Both foul-mouthed hell-raiser and proud grandpa, 46-year-old Kid Rock unleashes all sides of his creative personality on his new album Sweet Southern Sugar, out now on Broken Bow Music Group.
“It’s another analogy of life, experiences we all go through,” he tells Billboard, sipping a beer at his Tennessee mountaintop retreat. “It’s my job as a songwriter to convey a lot of those [experiences]. A lot of it is about a party and having fun. It’s what I seem to do best, but every once in a while we all go through different things in our life so when I do, I try to relate that to other people who seem to enjoy what I do. It’s the oldest cliché in the book: ‘Everybody goes through shit.’ Hopefully, I can speak to what I went through and it relates to them.”
On Sweet Southern Sugar, Kid Rock serves up a variety of musical styles including country, classic rock and hip-hop. It features the summer releases “Greatest Show On Earth” and “Po-Dunk,” as well as the latest single “Tennessee Mountain Top.” “As grandpa gets older, what we strive for these days is trying to make classic records,” he says with a self-effacing grin. “If I can make a few more classic records to stand the test of time, and that people play throughout my generation and hopefully beyond, that’s kind of what we really strive for. We hope to have radio hits and all that stuff, but we’ll see.”
Sweet Southern Sugar is the first album the Michigan-born rocker has recorded in Tennessee, where he also has a home. “[I’m spending] a lot more time now that my son is here and my granddaughter. She’s two and a half,” he says. “I’m kind of following the weather around these days. Detroit is always my home, but Tennessee feels a lot like home, too, and always has.”
He was thrilled with Nashville’s skilled session musicians and how easy they made recording his new set. “I’ve pretty much done every record in my studios in Michigan, except the one I did with Rick Rubin, Born Free, and then this one,” he says. “I got the best players in the world and sat around with the producer and drank beers. It was the easiest record…. These guys just come in and play. I just recorded down here with Bob Seger, and I was like, ‘Wait do these guys just come in and play?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah just write it down and they’ll play it,’ and I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be shitting me!’ I was going through my Rolodex in Detroit trying to get players to come out for the last 20 years and it would be good, but we did 500 takes and I’d be pulling my hair out and [recording this new album] was really kind of enjoyable.”
In addition to covering a lot of musical territory, the album’s lyrical content runs the gamut from the boisterous rap of “Grandpa’s Jam” to the straight-forward rock of “Stand the Pain” and the swaggering “Greatest Show on Earth.” He even covers the Four Tops Motown hit “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” giving the beloved classic a darker spin. “When I did it, I was envisioning it being very dark, like with everything going on with the opioid and heroin problems. I was not thinking of this as a girl [song], but more of this dope,” he explains. “I’ve had friends who have passed away from dope, especially when I was younger. In this business, it happens all the time. Obviously, we have an epidemic right now and I was like, ‘God that reminds me of a dark period of time when I was in that world.’ To a certain extent it’s like, ‘I can’t help myself. I love you and nobody else.’ That’s what that shit can do to you man. It can take over your soul. I always thought if I could do a really poignant video and get Zac Efron or somebody to play this really dark person in this really dark video that it might scare some people out of there, or at least show them the realities of what that shit does to real people, their lives, their souls, their kids and their families.”
“Back to the Otherside” is another heavy track that explores the tragedy of suicide. “It’s about young people and all this stuff that’s going on, these kids taking their own lives,” he says. “I had a cousin who did it. That was so long ago, but just watching so many people around me with this suicide thing, whether it’s in the music industry, whether it’s soldiers coming back from these God-awful wars, whether it’s kids struggling with the bullying thing. I think we’ve all felt like that at some point, where you just felt like, ‘This shit ain’t worth it, I’m going to check out.’ I just try to tell people, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! Just hold on a minute. Just give it some time.’ Shit gets better.”
The song includes the line, “God is great and he always forgives.” When asked where that line came from, he smiles and says, “It’s probably all those years in catechism.”
On the song, Kid Rock incorporates the chorus from New Zealand band Breaks Co-op’s “Otherside” into his rap anthem. “A lot of us will sit there late at night, drink whatever and search for songs and songwriters from all over the world because we have YouTube,” he says. “I came across this band from New Zealand and I was listening to their songs and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Their harmonies are as good as Crosby, Stills & Nash or anything I’ve ever heard!’ It had this poignant chorus so rather than just sample it, I had my people call to see if we could get their session tapes. I actually took their vocals and then used a drum machine for a little bit, but for the most part it’s a live Nashville band in there playing to my rap and then flying in this chorus from this other band in New Zealand.”
Lest anyone think the Kid Rock has gone too soft and serious, “Grandpa’s Jam” demonstrates he’s still the raucous rocker that has sold millions of records and populated radio with such hits as “Bawitdaba,” Cowboy,” “American Bad Ass” and “All Summer Long.” “If you don’t like curse words, you can just head for the door now because this one [“Grandpa’s Jam”] cuts some hardcore hip-hop, because being a grandpa at 46, I’m like, ‘How much longer can I get away with this shit?’ It’s got to be looking weird at this point, right? Cut it out grandpa,” he jokes.
A loving grandpa with the mouth of a rowdy sailor, there are many sides to Kid Rock. “I think that’s with everybody,” he says of his multi-faceted personality. “We all have a problem of sitting on our computers and reading things about people without really getting to know them. If we all got to know each other a little bit more, at whatever level, no matter what our politics are, no matter what we’re into, there are people who believe in different stuff, but we’re having a good time and doing our jobs. We all don’t have to believe the same things. It’s okay. We can talk about them and not have to feel like if we say something, we’re going to be ostracized every time we say something that might not be politically correct, which I think is how a lot of people who are into what I do feel. I know that for a fact. I feel like that a lot.”
He feels often misunderstood in the press. “I say something and all of a sudden I’m a racist or a homophobe or something and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute! How did that narrative start? Everybody calm down. Just because the internet said something doesn’t make it true.’ And we all perpetuate that so fast. I’ve been guilty of it myself. You get something and send it on to your friends, and you don’t actually check to see if it’s actually real or not. You’re just spreading the shit.”
He’s looking forward to his next chapter and his new association with Broken Bow Music Group. “Go where you are celebrated and not tolerated,” he says of why he chose to sign with the Nashville-based outfit. “They said they are fans and like what I do and got how much I was willing to work. At the end of the day, you’ve got to like the people you work with. You can’t go through life at any point, especially at this point, where you don’t want to be around people and don’t enjoy their company. We can all make money and be successful and take care of our families together and have a good time doing it.”
Produced by Live Nation, the Greatest Show on Earth Tour 2018 kicks off Jan. 19 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.