In these cold winter months, Kenny Chesney provides a glimpse of the island life, with his new studio album When the Sun Goes Down, due Tuesday (Feb. 3). In the first segment of a two-part interview with CMT.com, the tan Tennessee native remembers his own post-graduation road trip, what hangovers and relationships have in common and the view from his favorite blue chair.
CMT: In the locker room scenes for your video of “There Goes My Life,” did you flash back to your days in high school?
Chesney: No doubt about it. When I heard that song a lot of things flashed through my mind. I felt that “There Goes My Life” is a song about transitions and one of my biggest transitions was the last time that I played high school football. The last game — that’s a pretty real feeling to know that you’re never going to put those shoulder pads on ever, ever again, you know? My buddies and I grew up. None of us were going to play college football, so that last game was the last game. That’s one of the first big transitions in my life, and so that’s why I wanted to take that direction with the video.
Were you a fan of high school?
Was I a fan of high school? Certain parts. (laughing) Yeah, but I don’t know that I’d go back. But yeah, I had a good time in high school.
I know you headed off to Myrtle Beach after your graduation for a while. What do you remember the most about that trip?
Not a lot! (laughing) We had a good time, I know that. It was just a bunch of guys that put our stuff in a couple of pickup trucks and drove from Knoxville to Myrtle Beach for a senior trip. I haven’t seen a lot of those guys in a long time since then … you know, a few times. But looking back, it was drinking goodbye to all of them, and that’s the way it was. Yeah, we had a great time, and I’d do that again. (laughing)
The song that struck me the most on your new record was “Anything But Mine.” It’s a powerful song, and a little different from what you hear on other people’s records. When you’re listening to thousands of songs for a record, how do you find a song like that?
It’s a gut feeling. Everybody has their own history and their own past and their own truth about their life. The first time I heard “Anything But Mine,” you’re right, it was definitely not the same thing you’d hear on everybody else’s record. That’s the first thing I loved about it. But when I was in college, I went to Daytona for spring break, and I fell in love with this girl from Georgia for a week, and we hung out all week, and that’s what this song is about. Summer love at a beach and maybe experiencing, tasting love for the first time and having to let it go all in the same seven-day period. That song painted a picture of that moment in my life, more than a lot of them have. No doubt about it.
I was surprised to hear songs like “Being Drunk’s a Lot Like Loving You” and “Keg in the Closet,” because you have a reputation for staying healthy and being fit. Are you still a partier?
(laughing) Well, I don’t party around town, but when I go to the islands, I let it loose a little bit. I had a lot of fun in college, no doubt about it. “Keg in the Closet” is definitely a song about my existence of hanging out in a fraternity house for a couple of years. We had a good time and that’s a very real song about that time in my life. “Being Drunk’s a Lot Like Loving You” is one of those songs where I learned the hard way — when you go out and have a little bit too much to drink, and you wake up with a hangover. And if the hangover is bad enough, the pain in your head never seems to go away, and you swear you’re never gonna drink again. …Well, it’s the same way with getting your heart broken, same way with love. If you break up with somebody or they break up with you, or it just doesn’t work out, the pain never seems to go away, and you swear that you’re never gonna love again. There’s just a correlation there. What’s really tough is when you experience both those things in the same 24 hours. (laughing) So that’s where that song came from.
I also liked “Old Blue Chair,” which you wrote. I really liked your perspective. How did that one come about?
I wrote more songs on this record than I have in the past couple. I got into the business as a songwriter, and it’s part of my life that I love a lot. When I went through a pretty rough time, after my fiancée and I broke up, I discovered this little island down in the Caribbean. I stayed at this little house, and on this certain stretch of beach, there was this blue rocking chair. I would just sit in the sun and read all day and listen to music. I realized that over the past four or five years, a lot of the pictures that I’ve taken down there had that blue chair somewhere in it. We were either sitting in it, or it was in the background. So I said, “What can I write about this chair?” And I realized that I’ve lived a lot in that chair in the past couple years. Like the song says, “I’ve read a lot of books, wrote a few songs, looked at my life, where it’s going, where it’s gone. I’ve seen the world through a bus windshield, but nothing compares to the way that I see it when I sit in that old blue chair.” That’s the view of the world that I love. That’s where the song came from.
When you go back there now and sit in it, what do you see now that you didn’t see before?
Well, it’s a different view. I’m not as mad at the world as I was when I first sat in that chair. (laughing) I was pretty mad when I first sat in that chair, the breaking-up with my girlfriend and all that kind of stuff. It’s more of a sigh of relief now when I sit in that chair than it was before. (laughing)
You mentioned reading earlier. What do you like to read?
I just finished reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven. That’s a really great book. I love Hemingway, and for the third time I just read The Old Man and the Sea. It’s one of my favorite books ever.
You grew up in east Tennessee, but you’ve got that island-and-sea theme going, even with reading Hemingway.
Somewhere in my family tree, there was somebody that loved the islands, and I don’t know who it was. (laughing) But I got it. Yeah, I grew up in east Tennessee. It’s kind of odd that I grew up in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and I still love that, but I’ve really, really got a love affair for the tropics. No doubt about it.