Spending Time With Clint Black (Part 1 of 2)

Spend My Time Offers His First Album of New Music in Five Years

Clint Black is entering a new phase of his career with Tuesday’s (March 2) release of Spend My Time. His personal life had already changed substantially since 1999 when he released his last album of new music, all-acoustic D’Lectrified.

On the personal side, he and his singer-actress wife, Lisa Hartman Black, became the parents of their first child, Lily Pearl. They soon sold their home in Los Angeles to became full-time residents of Nashville.

Black’s career changes are perhaps even more drastic. Departing his longtime record label, RCA Nashville, three years ago, Black became a founding partner of Equity Records in 2003. As the first artist to record for the Nashville-based independent label, Black’s Spend My Time is the company’s first release.

In this first installment of a two-part interview with CMT, Black talks about the new album and his continued involvement with two familiar collaborators, Steve Wariner and longtime band member Hayden Nicholas. In the second part running Tuesday (March 2), Black explains how the business climate in country music led him to establish Equity Records as a label that will give artists greater control of their work.

CMT: Steve Wariner will be getting paid royalties for co-writing the track “A Lover’s Clown.” I assume he got musician’s union scale for playing the guitar on the track. Did you have to pay him for sketching the portrait of you that’s on the inside cover?

Black: Actually, no. (laughing) That was complimentary, and he did it in a flash. I couldn’t believe it. He’s just a great talent. I have a couple of his watercolors hanging in the house that he gave me from years ago, and they’re great. I thought Steve could put some kind of art in there, and I didn’t know he did these other styles. So then he said, “You know I have this idea and you can use it if you like, you know, but … .” He’s so nice, he just wanted to make sure that I was happy. I was thrilled.

His guitar work is still good, too.

Oh, he’s a hacker. He’s what we’d call a strummer. (laughing) No, that’s an old guitar players’ joke that can’t be true of him. He’s one of those people that you gotta be careful getting around because they either make you want to play — or make you want to never play again.

Before the recent move to Nashville, had you ever lived here before?

I moved here in ’91, and that was the year that Lisa and I got married. So we kept her house in California all these years and had just gone back and forth. We’d spend a few months a year in Nashville, just depending on what was going on in our work life. We had never really been here constantly, but we have now. I guess we’re coming up on two years. It’s different. We both grew up in Houston, which is a big city, although I didn’t know it growing up. I grew up on the bayou on the west side of town thinking I was Tom Sawyer. And Lisa’s lived out in California for years acting, so it’s a little different in lifestyles. Especially when you consider being new parents and having Lily, Nashville is the best place to be.

Do you think being in Nashville on a permanent basis had any effect on how you approached the new album?

The one difference with this album that was definitely a result of being here was the mixing process. I had my home studio built by the time I started mixing. I had a console that I knew how to use so … my engineer would set up the mixes and get them to his satisfaction. Then he would leave, and I would come in and finish out the mixes myself in most cases. I could sit at the console and do whatever I wanted to the mix and then undo it. Because of technology, I could come back the next day and listen to that versus where I had left off. It allowed me to extend the mixing process beyond the normal two to three week maximum. I was able to really fine-tune the mixes more than I had ever been able to before because of just renting studio time, engineer availability and all of that stuff.

As far as the performance, it seems like your vocals are a little looser than usual.

Well, I think I’m a better singer today than I was last year or five years ago. I think I’m not afraid to let go. I don’t know if I approached it any differently than say D’Lectrified, but I think I just had fun with it. I had more fun making this album than any album before, and I think that that’s partly also due to home recording and having that stuff at my fingertips. … So I can sing it five times and then take the best line from each performance, and I think it might actually come off as looser. Somebody else said to me, “It sounds like you’re really having fun on this album,” and I think that’s really the key to it. If it has that loose feel, it’s because it’s one of the most fun albums I’ve made.

Hayden is still co-writing with you and playing on the albums. In this day and age, it’s almost amazing to find anyone collaborating as long as the two of you have. What has made that relationship work over the years?

Well, I think we’ve become great friends, and he’s a great talent. He’s still in my band. I told everybody in my band when we started putting the band together for the RCA showcase, “We’re going to look around 30 years from now and see the same faces. We’re going to treat each other well, and nobody’s going to do anything that we can’t get past. We’re just going to go down this long road together so that we have … a history to look back on.” And it’s always been my intention for us to go down this road together. With the exception of a fiddle player and another guy that left to pursue his own career, I still have the same guys in my band, and that’s highly valuable to me.

The album’s title track is obviously doing well on the charts right now. What other tracks do you see as potential singles?

They’re talking about “My Imagination,” “She’s Leavin’,” “We All Fall Down.” I know a few people have thrown out “The Boogie Man” as a possibility and “If I Had a Mind To.” They’re going to come me as some point and say, “You might want to work on a video treatment for this,” or “Give me a radio edit for this.”

You’re going to have to do a radio edit for the end of “We All Fall Down.”

Absolutely. (laughing) As far as I know, they’re not adding any five and a-half minute songs to the play list.

The copyright on “She’s Leavin’” is listed as 1997, but you actually wrote it several years before that.

Yeah, I wrote that about 22 years ago. I always intended to record it and kept it in the running for each album. I always have two to three albums worth of material written when I go in to record, and I just always have to put things off ’til the next album. That one just kept getting put off. So I finally said, “No more. It has to go on.” Hayden’s playing the rhythm guitar, but I’m doing all the featured guitar. We’ve done it live a couple times, and it’s really challenging because it’s not an easy song to sing. And although the guitar parts aren’t that fancy, it’s my song to be jumping through a hoop. It’ll be that anxious moment for me every night just because I’m not really a lead guitarist. I just play one on stage.

Artists usually give a general “thank you” to their fans somewhere on the CD booklet, but this time around you were particularly specific about how their purchase affects you and your ability to keep the music flowing. What’s the danger of people taking that for granted?

There’s a real danger to our music culture, especially when it comes to these pirating downloads and file sharing. You know, it seems harmless enough to burn off a copy for a friend and say, “You’ll love this.” But what everybody has to remember, especially the fans, that if this is not profitable to a record company, you will not see another album out. So if you love that artist enough to steal their music or give it to a friend for free, go buy it and make your friend go buy it because that enables the artist to make another album.

You really can kill off an artist by not making them profitable to a record company. It’s really important, and I’m really afraid for our music culture. You can see some of the greatest artists in pop culture go away because the record company couldn’t make any money off of them. The record companies are scared right now because of all this, and they’re downsizing. You’re going to see not only a downsizing in their staff, but you’ll see a downsizing on their roster. Artists will have to go away if they cannot make them profitable.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.