Ten years ago, Jason Aldean was in the audience when George Strait received the Academy of Country Music Awards’ artist of the decade award. “I remember thinking, ‘Man, what a cool feeling it must be to know not only were you kick-ass for a year, but you were kick-ass for a decade’,” Aldean tells Billboard. Now he’s the one receiving the honor, renamed the ACM Dick Clark artist of the decade award, on April 7 at the 54th Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas.
“I had no idea that I would be the next one in line to get that,” a surprised and delighted Aldean tells Billboard over the phone. “It’s a really proud feeling for me and I really don’t think it’s going to all set in until we actually get there, and it all starts going down that night.”
The artist of the decade award was renamed in recognition of the late Dick Clark, who died in 2012, for his role as a former ACM Awards producer and host. “Having the ACM artist of the decade named after my father means so much to me and our family,” R.A. Clark, executive producer of the 54th Academy of Country Music Awards, said in a statement. “He had deep roots within the country community and even after he stopped producing the ACM Awards, he and his wife Kari continued to come to Las Vegas for the show. Kari still has a seat every year, thanks to the Academy.”
Billboard: What were your initial thoughts when named ACM artist of the decade?
Jason Aldean: A little surprised would probably be the first thing. I didn’t even know that was coming up this year. It’s something that happens every 10 years, so you just don’t think about it. Over the last decade I feel like we’ve had a pretty great run, but there are a lot of artists that have been out there that have as well. For me, I’m just a little shocked, a little surprised and extremely honored.
Only five other artists have been honored with the award. What does that mean to you?
I think it speaks volumes about my record company [Broken Bow Records], my management, my whole team for what we have all accomplished over the last 15 years. Obviously, I’m the guy standing there that gets all the credit for everything but behind the scenes there are a lot of people who put in a lot of work. There is a lot of thought involved in every move that we make as far as my career goes. To me, it’s been a team effort.
You’re already walking away a winner before Sunday’s awards. Does that ease your nerves?
It’s different. It’s the first time I’ve ever gone in knowing that I was going to win. [It] almost feels like it’s a lifetime achievement kind of a thing. I hope people don’t take this as an end of career thing, because I don’t plan on going anywhere. It’s a big honor. I’m proud that I get to be that guy.
If you win ACM entertainer of the year, you’ll be the first act since Garth Brooks 21 years ago to be named both entertainer of the year and artist of the decade the same night.
I try not to get too ahead of myself on these award shows. I’ve been fortunate enough to win quite a few awards over the years, but I’ve also not won probably more times than I’ve won. We have been fortunate enough to get that entertainer of the year award the last three years and it’s been great. If we get it again that would be amazing, but if it is somebody else’s turn to get it I’ll be excited for them. I’ve said my whole career that was an award I wanted to win once. So, to have it three years in a row was more than I ever hoped for.
What can we expect from your performance?
We’ll probably go back and take a little trip down memory lane [and] play some of my favorite songs from over the years and have a little bit of fun.
A career in music can be challenging. What has kept you going?
I love what I do, first off. I love playing music, I love making music. There’s nothing else I can ever go and do that gives me the rush that I get from being on stage, and the satisfaction I get from getting in the studio and making my albums. Walking away was never really an option. There were times early in my career where I was frustrated before I had my record deal, but I wasn’t necessarily going to walk away as much as it was like take a step back and reassess a little bit. If you’re a true musician, that’s a lifer gig. It’s not something you dip your toe in a little bit here and there and you get out for a while. It just doesn’t work like that.
Tyler Farr was the first artist signed to your Night Train Records imprint. Are you scouting other artists?
The ultimate goal is to be able to sign some younger acts or whoever comes along that I believe in and think is a great artist and want on my team. This gives me the opportunity to do that. This is something that has been in the works for a little while, but I wasn’t really in a major rush to get it done. It just so happened that Tyler ended up getting out of his record deal and was looking for a record deal [when] the wheels started turning.
How is your new album coming along?
We just finished tracking the last part of the record. I’m about to go in and start cutting all the vocals on that. The last couple albums have been really cool, but leaned a little more on the traditional country side. There hasn’t been a lot of ‘My Kinda Party’ rock ‘n’ roll edge stuff that we do a lot. This record has a little bit more of that sort of rock sound to it than the last couple records. The goal is to have something out this year.