Rodney Atkins knows the value of taking the long way home, of veering off the beaten path onto that road less traveled once in a while. You can hear it in his music, in the lyrics of his smash single, "Take A Back Road," a song that celebrates that feeling of getting away from the noise of everyday life, really living in the moment, and getting right with your soul. Rodney always remains true to himself and constantly strives to evolve and find unique ways of expressing himself through the music he puts out into the world. It's a philosophy he tries to employ throughout his life, and it has led him to some amazing places.
"What does it mean to follow your own path? I try to think about that a lot when I'm making an album," explains Rodney, describing the journey he took in making his fourth album, TAKE A BACK ROAD. "To me, it's going somewhere you've never been, because when you do that, you wind up seeing things that no one has seen before, which means you can paint the picture differently."
The hardworking artist gathered up a whole new set of colors when he set about creating his latest masterpiece and he cranked the whole recording process up a notch in intensity -- which is saying something for a guy who is pretty darned intense to begin with. Rodney wanted this project, his first in nearly three years, to convey and express some emotions and feelings in an authentic yet different way. Simply put -- Rodney had a lot to say musically, and he wanted to say it in exactly the right way.
The east Tennessee native has an impressive track record with hitting on sentiments that strike a chord with the country listener: he's had six number one hits from his first three albums, from "Watching You" and "These Are My People" to his most recent smashes, "Take A Back Road," and "Farmer's Daughter," (which quickly skyrocketed to platinum,) and he's sold over four million singles in the past five years alone. The lead single and title track, "Take A Back Road," has propelled him to even bigger heights with its irresistibly catchy chorus and easygoing, windows down, breezy summer vibe. Rodney knew he had to record the Rhett Akins and Luke Laird song from the beginning. "It's one of those songs that the first time I heard it I thought, 'Boy, that feels good.' It's catchy and something you want to just crank up, but then, the more you hear it, you realize it's not just a ditty - it's about life. If you want it to be just summer ear candy, it can just be that, but also it's about getting right with your soul, coming down to earth." The public obviously agreed, as the tune reached platinum status just weeks after its release.
To capture just the right vibe for his new CD, TAKE A BACK ROAD, Rodney teamed up once again with producer Ted Hewitt, who co-produced both the platinum IF YOU'RE GOING THROUGH HELL (which featured the title track hit and 2006's most-played song of the year) and IT'S AMERICA. The two spent hours in Rodney's home studio painstakingly crafting each vocal and track, with Rodney paying attention to every minute detail on song after song. It's a process he cherishes almost as much as being onstage and one he takes extremely seriously.
"The biggest challenge is finding the kind of songs that really set you apart. Ted and I have talked about the accountability for the music - what works and what doesn't. You have to figure out what it is you came here to say and stick to that. I think you live and learn. I want to record songs that won't just be around for a little while. I look for stories people relate to - you don't want to be thinking about listening to a song, you want to be inside of it. It's like watching a movie."
The songs on TAKE A BACK ROAD are undeniably relatable --- from the sweetly honest battling couple who've drawn the lines down the middle of the bed in "Feet," to the fiercely parental pride-even-through-the-tough-times in "He's Mine." the tunes are chock full of emotions that any couple or family in modern-day America can identify with and find themselves experiencing and for Rodney, that real emotion is what he strives for in each and every note.
"With any successful song, you've got to sit back and ask yourself, why did this song connect? With a lot of songs, the approach is about how perfect things are or how messed up things are - it's one or the other. For me, real life is the ups and downs, and if I can, I like to get both sides of that in a song." Rodney also covers some new ground musically on the project with several tender love songs. Reluctant in the past to record them because many tend to express the same sentiments in the same predictable way, he found several songs for this record that capture the romance between a woman and a man in a unique, genuine way, without the sugar-coating. Tunes like "She's A Girl," about the mystery and power a female can wield over a male, and "Cabin In The Woods," about the beauty of stealing away to a remote place, approach the age-old subject in ways he could not only relate to, but felt fans would gravitate towards as well.
"I've never recorded love songs before. My love songs have been 'These Are My People' and 'Watching You' and 'Cleaning This Gun.' I've never gone down that road, because I wanted to find or write the type of song that was about something I can really relate to. Love is not all blue skies and no bills, it's gutters leaking and the cat messed in the fireplace. It's not convenient at all and you've got to make time for it - that's the toughest part of it."
Rodney also takes on subject of parenting in the tune "He's Mine." "While talking to my boy Elijah, who's nine, I started thinking about my teenage years and what all I put my parents through and what Elijah's gonna be like. I started thinking, 'Well it doesn't matter...I'm gonna be there for him and I'm gonna try my best.' "He's Mine is about unconditional love and it's one of the most diverse songs - it's kind of a "Watching You" for the teenage years, but completely different."
Although he can be soft-spoken and serious, Rodney demonstrates his appreciation for the funnier side of life through tunes like the warm and witty, "Family," about a quirky clan of characters gathered at a family reunion, and the laugh-out-loud, "She'd Rather Fight." The CD definitely features glimpses into Rodney's wild side, a side most often seen onstage during his energetic live shows where he jokes he "lets his shadow come out to play." Rodney took pains to ensure he captured that raw, live energy this time around. "This album is different in that it's got more edge on it; it's got a lot more dive-bombs. We recorded with a smaller band, so songs like 'Back Road' feel like they're right up in your face. Overall, it's a more soulful album."
Though his new crop of songs has some edge and the vocal energy may be amped up a notch, Rodney is still the same, hard-working, patriotic, rock-solid country boy that fans have grown to know and love since his debut with 2003's HONESTY. Rodney always makes time for volunteer opportunities amidst his touring schedule, as well as for visits to the Holston Methodist Home for Children in Greeneville, TN, where he was adopted as a small child. After all, the road back to the tiny hometown where he got his start may be a long one, but for Rodney, nothing could ever beat the power returning hometo your roots.