’re talking about guys who are perceived to be among the all-time greats. When their music comes on the radio, you still turn it up and go ‘That’s the only guy who sounded like that.’ The Bellamy Brothers are another one. There’s so many that are walking around now who are part of sheer greatness. You should really know the DNA of country music – if you’re really curious about being great, you need to know it. I really try to go out of my way to understand these guys, become their friend, and learn from them!”
Did It For The Party is out now.