20 Ouestions With Mark Wills

Mark Wills’ “Loving Every Minute” video, with its depiction of a policeman and his family rushing to the hospital for the birth of a new child, is a CMT favorite. The song is the title track from Wills’ latest CD. A new single, “I’m Not Gonna Do Anything Without You,” pairs him with labelmate Jamie O’Neal. The Georgia native’s recording career got underway in 1996 and includes hits such as “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Places I’ve Never Been” and “Back at One.” You sent in questions for Mark and we picked 20. He talks about the inspiration for the “Loving Every Minute” video, about where in the world he’d like to go and about how his band, Nokintobob, got their name.

1. I love all your videos, especially “Loving Every Minute.” Which is your favorite?

Probably my favorite to shoot was the very first video we ever did, for a song called ’High, Low and In Between.’ I got to fly in a 1941 Stearman Biplane all afternoon on what used to be the set of [TV show] Little House on the Prairie.

2. I love the video “Loving Every Minute.” Is this a real-life experience, or were you inspired by someone else to record this video?

My wife actually inspired the video. We were talking about how cool it was when our first child [Mally] was born. That’s the way we came up with the video for the song. I thought the song was a great tune, but it had several different meanings, and that was something I wanted to convey with the video.

3. Do you and Jamie O’Neal plan to release a video for your new single, “I’m Not Gonna Do Anything Without You”? It would go to No. 1 on CMT in no time.

I don’t know. I hope. It would be nice to have a video to share with the single, but right now we don’t have any plans. We’ve both been working so much that it’s kind of tough to get our schedules together. We’ll see. Who knows?

4. What is the most difficult thing to do when making a video?

The most difficult thing is sitting around and waiting. You may shoot 12, 14, 16 hours for a three-minute song. That’s the toughest part of shooting a video.

5. Do you think you will ever include Mally in your show? I saw you in New York and you played a tape of her singing. I thought it was a nice touch to the show.

She’s already involved in the show. She comes out most of the time when she’s on the road with us, comes out and sings with me a little bit. You never know, it could end up being a Mel Tillis/Pam Tillis thing.

6. Besides “Loving Every Minute of It,” my second favorite song on your CD is “The Balloon Song.” It’s a very touching song. What made you select it?

Anybody who knows my music knows I love real songs. I love songs that have real-life meaning. ’The Balloon Song’ is a true-life song. It actually happened. When I heard the story behind it, I thought it was just such an incredible tune that I had to record it. It happened to [writer] Casey Beatherd’s sister, and I don’t know all the detail behind it, the whens and wheres, but I do know it’s a real song.

7. I am the father of a wonderful 7-year-old girl. Mary-Kate and I heard your song “In My Arms” and it has now become our song. What was your inspiration for recording that song?

Well, I wrote that song about my daughter with two friends of mine in Nashville, Monty Criswell and Michael White. There was a lot of instant love going on when I wrote that song, because my little girl was only 4 or 5 weeks old at the time. That song, for me was something that I wanted to do for my little girl, because I felt like it was so important. She was such a new, yet very important, part of my life. I wanted to give her something.

8. You are my all-time favorite artist. I can remember being 13 and listening to your debut CD on repeat for hours. I would even listen in my sleep. It drove my parents crazy, but my favorite song is “What’s Not to Love.” What do you feel about this song, and why do you think that it wasn’t released as a single?

I don’t pick the singles for the records. I just record ’em. I think that was a great song. People get too caught up in their outward appearance. A lot of people miss a beautiful person because they only look for the outside. That’s something that that song really talked about. You could have been with someone for 20 years, and when you look back at pictures, they don’t look the same as they do now, but their spirit and their heart are still the same. That’s what people fall in love with eventually. People fall in love with someone’s beauty, but it’s their heart and their soul that they end up loving more than the outward beauty. That’s what that song is about.

9. I grew up in Blue Ridge, Ga., where you’re from. What did you like most about growing up in a small town? (Tony Underwood)

I think I like the same thing about it now that I didn’t like about it then. There’s a whole lot less that goes on there. I always wanted to be more involved in the fast lane. Now that I’m on the road and I’m gone away from home all the time, I would love to be able to go back and put my family in a small-town environment. There’s a whole lot less to do, but at the same time there’s a whole lot more opportunity to relax and to live.

10. Who were your influences to become a country singer?

I think everything’s an influence, whether it’s an influence for the good or for the bad. I grew up listening to stuff like Conway Twitty, like Ronnie Milsap, like Alabama, George Jones. I listened to a wide variety of country music. When I say a wide variety, you have your traditional country, you have your contemporary country. You don’t get a much bigger gap between traditional and contemporary than George Jones and Ronnie Milsap. Those were two of my favorites. I listened to a wide variety of country music; I listened to a wide variety of music in general. That was what sold me on country music – I loved the diversity in it.

11. How old were you when you decided to get into the music business?

I was about 4 (laughs). I really was. I can remember being a little kid and just singing, loving to sing, and telling my mom that’s what I was going to do for a living. Mom was like, ’If that’s what you want to do for a living, you do it.’ I think that was a nice, polite way of going, ’OK, you’ll change your mind.’ Sure enough, that’s what I set my goal to do, and I’ve been very blessed and very fortunate to get to make a living out of singing music, which is something I wanted to do my entire life. I feel very blessed to be able to sing for a living and to have a good time doing something I would be doing as a hobby if I wasn’t doing it for a living.

12. How did your band get its name, Nokintobob?

The band got the name Nokintobob because when I first started out on radio tours, back in late ’95, early ’96, every radio station I would go into, one of the first questions would be, ’Are you any kin to Bob Wills?’ I would say, ’No, I’m no kin to Bob. It just came about to where the more people would ask me that question, the faster [my answer] would get. ’No, I’m No-kin-to-Bob.’ My wife heard me say it and some of the guys at the record company heard me say it and they said, ’You ought to just name your band the Nokintobob Band.’ We took it and made one word out of it. Now, that’s the name of the band. People look at it and they think it’s like an Indian word or something. They’re like ’Mark Wills and …’ I go, ’Yeah, it’s just a long Indian word.’

13. How do you warm up or get prepared vocally before a concert?

Vocal coaches hate to hear this, but I don’t. I’m a person that God has blessed with a natural voice. I don’t mean that to sound like I’m bragging, but I don’t have to really warm it up now. If I’m sick or if I’ve got a cold or something, that’s a different story. But generally speaking, I don’t warm up. I go do it. I’ve been really blessed to have a voice that doesn’t take a lot of priming or a lot of pushing to get it to where it needs to be. I just go out, open my mouth and there it is.

14. You seem so confident coming on stage. What is the first thing you focus on when you greet your audience? Any special thing to look for to keep you from getting the jitters?

Normally, before we go out, my guys and I stand around the back, we say a prayer. We go out to have a good time. People don’t normally buy tickets to come to a show to not have a good time, so that’s the philosophy we take. If you’re coming to the show, you’re out there to have fun and you’re out there to hear the music. We feel like if we put the emphasis on the music and we put the emphasis on us having a good time, they’ll have a good time. A lot of entertainers try to outthink this business. It’s just music. It’s about going out and having fun and portraying the music with the dignity that it deserves. That’s what we try to do.

15. What’s your most embarrassing moment while performing live?

The most embarrassing moment, I was in Nashville, Tenn., which is the home of country music, and I was playing a show and I could not remember any of the words to any of my songs. I got stage fright. I messed up a song, and when I messed up that song, I got really nervous about being in Nashville. From that point on, I couldn’t remember any of the words to any of the songs. I was forgetting the words to ’Jacob’s Ladder’; I was forgetting the words to ’Places I’ve Never Been’; I was forgetting the words to big hit records that we had had for years. That’s a scary thing. I don’t have a lot in my life that I have to remember. I have to remember my daughter’s birthday. I have to remember my anniversary. I have to remember my wife’s birthday. Pretty much, other than that, all I have to remember are songs (chuckles). When you get stage fright, when something happens that throws you off and you forget the words to your songs, that’s an embarrassing yet horrifying moment, to be standing up there in front of that many people and not be able to remember any of the words to any of your songs. That was about two years ago at the Wildhorse [Saloon]. I had been on the road. I had been running myself ragged. We really had been on the go with no stopping whatsoever. That night it caught up to me. I was onstage and totally lost it, totally lost what I was doing and could not remember the words to the songs, could not remember anything, and it was a very, very scary and embarrassing evening.

[Daughter Mally interrupts, “Hello, Daddy” and a short conversation between father and daughter ensues.]

16. How has the tragedy of 9/11 impacted your life? Has it inspired you to record any material related to it?

I have recorded a song about it, but I chose not to use it. The reason I chose not to put it out was because I felt like, with everything going on, we just needed to get on with life. We needed to go on and try to live our life. Alan wrote a great song that’s done wonderful. I felt like you can almost fall into that whole thing of capitalizing on what happened. I didn’t want to do that. Music is entertainment. Music is supposed to make you feel good or feel bad or make you happy, make you sad. That’s what the songs are about. I felt like, after all that happened, and I got to looking at it, I thought it’s probably just best for me to go on doing what I do. You never know, on the next record I may have something out there that is a tribute or reflects that kind of mindset.

I did my album release for the Loving Every Minute CD in the harbor in New York City. I stood there and looked at the twin towers off of the USS Intrepid with my wife and family. We stood there and looked at those buildings, and I was telling my wife about the day that I played between ’em. I played at the World Trade Center, standing between the two towers, I played a concert there. I was telling her next time we go to town we’ll go see it, blah, blah, blah, and it’s no longer there. So removing myself from all of that, I think you’re going to hear a lot of songs about that kind of stuff. Therefore, I chose just to keep doing what I do and not dive in to make people feel like I’m trying to capitalize on a tragedy.

Once you have a couple songs of songs [about the situation], then you kind of feel like, well everybody’s just jumping on the bandwagon. That’s what I didn’t want to do. As an American citizen and someone who’s very proud to be an American, you want to defend your country, you want to speak your piece about that. At the same time, you also want to be very aware that we have a job to do, and our job is to entertain. Instead of getting on the bandwagon and doing something like that, I just felt like since I had just released a new album, it was probably better for me just to go on and do what I was doing off the album.

17. If you could go any place in the entire world, where would that be? Why?

I would love to travel around and play the world’s best 100 golf courses. I tell you what I would really love to do, and I’m probably going to get the opportunity to do that this year, is to maybe go over to the holy lands, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, places like that. I would really love to go over and see some of that area. That’s something I would enjoy doing. I’ve gotten to travel a lot of cool places. Without going to Hawaii or someplace on vacation, I think that would be cool to go over and see some stuff like that, some stuff that you read about or you hear about in church. Go and actually see those places. If you’re a religious person, if you believe in God and you believe in Christ, that’s something that is kind of the beginning of your faith. That’s where it all transpired. I think that would be cool, to go see some stuff like that. I’m doing some stuff with my church, and they’re planning a trip over there. If everything keeps going like it is, I’m going to try to go over. I think that would just be an awesome trip, very inspirational, very spiritual trip to get to go do something like that.

18. What is your favorite food?

My favorite food is food that doesn’t eat me first. I love all kinds of food. When traveling on the road, you have to be somebody who can eat a lot of different things. I eat everything from sushi to hot dogs and hamburgers. I love Italian food, I love Chinese food, I love Japanese food, I love Mexican food. I can pretty much eat anything. I’m not trying to balk on the answer, I just don’t have a favorite type of food. Last night I had Chinese food. We have a place down the road from my house that delivers. I had just flown in from Phoenix, after playing in the Phoenix Open Pro/Am [golf tournament] for a couple of days. I flew in and had Chinese food. I feel like I’m a pretty well rounded food guy.

19. Why did you cut your hair a few years back and go for the not-so-cowboy look?

I’m not a cowboy. I’m a country singer. There’s a difference in country singers and cowboys. It was no disrespect to anything. I just felt like there were a lot of people out there who had long hair. As confident and carefree about my hair as I was, I was kinda going with a different image and I didn’t have a problem cutting my hair. It was one of those things that, on the road, having to wake up and go to the radio stations, it kinda had become a problem. You have to get up an hour early to fix it, just to go into the radio station so you didn’t have a bed head. It was basically more out of convenience than anything. I just wanted to have a little less stuff to do in the morning, so I cut my hair off. Hey, I’m a dad. I kinda felt like it was time to do something different, to look a little different, to make a change.

20. What other artists besides country do you like?

I like a lot of different stuff. I like Aerosmith, I like Bon Jovi, I like Brian McKnight, I like … let me go over here [to his record collection] and I’ll just read you some stuff that I have on my wall. I’m looking right here, I have Bon Jovi records, I have NewSong, which is a Christian group involved in the church, I listen to a lot of their music. I like some of the old ’80s stuff like Bad English, I listen to Motley Crue. The biggest majority of my collection is definitely country music. I can go through here and, John & Audrey Wiggins, who used to be on Mercury. Bryan White. Best of the 80s country collection, a five-disc CD set, and right above that I have 80s rock monster ballads. I have a very wide … Delbert McClinton, Brent Mason, who plays on my records, who has a great solo record out. I have a very wide range of music that I listen to. It kinda keeps me from getting stale. I feel like if you constantly surround yourself and you never put anything else in your life other than one thing, you can get burned out on it. Therefore, I try my best to listen to different stuff all the time, to keep it fresh.