Jana Kramer says it took 31 years to write her sophomore album, Thirty One, which was recently released on Warner Music Nashville. In her chat with Billboard, the “I Got the Boy” singer shares the best advice on love she’s received, one lesson she wishes she learned in her 20s and whether it’s best to get the boy or the man in a relationship.
Tell me about Thirty One. You’ve said that it has taken you 31 years to live and write this album.
It’s been definitely three-and-a-half years. It’s been a work in progress. It’s just one of those things where I wanted people to get to know all the stories and go on a deeper level and break down some walls and have fun too.
Is there one lesson you’ve learned being in your 30s that you wish you knew in your 20s?
I think the biggest thing is being confident. I feel more confident in my 30s. I lacked a lot of that in my 20s because I was always searching for something instead of finding it within me.
You had a hand in co-writing six of the tracks on Thirty One. Why is writing so important to you?
It’s very therapeutic. For me, I want to be able to have the most authentic stories and give back to what music gave me. I love how country music tells a great story and I feel like I have a lot of stories to tell.
You’ve said you were shy and timid about songwriting when you first got to Nashville. How did you become more confident?
I was just disappointed that I didn’t put more of my voice in the first album. That’s why I said, “All right, the second album is going to be my voice, the songs that I want to write about.” I got together with my favorite artists and songwriters in Nashville and sat down and wrote with them. That way I made sure that each song was 100 percent me.
Songwriter Phil Barton said “Pop That Bottle” is the most fun he’s had writing with you.
He’s awesome. I love Phil. He came out on the road with me to write a few songs with another co-writer, Lindsay Rimes. We had so much fun with that one. My fans like to have a good time so we were like, “Hey, let’s write a song about going out and partying.” I love drinking wine and popping bottles.
What was it like collaborating with Steven Tyler on “Bullet?”
I wrote that song with Marti Frederiksen, who produces some of Aerosmith; [Steven] wanted to jump on it. It was cool because Nashville is such a small community and he’s getting into the country format right now. It was nice that he liked my song to put the vocals on there. He did his vocals in L.A. and I was in Nashville.
Your single “I Got the Boy” is so poignant. Is it better to get the boy or the man?
It honestly just depends. In my opinion, I obviously ended up with a man but at the same time he acts like a boy half the time. [Laughs]. I kind of got both in that sense. I think one or the other or both, they’re all special in their own unique way.
You’ve said you were reminded of your high school sweetheart when you first heard “I Got the Boy.” What do you wish you could tell him today?
For me, we’re in such better places. He’s married and has two kids and now I’m married and I have a baby on the way. You always cherish those memories. I don’t know if I would say anything to him. I’m glad that he’s living a happy life.
“Dance In the Rain is the most emotional song on the album. Are you ever afraid to reveal too much in a song?
People know the stories and I wanted to give them a closer look behind the walls. “Dance In the Rain” is one of my favorites because I love being vulnerable on a song and breaking the layers and telling the truth. At the end of the day, the truth ends up winning and shows the authenticity in the song.
What’s the most honest song on the album?
Probably the most honest song for me is “Last Song.” It was one of my favorites to write and the most therapeutic of them all. It was one of those ones where you walk away from it going, “I put every part of me in that song.” That happens with all my songs, but that one especially was an emotional one to write.
On “Love,” you sing about how you still believe in fairy tales. What’s your favorite fairy tale?
I love Beauty and the Beast. Belle is a sweetheart. She’s very sweet and kind and has a good heart.
What’s the best advice on love you’ve ever received?
Never settle. Know that the one is out there. Don’t ever let anyone take your light.
Listen to Jana Kramer and other artists featured in this week’s issue of Billboard.
An edited version of this story originally appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of Billboard.