The first thing one notices when listening to Aaron Lewis's first full-length country album, The Road, is that he certainly wasn't afraid to make a no-holds-barred country record. Lewis has, of course, released country material before (his No. 1 Country debut, Town Line, which was a 5-song EP)--however, his new set isn't afraid to take on a decided old-school flavor that shows that the frontman from rock outfit Staind does indeed understand the genre's roots.
Lewis, who still maintains his career as a rocker--although he's currently taking a little break from it--credits a sense of freedom this time around in shaping his lushly traditional album. Due to contractual obligations with Staind's record label, he was given a provision originally to make an EP rather than a full album, which he describes as "only five opportunities to paint a picture." Now with a new deal that allows him full ownership of his country music--"masters, publishing, all of it"--he's feeling "freedom to the nth degree" to go full throttle on the material he's been longing to create.
We at Our Country had the opportunity to talk to Lewis about The Road, which made an impressive debut in the Top 10 of the Billboard Country Albums chart this month. The hardworking singer, who has been juggling duties as a rocker while building his career as a country crooner, barely has time to catch his breath these days, but found a few moments to discuss his new music, fan response, and even a little politics with us. Enjoy!
Our Country: I understand that you actually recorded your new record while you were right smack in the middle of a tour with Staind. That must have been exhausting.
Aaron Lewis: Yeah, totally. I'd play three or four shows in a row with Staind, and on the fifth day when I should have been sitting in a hotel room resting and not talking, I was getting on a plane first thing in the morning and flying to Nashville and recording for the day.
Wow. And as Staind fans know, your shows aren't just you sitting on a chair and singing all nice and gently...
It's little pieces of my vocal cords are scattered on the stage at the end of the show.
Did you find it challenging to have to abruptly switch gears over and over during this time--rock mode one day, country mode the next?
That's really not as difficult to do as everybody seems to think it would be. It's just going into it: "What am I doing this evening? Am I screaming and yelling at the top of my lungs for the whole set, or am I...singing?" It's not that much of a thought process. And, it was only that leading up to now. The end of the Uproar tour--that was a few months ago--that was the last Staind show for a while. I'm gonna focus on what I'm doing. Eventually there will be another Staind record and we'll go out and play more shows and tour again. But right now, this is what I'm doing.
Have Staind fans given you negative feedback about your decision to concentrate on your country material for the time being? Or have they been supportive?
Both, definitely both. I've heard all sorts of negative stuff.
From Staind fans specifically?
I don't know if it's from Staind fans, but I've heard "He's not country, he's from Massachusetts." I've heard "He's only going over to country to pander to the country audience because he's not relevant in rock anymore; because he can't sell records in rock anymore." I've heard it all. They've been so sweet and friendly and supportive of me wanting to express myself differently with my creativity. It's wonderful! (Laughs) Am I laying the sarcasm and facetiousness on thick enough there?
Well, your Town Line EP debuted at No. 1 on the Country Albums chart, so certainly you do have quite a few supporters out there.
Yes. I know that my new record is doing very well so far too. There's some good numbers on the books already.
Also, it's funny you'd have criticism specifically about pandering to a country audience, given that you did not take the easy way out and hire a bunch of Nashville songwriters to create a "perfect" glossy country album. You wrote every song on the new album yourself, except for one.
The song that I didn't write ["Grandaddy's Gun"] I could have written and had the intention of writing, and I just never got to it. And I was now in the process of recording a record, and was under a time crunch and needed one more song. And that was the song that came to mind. It was really kind of a natural thing. I'd heard Rhett [Akins] play it before, and I was completely blown away, because I could have written the song--I have all the same stories, I could have written it. So it was a way for me to have basically to pat my very good friend on the back in the best way I could, which is to record his song. Me and Rhett have become very good friends over the years, and gone hunting together, and it seems like the ultimate act I could do for him--record one of his songs.
In terms of breaking into country and facing criticism--have you ever discussed your experiences with other artists who have successfully crossed over from another genre? Darius Rucker had his share of detractors when he decided to pursue country; now he's a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Me and Darius are good friends, we've known each other for a very long time. I just haven't seen him lately to be able to sit down and have that conversation with him. It's funny, too, because those on the country side that seem to have the biggest problem, were fans of the old-school country. And that's what I am inspired by, and what my roots are, and what my music seems to sound like. And those are the ones that would appreciate what I am doing, and yet those are the ones that were beating me up the worst.
How long have you been writing country music? Is it something you have done informally for a long time?
The first country song I ever attempted to write was "Country Boy." First time I sat down, I was like man, I'm going to try to write a country song. And I approached it in that manner, and that's the first song I did. It was kind of un-ignorable when I wrote the song and immediately started playing it live in my set, and the reaction that I was getting from it...it kind of wrote the pages, all itself.
Is there a big difference in the way you approach writing a country song versus writing a rock song?
It might be a different chord progression...and lyrically, I kind of call on a different place. It's a way to express myself in different ways than I could have with Staind.
If you could arrange any of your country songs to be performed "rock style" as part of Staind--or vice versa--which one or ones do you think would translate best?
The reason that I drifted as far as I did from the genre that I had a pretty damn good career going with was to create that separation. On a couple of tours that we did over the last year, in the middle of the set I was playing "Country Boy," but I wasn't doing it in a different manner that was reworked for the band.
One final question. You are the NRA Country artist of the month for November, which is of course the month of the Presidential election and therefore a very political time to be representing the NRA. Do you have any views on the election and the current state of our country?
Ahhh....I think we are headed down a very wrong path.