Tim McGraw is a married 56-year-old man with three educated, grown and well-adjusted daughters out of his house. With his 17th studio album, "Standing Room Only," bearing a single soaring to top 10 status on country radio, arriving on Aug. 25, 2023, he's concerned less with empty nest syndrome but more with something else.
"I still want to win the equivalent of the Super Bowl with every single I'm putting out," the Louisiana native told The Tennessean.
McGraw's double-platinum-selling 1994 single "Don't Take The Girl" was his first No. 1 on country radio but second of 38 Billboard all-genre Hot 100 chart achievers in his three-decade-long mainstream career.
Currently, the title single of his latest album aims to be his 47th No. 1 hit worldwide.
"Songs keep finding me and I've also now discovered the ability to dig deeper into myself as an honest and natural interpreter of lyrics," McGraw said.
"Some people can sing at you or tell you how they feel in a song," he continued. "But few ever master the art of telling a story that conveys to people their emotions and makes them accurately feel an emotion they were trying to feel until they heard your song. That's the magic I'm chasing these days."
Songs like the album track "Hey Whiskey" highlight a rare confidence that McGraw has achieved by believing in his art, creative process and talent, plus the quality of the material he's cutting.
"My voice was shredded when we recorded that one -- I didn't even think I had it in me," he said. Maybe I've sung songs better in my career, but I didn't [convey the lyrics' emotion] as well."
This year finds McGraw celebrating a quarter-century as a film, stage and television actor. His ability to method act characters like "Friday Night Lights' Charles Billingsley to Yellowstone prequel patriarch James Dutton impacts his work as a vocalist on "Standing Room Only," too.
McGraw has recently celebrated 26 years of marriage to fellow country superstar Faith Hill. However, songs like "Paper Umbrellas" and "Remember Me Well" chronicle the tenuous early days of a relationship -- not the joys of decades together.
"Concerning myself with how listeners invest themselves as the [protagonist] in my songs is important," he said. "Acting has informed my music more than music has informed my acting," says the "Indian Outlaw" singer.
McGraw now views songs more as "cinematic vignettes" than just being "three chords and the truth." His continued artistic evolution taking this path on "Paper Umbrellas" merges McGraw's work with that of George Strait, another country chart-topper turned star of the silver screen.
"I'm finally at a place where I feel like I can be able to sing a fiddle-driven, two-stepping 90s country song that takes an intelligent lyrical twist and turns it into the type of deep messages that gave [artists like Strait] a catalog filled with so much perfect material," he said.
The song"Nashville CA / L.A. Tennessee," however, is inspired by his own past.
Co-written by McGraw alongside Lori McKenna and McGraw's longtime acoustic guitarist Bob Minner in 2018, the song chronicles McGraw's cross-country trip moving his daughter Gracie to Los Angeles in a two-decade-old Cadillac Escalade.
While driving back through Arizona's Sonora Desert, McGraw picked up his cell phone, called Minter and began to lament how their lives were changing because their kids were growing up.
Notably, McGraw grew up initially estranged from his father, Tug McGraw (the subject of his signature 2004 hit "Live Like You Were Dying") and was subject to the strains of growing up in a dysfunctional family. Singing songs that reflect him being able to provide a life for his children that he, himself, did not have as a youth is doubly impactful.
"Providing [this type of] life for my family is a privilege," says McGraw.
When asked about this latest, third chapter of sorts in his career, McGraw sounds more engaged and excited than ever by his artisitc future.
"I'm still a hard-working songwriter playing my guitar who loves iconic country songs. When I'm sitting at the mixing board with [his longtime producer] Byron [Gallimore] and we hear an undeniable song that we've developed, it fires up my competitive juices and the old athlete that I am wants to take the [metaphorical] field."
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Tim McGraw's 'Standing Room Only' rekindles the superstar's competitive fire for success