CMT Insider Interview: Alan Jackson

Jackson and Alison Krauss Make "Pretty Music" for His Upcoming Album

Editor’s note: See Lisa Lee’s interview with Alan Jackson on the new episode of CMT Insider debuting Saturday (Aug. 5) at 1:30 p.m. ET/PT.

MALIBU, Calif. — A few hours before Mel Gibson climbed behind the wheel and made international headlines with his DUI arrest, a stone sober Alan Jackson was just a few miles up the road shooting a new music video.

Director Randee St. Nicholas set up shop on the beach at the Leo Carillo State Park, just off the Pacific Coast Highway near Los Angeles. Jackson scrambled over rocks to make it to the set on the edge of the surf while curious beachcombers snapped pictures and watched over the nearby cliff.

A beach scene may not be the first thing you think of when Jackson comes to mind, but he’s shaking things up — both visually and musically. For his first country album since 2004, Jackson has enlisted Grammy winner Alison Krauss as producer.

The video supports their first collaboration, “Like Red on a Rose,” the lead single from his yet-to-be titled collection that’s due in September. Krauss’ skills in the control room have given Jackson’s familiar sound a fresh new twist. A bluesy guitar riff wraps itself around Jackson’s warm vocals, crafting a moody and beautiful creation that is just a hint of things to come on the new album.

During a break in the video shoot, a jovial Jackson sat down with CMT Insider to talk about the video, working with Krauss and the excitement of going down a different path.

We’re used to seeing you on a body of water, but it’s usually a lake and not the ocean. How did you end up shooting here?

I just happened to be out here on the West Coast, so the director was out here as well, so they decided to shoot something here on the Coast. Man they’re working me to death! I’ve got to go out and walk on the beach. It’s tough! (laughs)

Are you wearing your boots in your walk down the beach?

Yeah, that’s what they want me to do. They want me to walk out in the water and ruin them.

Those are too nice to ruin.

Well, we’ll just charge it to [the record label]. How ’bout that? (laughs)

This new single sounds so different for you, yet it seems right for your voice. What struck you about this song?

Being a songwriter myself, I just loved the song. Robert Castleman wrote this, and he’s just a really interesting songwriter. I recorded a song of his before on one of my albums ["Maybe I Should Stay Here" from 2000's When Somebody Loves You], but this song, just automatically when I heard it, just lyrically it was real strong. I love the melody. It’s just a waltz, but if it sounds different, it’s because of Alison’s production.

How did you and Alison end up working together?

I went up to New York last year when we were doing something at Carnegie Hall. I’ve been wanting to make a bluegrass album for years, so I finally asked her if she wanted to do a bluegrass album on me, and she said, yeah, she was interested in doing it. We started working on it, and we did this album, and there’s not a bit of bluegrass on it. (laughs) She had this other concept she wanted to do after we got started, the type songs, the whole production and sound. I don’t know what to call it, really. It’s just a more mature listening album and reflective songs for somebody my age, and it really turned out to be a real moody and pretty album.

You’ve been doing this a long time, and what you’ve been doing has been working for you. Were you open to doing something different?

Initially, I was reluctant, but I guess I felt like at this time in my life and career that I needed something — an album that wasn’t as typical. Everyone was getting used to the same thing over the years, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I needed maybe something that was a little more about where I’m at in my life, maybe not musically but songwise, I guess. Anyway, I was reluctant, but we went in and cut three sides just to see. I didn’t understand her concept on production initially, so we did three songs to see how they turned out. They were really pretty and everyone at the label was on board with it, so we decided to do a whole album. I kinda let Alison run with this thing.It was her baby. She brought all these songs to the table. There’s one of my old songs that I wrote years ago that was on an album early in my career but was never a single. We re-did it, and it doesn’t sound anything like the original. She made a cool record out of it.

This album won’t be out until fall, but your gospel album has been out this year and is doing really well. I understand that wasn’t even supposed to be released, right?

Initially, it was just a Christmas present for my mama. She had been asking me for years to do a gospel album. I wanted to do it but never had the time to actually work on it. So we went in this winter and threw it together in about three days for a Christmas present with hardly any instruments on it. It was her Christmas present. Then the record label wanted to put it out, and a lot of people have seemed to enjoy it.

Was she excited that it did so well?

Oh yeah, but I think she was just excited to have it. I think she was just excited to have something she could share with some of her friends and people who weren’t country music fans. She knew they’d love that, you know.