Tim McGraw: In His Own Words (Part 1 of 2)

Tim McGraw surprised the Nashville industry by recording his new album in the Catskill Mountains in New York State — with his longtime touring band. In the first excerpt from a recent press conference in Nashville, the 35-year-old singer explains why he chose to shake things up for Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors, due in stores Tuesday (Nov. 26).

Q: Talk to us about having your band on this album.
A: The studio guys are great musicians, and I’m sure I’ll make records like that again, and I’m proud of the records I’ve made like that. For a while, I’ve wanted to record with my band, but it’s mainly been a matter of time. We’ve been so busy on the road, and if we weren’t on the road, we were trying to do something over here, or do something over there. This is the first year they only did a handful of shows — only did like 18 to 20 shows or something this year — so I had time to really spend time like I wanted to do on it. We spent six weeks in our warehouse rehearsing the songs, going over like 25 songs, and in the studio we had plenty of time to do overdubs and stuff like that. … I wanted to get the kind of sound that I grew up listening to, some of the ‘70s stuff — ‘70s country and ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll and ‘70s R&B and that really cool, thick sound — so we recorded analog. It was up in the Catskill Mountains, so we isolated ourselves. It was like a bunch of guys on a submarine with their mission. That’s what we tried to make it like.

Q: What excites you most about your new album?
A: It’s like a new project, like my first record. It’s like a renewed energy. A lot of times, the artist is counted on so much to deliver the heart and soul of what the record is. I think with this record, the thing that makes it so appealing to me — I never like to listen to myself — but I get to listen to these guys instead of listening to me all the time. … If you didn’t know that I did it with my band, you probably wouldn’t really pick up on it, or you would but you didn’t know why. I think that every lick that’s played, from every percussion shot to every lead riff or anything that’s played on the record, these guys are putting everything they have into it. It’s like everything they’ve worked for their whole life has come down to this note that they’re playing on these records. It’s the first time they’ve gotten to play on a record, and everybody’s really excited about it. There’s just so much heart and soul off of every instrument in this record that it put me at a different level as a singer, and I think overall it makes that record feel so. … It’s like some homemade soup or something on a cold day.

Q: The average listener may not know the difference between studio and live band. Explain in common terms why this is a big deal.
A: Studio guys are the best players in the world. It’s not just Nashville, it’s in the industry. This is the way records are made. It’s the way, for the most part, records have always been made. … I wanted to go in with my band — like I said, we’ve been together for a long time — to get that kind of sound that just sounds like a band playing. We’ve always fancied ourselves a glorified garage band when we play in clubs. We got to go into a “garage,” so to speak, with just all the toys and bells and whistles that you would want as a band to record. And we got to go in and start recording at 3 or 4 in the afternoon and stay until 3 or 4 in the morning. It’s like living in a bus with all your best friends and just playing music all night.

Q: People might say you broke the rules by recording in New York state. Why did you decide to go outside of Nashville?
A: I don’t know if I broke any rules. Other people have done that. For these guys stepping in, just being my band, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on these guys or an expectation of what you want these guys to sound like. I didn’t want to be in the studio with everybody worried about if it was gonna work or if the band was gonna sound good. … I didn’t want family dropping by saying, “Man, how’s it going, are you excited?” and friends coming by going, “Man, I can’t believe you’re cutting on a record,” and everybody getting all frazzled. I just wanted to just remove everybody from that environment to where it was as comfortable as it could possibly be.

Q: Describe a typical day at the studio.
A: It was great because it was like 15 bedrooms. It was an old Dutch farmhouse, so it had small bedrooms, and no TVs in anybody’s bedroom. There are two main TV rooms. It was wood and it had little space heaters, old tile bathrooms and wooden floors everywhere. It would snow in the mornings, and there was snow on the ground, and it would melt off in the afternoons, and it was just beautiful. It had an old kitchen and an old big table in the dining room. When everybody would get up in the morning, we’d sit around this table and serve these huge breakfasts. So about 9 o’clock, we’d have breakfast, and everybody would start going to individual little rooms and doing overdubs and working on stuff that we worked on the night before and the tracks. I would go do some vocals, somebody else would go do some guitar tracks, somebody would do some piano tracks, somebody would be on the computer after we transferred everything out of the analog system — we put it on the computer to work on stuff. Everybody was always busy. Then around 3:30 or 4 o’clock, we’d meet in the main room again and start getting ready. Martini time, I guess, around 4, and start making records.

Q: Do you miss it when you are not playing shows?
A: I don’t miss it until I am doing it. You know what I mean? When I’m at home, I don’t miss going out and doing it. It’s almost like, ‘Ahhh, I gotta go do a show, I gotta leave home.’ But then when you step out and start doing it, that’s when you miss it. For me anyway.

For the second part of Tim McGraw’s interview, click here.

For CMT.com’s Tim McGraw artist page, click here.