A decade into his remarkable career, Tim McGraw notched two of his all-time biggest hits in 2004 — the Grammy-winning crossover hit “Live Like You Were Dying” and the radio-dominating duet with Nelly, “Over and Over.” Both songs appear on McGraw’s latest album, Greatest Hits Vol. 2, joined by four new songs and 10 more favorites. CMT Insider caught up with McGraw in New York City to talk about his own personal favorites, recording “When the Stars Go Blue” and what fans can expect in the future.
CMT: Does it feel like this is your 10th album?
McGraw: Sometimes it does. Sometimes it feels like I’ve done 20. But I still feel young. I don’t feel like I’m old yet, so I guess that’s a good thing. This is probably 16 or 17 years I’ve been making a living playing music, which is like 83 in road years. The same guys have been with me pretty much. It’s cool to know that you can be 10 albums into a career and 15 or 17 years into it and still playing on the road. I still feel like I’m just beginning to learn how to do it. I feel like I’m just starting to get better. I try to get better on every project, but I feel like now I’m starting to get a handle on it a little bit. I feel like there’s tons of room for improvement. That’s all I want to do as an artist is try to get better and better and do better projects and make better music.
When you listen to this album, do you hear where you’ve changed?
Yeah. Gosh, I cringe sometimes when I go back and listen to some of the stuff. I mean, I’m proud of all the work that we’ve done, and you never let go of a project where you’re completely satisfied. If you had three years to work on a project, you’d work on a project for three years. As an artist, the vocal never sounds quite right. The guitar never sounds quite right. You have to let it go at some point, and I think every artist would tell you that. But some of those imperfections are what makes music real and what makes music honest. If there’s anything that I’d ever want anybody to say about my music is that it’s honest. That’s what I try to do as an artist — lay it on the table. Either believe me or don’t believe me, but at least think that I believe me.
Does this album make it easier for you to reflect on your success?
No. … I can’t sit down and look back because still I feel like there’s so much to look forward to. One of these days, I’ll sit on a rocking chair and kind of hang out with my wife [Faith Hill], and we’ll talk about “back when.” But we both feel like we’re so young in our careers, even though to a lot of people it may seem like we’ve been around for a while. To us, we’re still very young and green. Every time I hear an old record, I learn something. Every time I hear a new artist, I learn something. If you stop learning, I guess that’s when you should start making a whole bunch of different kinds of albums. But for me, I’m still learning and still want to get better. My wife feels the same way.
Are there any hits on this disc that are your personal favorites?
“The Cowboy in Me” has always been one of my favorites. “Real Good Man” has been fun live. The Nelly song, “Over and Over,” has always been fun to do. There’s nothing on there that I don’t like. I’ve never cut a song that I didn’t want to put on an album or that I was afraid to release to radio. Hopefully, one thing that fans can know when they get an album of mine — whether it’s a greatest hits or new songs — I hope that fans will always think that every song will be a good song. I wouldn’t just throw some songs on there to fill out an album.
What do you remember about recording “When the Stars Go Blue”?
We played with that song for a full day in rehearsal, trying to find something that worked. We finally found a groove on it. … We started messing around on the guitar riff, and it turned into a whole ’nother animal than what we had heard before. Then we started falling into it, playin’ it. It became this great “put your head down and go” groove, which was so much fun for us. It had such a big full sound. Who the hell knows what it’s talking about, but it was a lot of fun singing it and cutting it. It’s a great sounding record. Sonically, it sounds great. The band played it great. We have fun playing it. It sits in a weird place — and I like that. It’s a little left-handed.
Do the new songs on this album give your fans a preview of what’s to come?
I think so. I think it’ll give you kind of a little lead-in to what’s coming on the new stuff that we’re recording. We always like to do stuff a little left-of-center anyway, and do songs a little differently. It’s great recording with my band because we can have sort of a different feel than what we would normally have. I think it brings a lot to the table with our music. The way I sing and the way they play, it all fits together really well. I hope that it will give you a little glimpse at what’s coming.
Laura Douglas is a producer for CMT Insider.