As one of the leading touring acts of 2003 — in any genre — Kenny Chesney wants to outdo himself this year. And he’ll leave the yelling to his audience when his Guitars, Tiki Bars and a Whole Lotta Love tour with Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley kicks off March 17 in Houston. In the second segment of this two-part interview with CMT.com, Chesney talks about keeping his throat healthy, a concert that changed his life and the moment he knew he had arrived. Chesney’s new album, When the Sun Goes Down, arrived in stores on Tuesday (Feb. 3).
CMT: What can fans expect from your tour this year?
Chesney: I’m kind of contradicting myself cause I’m not really a big, huge believer in production. I think the music has to come first, and I think that’s one thing that the band and I have tried — to really be sure that does happen. But our set’s going to be a little bigger this year. (laughing) It’s gonna rival anything that’s out there in rock ‘n’ roll and definitely country. We took blueprints from some of the best sets we’ve seen, and it’s grown a little bit since last year. But still we want to try to keep the music first. It’s crazy because it is an intimate set, but then again, it’s a lot bigger set. I just feel like that every time somebody comes to see you, they should get something a little different. I try real hard. I work real hard. I stay up nights thinking of ways to make my show great and to make somebody come to that show. Maybe there’s somebody out there that’s never been to a concert before, ever, or maybe that they don’t know my music that well, or maybe they’ve heard a song or two on the radio. But when they come and they experience our live show — it’s become less of a show and more of an experience in the past couple years — hopefully they’re gonna leave there saying, “I’d like to tell all my friends and come back next time.”
You spend a lot of time concentrating on eating right and keeping your body healthy, but last year, a lot of stars were losing their voice, or they had surgery or they hurt their throats. How do you keep your voice healthy?
I’ve been lucky. I don’t abuse my body too much. I don’t abuse my voice that much. I’ve learned that talking a whole lot is worse for you than singing, so when I’m off stage, I don’t really talk that much. It sounds crazy, but I try not to. You’ve got to, in doing what I do, but you learn not to yell through the bus, and you just try to be very respectful of your voice because it is your bread and butter.
I’ve noticed, when I read your interviews, that you mention Conway Twitty a lot. He doesn’t get mentioned a lot by the current folks out there. What is it about his music that appeals to you?
Conway Twitty, to me, was one of the best song guys in the world. Anything he sang, you can tell that he meant it. Whether he did or not, you can tell that he’s gonna make somebody believe he did. And I just loved his heart, and I loved that he put all of his body and heart and soul into every note. I sing a lot about women, and I took that from the Conway Twitty page of country music. I just love his music. I always have. Conway played with George Jones and Merle Haggard in Knoxville, Tenn., on Thanksgiving night a long time ago, and I went with my family. Conway came on stage and they said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Conway Twitty.” And that’s all they did. The band didn’t play or anything. It was really odd to see a band not play the opening number. Conway just walks on stage, looks at the crowd, grabs the microphone and goes, “Hello Darlin’.” And the place goes crazy. And I thought, “That’s what I want to do.” (laughing)
Conway Twitty pretty much performed up until the day he died. Are you planning on singing for years to come or maybe retiring early?
I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of dreams left. Who knows when that time comes? Maybe I will be doing it until the day I die. Hopefully it’s not tomorrow. I can definitely see myself doing this for a long time, but I can also see myself cutting back, too, and spending some more time in the islands and trying to find a balance and a happy medium in the next 10 years. I’ve still got a lot of drive in me and got a lot of things I want to accomplish in country music and in music in general, and I’m not ready to give up the spotlight just yet. The guys and I are loving what we’re getting to do out there on the road, and we’re loving the fact that people not only hear our songs on the radio, but they’re passionate enough about it to fill an arena and experience it with us. That doesn’t get to happen to everybody, so I’m not ready to give it up just yet.
What are your dreams that you haven’t accomplished yet?
I would like to do a whole stadium tour. One of my favorite albums ever was an old Elvis Presley double live album (laughing), and I’d love to do that. I had that album forever. I’d love to be able to do one of those. Just stuff. I’ve got more songs in me. I’ve got more songs I want to write. I’ve got more songs I want to sing. I just want to keep trying to find songs that people … can live with and have fun with and cry with and love with and get pissed off with, you know?
I hear you talking about your music, but do you have any ambition for a sitcom or movie role?
You know, isn’t it funny though, why is it when somebody gets a record deal it automatically gives them a license to act?
I don’t know. That’s a very good question.
I don’t understand it. All of a sudden, “You know what? I want to be an actor.” Some people can do it. No doubt about it, my two best friends in the music business, Tim and Faith, I’ve seen what they’ve done and they did a great job. I think Dwight Yoakam is a great actor. I think Reba is doing a hell of a job. But certain people [say], “Well, I’m going to be on Walker Texas Ranger.” You know that’s bull. I’m just now getting to where I can do this music thing the way I want to.
To go do a movie takes six months out of your life. I’m not saying I’ll never do something, but I don’t aspire to be an actor. I don’t want to be in a sitcom. I want to sing country music. I want to get up there on stage, and I want to do what I do best. I don’t want to be an actor. I’m not saying I’m never going to do a part in something, because some people are really good at it and I might be, too. I don’t know. I’ve just never tried it and never wanted to. But I couldn’t ever read for a part. If somebody gave me a part I could do it with a lot of heart, and I believe I could do it well, but I’m not the kind of guy who can go read for a part and be judged in front of other people. I don’t want to do that at all.
How about hosting?
Hosting an awards show?
Oh, I could do that, yeah, no doubt about it. I’d like to do that one day. I mean it takes a lot of time, but yeah, that’d be cool. I could do that.
You’ve got a new record and a new tour. Anything else big this year coming up?
That pretty much does it. We’re all excited to get back out there. Last year was the best year of our life on the road, and it was a bittersweet feeling when we had to let it go in Louisville, Ky., last year on the last show of the year. We were all worn out and wanted to get off the road. It was tough that last night.
What was tough about it?
You live with those guys and all your crew guys and everybody in your whole organization. You wake up with those people. They’re the first faces you see every morning when you get off the bus. You don’t even do that with your family, so they become your family in a sense. It was tough letting everybody go. But as soon as the tour was over, we went down to the islands. I rented the corporate Hooters jet and took my whole organization down to the islands. (laughing) It was a lot of fun. We had Hooters girls giving us Corona and curly fries at 8 o’clock in the morning. (laughing)
That’s when you knew you made it.
Yeah, somebody said that. They asked me, “When did you first realize that you made it?” I said, “Well, we were somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, and my whole organization was sitting on a Hooters corporate jet with Hooters girls as airplane stewardesses, and they were giving us Corona and hot wings and curly fries at 9:30 in the morning, and nobody had been asleep since the night before in Louisville, and I went, ‘This is pretty cool.’”