When Jason Aldean is listening to music for an album – such as his eighth studio LP, Rearview Town, which comes out this Friday (April 13) – one thing he tries to envision is how each song will fare when he performs it live.
“Every song I cut, I think about that,” the country superstar said at a recent press event to promote the album. “My live shows are such an important selling tool for the record for me – I’m constantly listening for things that are going to translate live. Sometimes, I get lost in thinking, ‘Man, that song sounds really cool. It would be fun to play live.’ I’ve listened to the vibe of the song that I have forgotten to listen to the record, and the lyrics aren’t really that good, but the song would be fun to play … I’m constantly thinking about how those songs are going to fit in with ‘She’s Country,’ ‘Dirt Road [Anthem],’ and all the other songs that we already play.”
Finding such songs has gotten a little bit easier for the Georgia native since he released his self-titled debut disc in 2005. To quote an old song, time is now on Aldean’s side. “When you’re a new artist in town, obviously the publishers and the songwriters want the A-list artists cutting their stuff – and rightfully so. It’s a little bit harder to get those really good songs. But, at this point in my career, it’s a lot easier to get them, and we have guys who specifically write for us. I’d say you listen to hundreds of songs to narrow it down to fifteen.”
And 13 years into his career, Aldean is confident in his ability to quickly judge whether a song is right. “Half of them, you don’t get past the first verse. If I know it’s not in the ballpark, I’m not going to waste their time or mine. I’ll stop and go ‘Next?’ That’s where Michael comes into play,” he says, referring to longtime producer Michael Knox, “because he and I have worked together for so long, and he knows my style, and what I like. He can sort of be a buffer. It’s a process. But, it’s a lot of songs.”
In addition to the smooth tones of “You Make It Easy,” the set’s lead single — which is currently No. 4 on the Country Airplay chart (dated April 14) — one track that will be of definite interest to fans is “Drowns The Whiskey,” which pairs him with fellow hitmaker Miranda Lambert. The two have worked together before, and Aldean thought the time was right for another opportunity.
“We kind of got started in this business together,” Aldean says of his longtime friendship with Lambert. “We toured a lot together early on, and we did a song on my second record, ‘Grown Woman,’ that was probably my favorite song on that album [Relentless]. I’m always looking for ways to collaborate with other people, and I have always wanted to do something else with her. I’ve always been a big fan of her voice and style. I had this song in mind, and I sent it to her, and she was kind of iffy on the song that I sent. I said ‘If you don’t like it, that’s cool. I want you to love whatever we do. We’ll find something else. I’ve got this other song that I’ll send you, see if you like it better.’ I sent it to her, she loved it, and I said ‘Cool, let’s cut it.’ It was one of the highlights of this record.”
One name that is absent from the liner notes of Rearview Town – at least from the writers’ credits – is his own. And, Aldean, insists that’s perfectly fine with him. “I moved to town as a songwriter, I’m way capable of writing songs – and did. I actually wrote quite a few for this record, and some were really cool. But, I’m the guy who gets in there and listens to the other songs, and I just like them better. Michael is always telling me, ‘The stuff you’re writing is really cool. You should cut it.’ But, I’m always the one who’s thinking, ‘I don’t know. I better cut this Neil Thrasher song, or this David Lee Murphy song. I’m my own worst critic, and I always have been. I really made an effort on this record to go out and write some stuff, and there’s some cool stuff that might end up on another record, or on somebody else’s. But, to me, I go with gut instinct, and I think if I feel this song is better than one I wrote, then I’m going to cut the other song.”
If you’re looking for any hidden meanings behind any of the songs following the tragic shooting that took place as Aldean was on stage at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas last October, the singer says don’t. Most of Rearview Town was already set at that point.
“As far as cutting songs for this record, or feeling like I needed to go back in and put an exclamation point on the record of what happened in Las Vegas, I didn’t feel the need to do that,” he admits. “Ninety-five percent of the record was completed before that ever happened. I think we went in and cut four more songs after the fact, but it was things we already had.” Those events might not have shaped the music, but the singer did address them in the liner notes. “I wanted to dedicate that to the people who were there – the victims. That was something I wanted to, on a personal note.”
At some point down the road, Aldean might return to that Vegas stage to finish the show. But even with six months passed since the Oct. 1 tragedy, the singer is well aware that a performance like that will be tough for him, those who were there, and the country music community in general.
“I think you have to weigh a lot of that stuff out, and make sure that if you do go back – it’s such a touchy subject that I think you’ve got to make sure that you handle it the right way,” he suggests. “If you go back and play it, you want to make sure that the people who were there, and the victims and their families – that those are the ones that are getting to come to the show. It’s a little bit of a process. It’s certainly something we’re open to.”
Aldean will be in Vegas this weekend, however, as a performer on the 52nd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards. The superstar has been crowned the prestigious entertainer of the year award at the ACMs the last two years, and is in the running to take home the night’s biggest honor for a third year in a row. Yet, he stresses that he doesn’t live or die by the opening of the envelope — but winning the ACM’s highest honor is always a goal.
“The entertainer of the year award was a personal thing that I wanted from when I started in this business. I thought it would be cool to have a Platinum record on the wall, and it would be cool to win the entertainer of the year award. It does mean a lot when you get nominated for those things – when your peers feel strong enough about you to vote for you. On the flip side of that, I would say that if I never won another award, I wouldn’t feel as if my career has been a failure. I don’t think I need the awards to validate my career, but it is a nice thing to have. It does make you feel good to have that pat on the back. It definitely makes it more exciting when you go to an awards show, I will say that!”
Aldean’s Rearview Town is out Friday (April 13) via Broken Bow Records. Catch Aldean on the ACM Awards when they broadcast live from Las Vegas at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.