In the title track to Justin Moore’s new album, Stray Dog (out Friday via Valory Music Co.), Moore describes himself as an artist more inclined to “put my money on the dark horse,” a guy who “don’t apologize for who I ain’t or who I am.”
That defiantly stubborn ethos and clear-eyed vision has guided Moore to a string of 10 Billboard Country Airplay chart-toppers since he released his debut album in 2009. Along the way, Moore has approached his career on his own terms: He and his family have resided in Arkansas for the past 13 years, and even as Nashville weathered the “bro-country” era of the past decade, Moore forged a reputation as an undeviating country traditionalist, thanks to hits like “Somebody Else Will” and his most recent chart-topper, “With a Woman You Love.”
“Not by design at all, but from the beginning of my career, I’ve been dubbed an outlier or a bit of an outlaw,” Moore says, speaking to Billboard via Zoom from his home office in Arkansas. ”I don’t really know why. In the middle of my career, when the rap-country and the pop-country stuff became popular, that’s just not what I do. We just made a conscious decision that I’m gonna do what I do and let the chips fall where they may. Thankfully, radio stuck with us when that was a major trend and now it’s kind of cycled back to a more traditional sound. But for me to go out there and chase something just because it’s popular, my fans would be like, ‘Dude, that ain’t you.’”
As artists from Morgan Wallen to Zach Bryan release albums packed with dozens of tracks, Moore has run toward the contrary: Stray Dog, like his 2021 album Straight Outta the Country, offers a comparatively scant eight tracks. Moore, who is managed by L3 Entertainment, says he’s had multiple discussions with his team, weighing the piling on of dozens of songs, versus issuing abbreviated albums.
“That’s not to say in the future we won’t put a 40-song album out there; I just let people a lot smarter than me and in much higher places than me determine what they feel is the best way,” he says.
One thing Moore’s traditional-minded sound and near-dozen No. 1s haven’t brought him is awards recognition, beyond an ACM Awards new artist of the year win in 2014 and a CMT Music Awards nomination a year later.
“We’ve never had to be a part of a lot of awards shows or anything. It’s like we’re sometimes just nonexistent,” he says. But he adds that he’s content with it: “When I was in my mid-20s, it bothered me. That’s human nature. But now I’m almost 40 years old and I’m thankful to have the career I have. I don’t really think about that stuff — I’m thankful I don’t have to wear a suit,” he laughs. “You control what you can control and let go of the rest. I did that a lot of years ago and I’ve been much more at peace.”
Billboard caught up with Moore to discuss his collaborations on the album with Priscilla Block and Riley Green, taking influence from a 50 Cent album, and his songwriting process for the new album.
Riley Green appears on “Everybody Get Along,” which is essentially about two men — both hunters, NASCAR fans and country music lovers — who quibble about inconsequential differences. How did Riley come to be part of this track?
We met maybe eight years ago. We had mutual friends and I was familiar with his career even before he signed a record deal, because I had some friends from his neck of the woods. Before we did this song, he actually shared a photo of himself in my meet-and-greet line from like 15 years ago. It made me feel old, but it was funny. The irony in the song is that these two guys are exactly alike and what they are fighting over is petty stuff. But he and I see life through the same lens, for the most part.
Near the end of “Everybody Get Along,” there’s a reference to the 1979 Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr. classic “The Conversation.”
The majority of the time, you’re not in the studio together when you record a duet. But for this, were able to record it together, and it was one of those spur-of-the-moment type songs that I wish we had more opportunities to do. He did a great job, which I knew he would. It’ll be fun if we get a chance to perform it live together.
What artists have you looked up to, in terms of doing things your own way?
Waylon, Willie, Merle, those guys. Dwight Yoakam is my favorite artist of all time, and nobody’s more unique than him. I don’t know [that] anybody — outside of his idol Buck Owens — has done his type of sound right, prior to then or since.
“Get Rich or Drunk Trying” obviously draws on an album title from 50 Cent.
I’ve had that title for like five or six years. When I was in high school, 50 Cent had that album out called Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I just thought, “Man that’s a terrible alternative to not getting rich. Getting drunk would be a better alternative.” I had thrown that title out probably six or seven times at previous writing sessions and it didn’t take. But in this session with Casey [Beathard], Paul [DiGiovanni] and Jeremy [Stover], everybody jumped on it. We’ve been playing it live. I don’t know if we’ll release it as a single at some point, but some of these songs become hits during our live shows without being on the radio.
Your collaboration with Priscilla Block, “You, Me, and Whiskey,” is at No. 19 on the Country Airplay chart currently. How did that come about?
I met her a few years ago at an acoustic round benefiting St. Jude. She stole the show, to be honest. I was so impressed that I introduced myself after the show and said, ‘I don’t know what I could ever do for you, but I’m more than happy to help because I’m a fan,’ and we exchanged numbers. A few months after that, I heard this song and right away, I thought it would be cool to get her on the song. Luckily, she said yes. She’s a star; she can sing, writes great songs and she’s great with an audience — and that’s something you either have or you don’t.
On your 2021 album, Straight Outta the Country, you co-wrote two songs. With Stray Dog, you are a writer on all but one song. Do you get a chance to write on the road, or do you mostly prefer writing retreats?
I don’t prefer writing on the road. We’ve been doing it more writers’ retreat style, between tour dates and things. I tend to be more creative in that environment; when I’m on the road, there’s always something that needs to be handled or taken care of. With writers’ retreats, I can get away from the industry side of things and just be creative.
You wrote most of the songs on this album a few years ago. What music are you working on now?
We’ve had this album ready to go for a little while. That’s kind of been my pattern. I have another album ready to go, even beyond this one. We have the songs written — I went down to Florida a few months ago with my producer and two or three writers — but we have to get into the studio. The goal is to keep putting out new music as frequently as we can, as long as we keep staying ahead of it.
Outside of music, you also have your sports radio show in Little Rock, as well as The Justin Moore Podcast. Do you have a bucket list guest you would like to have on your podcast?
We are gearing up for the new season of the podcast now. I would love to have Dwight [Yoakam] on. We’ve played shows together over the years and he’s really been kind to me. He’s an interesting, bright guy.