Amid the songs of love and lust, small town life and true American heroes, Trace Adkins even strives to expand the country vocabulary with his just-released album, Songs About Me.
And even if you weren’t aware that the word is street slang used to describe a particularly curvaceous female derriere, the definition becomes crystal clear on the album’s closing track, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.” Adkins admits he was unfamiliar with the word until he was pitched the song written by Randy Houser, Dallas Davidson and Jamey Johnson.
“I didn’t know what it meant,” he tells CMT.com. “It’s a hip-hop thing, but once you listen to the song and hear it in context, you know exactly what it means. … It’s just a fun song — just purely for fun. And I’ve got a few of those on every album, too.”
Lest you think Adkins is dabbling in hip-hop music, Songs About Me continues in the country vein he’s mined for the past eight years through hits such as “I’m Tryin’,” “Rough & Ready” and “Hot Mama.” And although Adkins didn’t write any of the 11 songs, he says, “A lot of the songs on this album seem like songs I’ve been waiting to record for my whole career.”
Among those is “Metropolis.” Written by Anthony Smith and Chris Wallin, the song is about a small town that has experienced its better days but nonetheless offers qualities unheard of in the big city. Except for the reference to the closing of a coalmine, the song could just as easily have been written about Adkins’ hometown near the Louisiana-Arkansas border.
“It reminded me of Sarepta, La., a little bitty small town,” he says. “Only in the last couple of years did they finally take the stop sign down and get a red light, so now they have one red light. I mean, that’s where I’m from. It’s not like this is a small town that’s a suburb of a city. This is a small town that is 50 miles from anything that resembles a city.
“In [nearby] in Springhill, La., when International Paper Company shut that paper mill down, it killed that town — I mean, absolutely put a dagger through its heart. So that’s where I’m from, and I sing that song from a place in my heart where I know what I’m talking about. I’m singing it as gospel.”
Another highlight is “Arlington,” a song inspired by U.S. Marine Cpl. Patrick Nixon, the first soldier from Tennessee killed during the war in Iraq. Songwriter Dave Turnbull wrote the song with Jeremy Spillman after meeting the soldier’s father.
“I knew that was the song I had been waiting a long time to record,” Adkins said. “I almost recorded ‘Letters From Home,’ and then for some reason, I was thinking, ‘It just doesn’t feel quite right.’ Of course, John Michael Montgomery had a bit hit with it — which was great. But then this song came along, and I said, ‘Oh, there it is. That’s what I’ve been waiting for.’ It’s just a nonpolitical song. It doesn’t glorify war at all or anything like that. It’s just simply playing tribute and homage and respect to the people who gave that last full measure.”
The album’s title track, written by Shaye Smith and Ed Hill, is still climbing the country singles chart. The lyrics and music video deal with a noncountry fan who happens to meet Adkins during a late night flight. In real life, Adkins doesn’t mind visiting with people who have no real clue of who he is or what he does for a living.
“I kind of get a kick out of it, you know,” he says, adding with a laugh, “It’s those type of people that I usually hit with my most politically incorrect position and just scare the … you know, and just make them think that I’m a Neanderthal.”
Propelled by three singles hitting the Top 3 — “Every Light in the House,” “(This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing” and “I Left Something Turned On at Home” — Adkins quickly scored a platinum album with his 1996 debut project, Dreamin’ Out Loud. Only recently, Adkins celebrated his second platinum album for his 2003 album, Comin’ On Strong. He candidly admits the early success gave him a somewhat distorted view of the difficulty in building a long-term career.
“I do realize how much work is involved in not only being successful in this business but having longevity in this business and being able to stick around for extended periods of time,” he says. “There’s just a lot of work on the part of a lot of people.”
He explains, “I think every artist when they get into this business, they have this perception about what it’s going to be like, and then the stark reality of it sets in. You find out how political the business is and just really how little talent has to do with it. It’s so much about politics and greasing the right palm, and it’s hard to take sometimes. That was the thing that surprised me.”
Through the hills and valleys, Adkins has maintained the personal tenacity essential within any artist who’s in country music for the long haul.
“I’ve just been determined to stick it out,” he says. “I said they’re gonna have to kill me to get rid of me until I decide that I’m done. When I decide that I’m done, I will go home — but not until then.”
In addition to his singing, Adkins’ voice has become a valuable commodity in other ventures. In addition to guest appearances on the animated TV series, King of the Hill, he recently provided the voice of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s national advertising campaign. He’s flattered that a recent poll at CMT.com revealed fans think he’s a perfect choice to narrate the upcoming Dukes of Hazzard film starring Burt Reynolds, Willie Nelson and Jessica Simpson.
“That’d be great,” Adkins says, carefully avoid commenting about an offer he hasn’t even received. “I would love to do that. I hope that somehow comes to pass.”
However, Adkins is always actively pursuing voice-over work.
“I have some William Morris agents in L.A. that are constantly looking for more of that stuff for me to do,” he says. “I enjoy doing it. I do. It’s fun.”
Asked whether his moonlighting has been more successful than he predicted, Adkins says, “It hasn’t been as successful as I thought it was going to be. I thought I could get some more of that work. It’s hard, though. That stuff’s hard. You need to be out there to be available all the time. I could get more of that work if I lived in L.A.”
When it’s suggested that a move to L.A. would be a big price to pay, Adkins smiles and snaps back, “I’m not gonna pay it.”