When Jason Aldean introduced the video treatment for his new single, “You Make It Easy,” on Feb. 11, the Shaun Silva-directed effort came in three pieces, each using the song in its entirety. The first two ended with cliffhangers, enticing viewers who wanted to get the full effect to essentially hear the song on repeat.
“I was hoping they would listen to it three times,” says Aldean. “One and two set it up, and three, you really get the gist of it. I’ve heard some people say, ‘I’ve watched all three, and I actually went back and watched the first two [again].’ ”
If listeners are indeed hearing “You Make It Easy” on repeat, they’re symbolically recreating Aldean’s own experience. He lived with the demo for about six months before he tackled it at Nashville’s Treasure Isle on March 31, 2017, and it never lost its mojo.
That it ever made it to Aldean’s ears is a tad surprising. Three of its four writers are hit-making artists in their own right: Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, plus solo artist Morgan Wallen, who collaborates with FGL on “Up Down,” which is currently No. 15 on Hot Country Songs. Wallen sang the fire out of the demo, and FGL could easily have made it for the duo had they not given it away.
“It doesn’t really make any sense, does it?” says Wallen with a laugh.
But the song itself made plenty. Songwriter Jordan M. Schmidt (“What Ifs,” “Lights Come On”) rode FGL’s Tree Vibez Music bus to Tinley Park, Ill., for a writing session with the guys during the Dig Your Roots Tour on Sept. 17, 2016. With three artists in the conversation, the talk drifted into the difficulty of maintaining a relationship while making a living on the road. Hubbard specifically gave props to his wife, Hayley, for her strength.
“He was talking about how a lot of couples end in divorce or end up splitting up because it’s just such a hard lifestyle,” remembers Schmidt.
“Relationships in general are hard,” adds Hubbard. “We’re fortunate to have women that really, truly make it easy, even in the hard times.”
The date coincided with the last of their 18 weeks at No. 1 with “H.O.L.Y.,” a ballad that leans on the spiritual component of a healthy, loving relationship. By making a reference to Sunday morning in the first line of “You Make It Easy,” they started down a similar thematic course, while Schmidt developed a set of spacious tracks.
Kelley served up a subtle bit of word play — “Never let it ruffle up your feathers, angel” — that enhanced the heavenly quotient in the lyrics.
“Tyler and myself, we both call our wives our angels,” says Kelley. “We both truly believe that, but putting that in there in a different way in the second verse was a little bit of a challenge.”
“I remember kind of laughing, being like, ‘Oh, we couldn’t say that,’ ” adds Schmidt. “Then we started talking about it, and it became the lyric. That’s one of my favorite lyrics now, too. In a world where a lot of the songs coming out are saying the same shit, it’s nice to hear fresh ideas.”
Even though it seemed likely that either FGL or Wallen would claim it, Hubbard suggested that Wallen sing the demo to improve its chances of finding a home.
“At that time, he was even a newer voice than he is now,” says Kelley. “And he crushed the demo vocal. It sounded amazing, but if you heard FGL on the demo vocal, you would start asking questions, like, ‘Why didn’t they cut it?’ So I thought that was kind of a smart move.”
Within a couple weeks, Hubbard visited Aldean, and they spent several hours listening to music in Aldean’s truck. Hubbard sprung “You Make It Easy,” with no real expectation that it would connect. “I thought, ‘Well, this will be left field,’ ” he recalls.
But halfway through the song, Aldean hit pause and started asking questions about it: Was FGL keeping it? Has anyone else heard it? If it was available, Aldean really wanted it.
“I’m a hook guy, so I want a hook and a chorus that’s going to get stuck in your head, and it had that,” he says. “Then, too, it sort of had a different sound about it than anything else we had done — you know, that really kind of bluesy, kind of hollow sound to it where it seemed really old school.”
That was one of the signature elements that producer Michael Knox (Trace Adkins, Michael Tyler) played up when they recorded it. Knox’s father, the late Buddy Knox, earned a No. 1 pop title in 1957 with the rockabilly “Party Doll,” and Knox mimicked that genre a tad in “You Make It Easy” by turning up the reverb on Aldean’s vocals and having Adam Shoenfeld play a ringing Gretsch guitar.
But Knox also brought in Russ Pahl to play a lap-steel guitar solo that hints at Allman Brothers Band slide.
“It was really neat how it kind of really expressed both of us and our backgrounds,” says Knox.
It took little effort for Aldean to nail his part.
“This was one of those songs I felt like was in my wheelhouse,” says Aldean. “I just felt like we were going to go in and cut a great record on that particular song, and it wasn’t going to be a forced thing.”
Keyboard player Tony Harrell overdubbed Hammond B-3 to enhance the spiritual tone of the song, but Knox kept the arrangement uncluttered.
“I wanted this thing to feel like you were sitting in a room with Jason and a couple of band members,” says Knox. “It was really an open track, you know. We wanted to keep it where it’s not too much going on.”
Broken Bow released it to radio via PlayMPE on Jan. 26. Thus, the song that FGL and Wallen co-wrote is now competing with their own recording of “Up Down” on the charts. Wallen performs it in his own shows, and he feels the added bonus of getting an unexpected Aldean cut.
“I’ve grown up listening to Aldean and loving his music,” says Wallen. “It’s just a really cool thing to say that I’m a part of his single right now.”
“You Make It Easy” has taken on greater meaning for Aldean. His wife, Brittany, was present when a gunman shot at Aldean and his band at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, which only increased the intensity of its spiritual message.
“Anytime something like that happens,” he says, “you look at things in a different light than maybe you did before.”
Aldean performed it publicly for the first time on NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon on Jan. 29 and did his first in-concert rendition during a multi-artist Country Radio Seminar showcase on Feb. 5 in Nashville. It’s at No. 3 on the Hot Country Songs chart dated March 10, leading up to the April 13 release of his album Rearview Town. As the audience gets repeated exposure to “You Make It Easy,” Aldean is grateful that FGL and Wallen let him bring it to the world.
“I don’t think it matters who sings it,” he says. “It’s great enough that it’s going to be a hit regardless.”