“I didn’t want to cut it,” Trace Adkins said of “I’m Tryin’,” the introspective lead single from his forthcoming album, Chrome. “And the label didn’t want me to cut it.” Monday (July 9), to mark the single’s release that day, Adkins held a press conference at Capitol Records’ Nashville office, where he talked bluntly about the song and a wide range of other topics.
One subject the artist didn’t touch on, however, was his arrest in Nolensville, Tenn., last week for drunk driving. He will respond officially to that charge July 23 in a Williamson County court. Before the press conference began, Adkins’ publicist warned reporters that both his manager and his lawyer had advised him not to talk about the arrest. Consequently, no one asked.
Adkins explained that Dann Huff, the new album’s co-producer, had brought him “I’m Tryin’” for consideration. “I listened to it and didn’t really hear myself doing it,” he continued. “So we get into the studio one day, and we’re trying to cut something the label [approved], but it wasn’t working out. We ran through it about three times with the band and never turned the red [recording] light on. [Huff] said, ‘This isn’t working for me, and it’s not working for you. … Let’s cut the “I’m Tryin’” song.’ I said, ‘Man, the label doesn’t want me to cut that.’ He said, ‘I’ll take the heat.’ … It was a good lesson for me: You’ve got to trust those guys. They know what they’re doing.”
Once Capitol president Mike Dungan heard the song, Adkins said, it became his favorite from the album. Chrome, which Trey Bruce also co-produced, is scheduled to be released on Oct. 23. It is Adkins’ fourth album for Capitol and, he said, “the most diverse project” he has ever done.
Adkins’ credited Huff with bringing things out in him musically that no one else has done. “He did simply because of the different kind of music he brought to the table. When we started out to do this project, I knew I was going to work with Trey Bruce on probably the bulk of it. But we had listed some other brilliant producers and kind of put the word out that, ‘Hey, if you think you’ve got a song that would be good for me, bring it to us and let us hear it. If we dig it, we’ll cut it.’ So the first thing Dann came with was ‘Chrome.’ We knew then we wanted to cut that. But then he just kept coming back with songs. So we ended up doing five with him.”
The plain-spoken Louisianian said he had been losing money on the road, which was one factor in his taking six months off from performing to record Chrome. “I’d been pretty much constantly touring since ’96,” he said, “and I thought it was just kind of time for me to step back for a little while, spend some time at home and really see what it was like again doing an album and it being my sole focus. That’s the way I made my first album.” He resumed touring in June and said he will remain “pretty busy” until September, at which time he will turn his attention to promoting the album.
When a reporter referred to Adkins’ “success” as a recording artist, he quickly dismissed the characterization. “Thank you for having that perception that I’ve had all this success,” he said with a grimace. “I appreciate that.”
He did agree, though, that he had accumulated enough clout to shape his third album, More, which came out in November 1999. “I had gotten to the point where I exercised pretty much complete creative control over what I did. I did exactly what I wanted to do, cut what I wanted to cut, and it sold the least copies of anything I’ve done [209,000 copies according to SoundScan]. So on this one, I said, ‘Help me.’ Every song that’s on this album was agreed on [in advance] by everybody involved, except for ‘I’m Tryin.’ … I didn’t try to flex any prima donna muscles on this deal.”
By now, Adkins has road-tested “I’m Tryin’,” and he said he’s satisfied with the results. “My daddy told me, ‘I didn’t really like the song that much the first time I heard it. But now that I’ve heard it two or three times, the message comes through a little better.’ I think that’s the kind of song this is. When we do it on the road, the people who sit there and really zero in on the lyric, they get it — and we get that good response from them. But for the other ones that are there just to see me dance for Granny, they don’t really respond that well to it. It’s not one of those get-up-there-and-wiggle songs.”
At the end of July, Adkins will shoot the music video for “I’m Tryin’,” a chore he’s approaching with his customarily wry sense of humor. “We picked a treatment that Steven Goldmann submitted. I read the treatment, and when I got to the end of it, I was totally confused. I had no idea what it was about. So I called up the label and said, ‘This is the one.’ … I remember when he got [the CMA] video of the year [award] on ‘This Kiss,’ where he had Faith [Hill] swinging in the air on a daisy. Somebody at some point had to have gone, ‘What the hell!’ I just thought, we’re going to let Steven get his creative juices flowing full-rate and let him run with it and see where we go.”
Adkins was signed to Capitol by then-president Scott Hendricks, who was soon ousted by Pat Quigley, who, in turn, was displaced by Mike Dungan. The singer seemed resigned to all this turmoil at the top. “I wouldn’t say it has redirected what I’ve done at all,” he mused. “But, you know, it’s sort of slowed things down. There’s just some unavoidable stuff that happens whenever the executive groups change over. It’s going to happen. But we’ve dealt with it. We just keep plugging along. But now things are great.”