Before this year a lot of people knew me better as a guy who was in a bluegrass band. But people who read liner notes knew I was a songwriter. I wanted to make a record that I would enjoy playing every night. Just to put Traveller out was my expectation — I didn’t have any beyond that. The commerce of it was not as much of a factor for me. That’s not necessarily my job either. My job is to make the best music that I can and let people a lot smarter than me figure out how to get it to other people.
For the Country Music Association Awards, I called up Justin Timberlake. It wasn’t something the producers threw together. We’ve known each other for a couple of years. His wife had called me to fly out for his birthday party and wanted me to play. That was our first meeting, and we kept up with each other after that.
At the CMAs, I got the first award for new artist of the year, and then I had to immediately go back and get ready to play. I didn’t have time to digest the moment. It was a fairytale, dark-horse night. No one really expected it to be happening, but it did.
I certainly have sold some more records since then. I keep waiting for someone to jump out from behind a curtain and be on Candid Camera or something, because it seems like these numbers aren’t real. If there’s anything that came out of it, it’s “try to find your own path.” There’s not really a right and a wrong way to do things. But if you’re being as authentic as you can be with what you want to do, hopefully the stars line up and someone takes notice. To be recognized [with three Grammy nominations] is a good feeling, but I don’t like to celebrate — I like to continue working. We could maybe go have dinner or a couple cocktails, but today? We don’t have time for that.
The low points are being gone from home longer than I would like. Missing the children — that’s hard. My wife, Morgane, is there every time I step onstage. She is kind of my secret weapon. She certainly elevates things. I’m used to looking over to my left and seeing her there. That’s the way it should be and will always be if I can help it. We just had fun making music with people this year. It is the most of that that I’ve gotten to do — probably ever.
*As told to Jewly Hight
This story originally appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of Billboard.