At a time when many artists are eschewing full-length albums in favor of issuing singles and EPs, Jason Aldean is happy to buck the status quo and over-deliver with his Friday Broken Bow/BMG release 9 by giving fans a fully satisfying 16-song collection.
“In this day and age everybody is not cutting full-length albums anymore. It’s trending more towards these EPs and that’s just not the way I want to make music,” Aldean tells Billboard as he leans forward on a red leather sofa in a Music Row recording studio, peering intently from beneath his trademark cowboy hat. “I grew up loving it when my favorite artist would come out with a new album. I had to get the new record, read all the liner notes, see who was playing on what and who wrote the songs. I was always a fan of getting a hold of the physical copy of the record, and if I waited a year or year and a half on my favorite artist putting out an album, I wanted a full album. So I feel like if we wait a year and a half in between records, I want it to be worth the wait for fans.”
He admits the way he loved to consume music as a kid — and create it as an adult — is long gone. “Streaming changed the way everybody does anything,” he says. “I feel like when you are cutting an album you kind of get into a groove and you can start really just making a great project. I don’t know how you do that when you are just cutting a few songs here and there. It’s not very appealing to me as an artist. Obviously if that’s the trend that everyone takes, then we’ll have to re-evaluate it, but I want to make full length albums as long as it makes sense and as long as people want to hear them.”
Aldean’s latest is an ambitious set that blends hard-charging anthems like the lead single “We Back” with good-natured drinking songs, salutes to rural living, tender love songs and pensive explorations on life. “I feel like we needed [more up] tempo just because the last couple of albums, I felt like things were a little more on the laid back side with songs like ‘Drowns The Whiskey,’ ‘Any Ol’ Barstool’ and ‘You Make It Easy,’” the three-time Academy of Country Music Awards entertainer of the year says. Of choosing the rambunctious “We Back” for the first single, he says, “the big up tempos are such a big part of my career and live shows, I just felt like it was time. We had a new album coming out and we needed to bring back some energy and I feel like that’s a good way to kick off an album.”
9 is the first in a new global deal that expands and extends Aldean’s partnership with BMG. Under his previous deal with Broken Bow, the label held rights in the US and Canada. Under the new deal, BMG will now distribute and market Aldean’s releases worldwide, beginning with the new studio album to be released via Broken Bow Records/BMG. Broken Bow became part of BMG in 2017.Aldean’s new contract also calls for the rights to his first six albums to revert back to him over a period of years. “You are making those records and I feel you should own them,” he says, “so as a part of my new deal there was some stuff that we worked in there that allowed me to do that and even on some of my back catalog. . .I’ll eventually take over all of them. I don’t own all of them at this point, but all the new stuff from record number seven through now, all that stuff I own and lease back.”
Over the course of his previous eight albums, Aldean has scored 21 No. 1 songs on Billboard’s country charts and racked up 15 billion streams, according to the label.
“It’s wild,” he says, reflecting on his success. “I remember hoping the first record would do well enough that they’d let me go make a second one. Honestly the second album really didn’t do as well as my first one initially so that was a little scary.”
There were some personnel changes and disarray at the label that he feels caused the second album to suffer. “I remember going back in to cut my third album [Wide Open] and going, ‘Man, this album could be a game changer one way or the other. It could really propel us and do something or if doesn’t do well we might be in trouble here.’ So that third album was really a hinge that everything kind of hung on and ‘She’s Country,’ ‘Big Green Tractor’ and ‘The Truth’ came off that record and really kind of took everything to another level.”
Aldean is excited for fans to hear the songs on the new album, especially “Cowboy Killer.” “We really didn’t have anything else like that on the record. I loved what it was saying,” he says of the lyric about a femme fatale. “Most everybody when they hear the term ‘cowboy killer’ they think of Marlboro cigarettes— at least I do—and so to kind of spin it like that was cool.”
The album also features more than its fair share of drinking songs. “We had these songs coming in and I just couldn’t force myself to say, ‘Man, I’m not going to cut that song because it talks about drinking and we already have some.’ To me, the best song wins,” he says. “We cut the best songs we could find and these were the best songs that we had. Its life stuff and it is what it is.”
His philosophy on the best song winning also means Aldean tends to cut songs by other songwriters. “I’m really hard on my stuff and, to be honest, I don’t really enjoy the writing process,” he confesses. “What I love to do is play live and I like to be in the studio. Sitting in a room with no windows and writing almost makes me want to tear the door off the hinges to get out.”
With the release of 9 Aldean is happy to have the focus again squarely on his music. After going through a highly publicized divorce and then being on stage performing during the 2017 Route 91 Harvest festival mass shooting in Las Vegas, his music has sometimes been overshadowed by other circumstances. “I feel like a lot of times when headlines aren’t really what you want them to be it kind of overshadows what you are doing,” he says. “It’s frustrating when it kind of takes the focus off what you are doing, but I feel like at this point in life and career, we’re back on track. . . It seems like for the first time in a long time everything is kind of back in place and we’re able to really focus on the music.”
On Nov.27, Aldean plans a “9 at 9” concert special where he will perform nine songs from his Jason Aldean’s Restaurant + Rooftop Bar in Nashville starting at 9 p.m. CT. Aldean has partnered with more than 100 Bar Louie neighborhood locations exclusively presenting the event in their markets. There are also dozens of independently owned bars across the country that will air the concert special.
In January, Aldean will launch the 2020 We Back Tour with Morgan Wallen, Riley Green and Dee Jay Silver.
“I’m just glad we’ve been able to stick around this long and keep making music because I enjoy it,” he says. “I enjoy making the albums and getting into the studio and having that outlet to get creative. You spend all that time making the records and [the fans] come out and you see the reaction it gives people. They get excited about the music that you’re putting out. That’s a good feeling.”