Eric Church 'got as far out as I can get' on new project 'Heart & Soul'

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Matthew Leimkuehler, Nashville Tennessean
·4 min read
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Last week didn't go as planned for Eric Church.

Anticipating new music, Church's fervent listeners — known as the "Church Choir" — scrounged his website last Thursday for an advance copy of a script to the singer's SirusXM "Outsiders" show, he told The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network.

Hackers didn't unearth a new single, but instead found plans for the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year's most ambitious studio project to-date.

Word trickled through social media early Thursday — unofficially — that Church eyed April to release "Heart & Soul," a 24-song behemoth project teased for nearly a year via public appearances and a steady stream of new tunes.

And Church took it as a compliment.

"We ended up getting hacked," Church told The Tennessean, "which is pretty awesome when you think about it. They ended up breaking the news, which is hilarious to me. It was one of those weird deals. But I love the passion."

He confirmed "Heart & Soul" later that day, rolling out a triple album tracklist and April release dates a week ahead of schedule. Church will release the project in three phases, with a six-song middle record — "&" — available exclusively to Church Choir members.

"Heart & Soul" release dates:

  • April 16: "Heart"

  • April 20: "&"

  • April 23: "Soul"

Last winter, prior to COVID-19 shutdowns, Church decamped to small-town Banner Elk, North Carolina, to write and record "Heart & Soul" in 28 days. He set up shop in an empty restaurant, enlisting tenured bandmates, longtime producer Jay Joyce and a rotating cast of Nashville collaborators.

Eric Church performs at Nissan Stadium Saturday, May 25, 2019.
Eric Church performs at Nissan Stadium Saturday, May 25, 2019.

He plotted the rural mountainous retreat following a self-prescribed need to "reevaluate" his studio process. During sessions for 2018 album "Desperate Man" in Nashville, Church said he and Joyce left a handful of songs of the table for the first time in the singer's career.

He approached the makeshift North Carolina sessions at a "manic" pace, Church said. For four weeks, he would wake up, write, record a song and repeat.

"The best way [reevaluation has] ever worked for me in my career is to get as uncomfortable as you can get," Church said, adding: "I think the entire thing was everything I had to give. There's nothing else — internally — by the time we got to the end of this thing. I was spent. I was like a wrung out dish rag.

"That's where 'Heart & Soul' came from. That was everything we had."

Church left North Carolina thinking he cut a double-album, except for a half-dozen songs that didn't fit his vision for "Heart" or "Soul."

More: Eric Church tackles serious social issues in single 'Stick That in Your Country Song'

His manager, John Peets, suggested '&' as a stand-alone collection. The idea bridged "Heart" and "Soul" — represented by red and blue in the album artwork — with a purple ampersand.

"It was one of those things where the songs grouped themselves together," Church said. "We reacted to what the music was and what the art was."

And the songs give listeners a "100 percent inside look" to the creative process, Church said, "from the writing all the way through the recording. What was going through my head one day versus the next. That's what makes it its own project."

Would he do it again?

"Probably not," Church said, laughing. "I got as far out as I can get, from a mental health standpoint. I was writing all day, not sleeping at night ... I couldn't shut it down at all.

"It was creatively like nothing I'd ever been through. It was a boot camp. And as a fan, you get to look at this and go, 'Hey, here's 28 days. Here's what those 28 days look like.' "

'Heart' tracklist

(songwriters in parenthesis)

  1. Heart On Fire (Eric Church)

  2. Heart Of The Night (Eric Church, Jeremy Spillman, Jeff Hyde, Ryan Tyndell, Travis Hill)

  3. Russian Roulette (Eric Church, Casey Beathard, Monty Criswell)

  4. People Break (Eric Church, Luke Laird)

  5. Stick That In Your Country Song (Davis Naish, Jeffrey Steele)

  6. Never Break Heart (Eric Church, Luke Dick)

  7. Crazyland (Eric Church, Luke Laird, Michael Heeney)

  8. Bunch Of Nothing (Eric Church, Jeff Hyde)

  9. Love Shine Down (Eric Church, Casey Beathard, Jeffrey Steele)

'&' tracklist

  1. Through My Ray-Bans (Eric Church, Luke Laird, Barry Dean)

  2. Doing Life With Me (Eric Church, Casey Beathard, Jeffrey Steele)

  3. Do Side (Eric Church, Casey Beathard)

  4. Kiss Her Goodbye (Eric Church, Casey Beathard)

  5. Mad Man (Eric Church, Casey Beathard)

  6. Lone Wolf (Eric Church, Jeff Hyde, Ryan Tyndell)

'Soul' tracklist

  1. Rock & Roll Found Me (Eric Church, Casey Beathard, Driver Williams)

  2. Look Good And You Know It (Eric Church, Jonathan Singleton, Travis Meadows)

  3. Bright Side Girl (Eric Church, Jeff Hyde, Scotty Emerick, Clint Daniels)

  4. Break It Kind Of Guy (Eric Church, Casey Beathard, Luke Dick)

  5. Hell Of A View (Eric Church, Casey Beathard, Monty Criswell)

  6. Where I Wanna Be (Eric Church, Casey Beathard, Jeremy Spillman, Ryan Tyndell)

  7. Jenny (Eric Church)

  8. Bad Mother Trucker (Eric Church, Casey Beathard, Luke Dick, Jeremy Spillman)

  9. Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones (Casey Beathard)

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Eric Church on the creative 'boot camp' that fueled 'Heart & Soul'