20 Questions With Pat Green

Talks About Chants, Integrity, Barbecue and Touring With Chesney and Urban

Pat Green could have been a preacher. His infectious grin, truthful lyrics and high-energy performances have earned him a faithful flock in Texas. Now he’s out to convert the rest of the world with his new CD, Cannonball, and his latest hit, “Feels Just Like it Should.”

During a recent visit to CMT’s offices, he answered fans’ questions about his unique niche in country music and his tours with Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban. Along the way, Green fails to flinch as he responds to allegations that he’s selling out his integrity to grab a wider audience. And, finally, he shares his wife’s idea to make the Texas barbecue experience even better.

1. Where do you get all that energy? As a mom of four kids, I need some of that!

Really, I feel like as a musician, you get the energy off of watching the crowd react to you. And if you can’t, there’s something wrong with you, I think. So it’s really kind of a false energy. … But when you stand in front of a crowd and they’re screaming at you and they’re singing the words … for whatever reason, those words connect with them, and they feel that they have to scream at the top of their lungs. It’s such a thrill. It’s a feeding frenzy. You’re feeding them and they’re feeding you, and it just keeps on growing and growing and growing until the last song.

But as far as how I get up for my kids, I just have my wife get up. I’m just kidding. I have no answer for that. You have four kids? I have two kids, and I don’t have enough energy for them now. I have no idea. I feel like you might consider hiring somebody.

2. You make such a big deal about meeting your fans, and at several concerts, you’ve told the crowd you’re not leaving until you shake every hand in the place. With Cannonball, I think you are going to blow up and really have a great year. Are you still going to do that when you are the headliner at these stadium shows and arenas? And will you still play the old faithful [venues] across Texas when the rest of the world finds out what they’ve been missing?

On the last two arena and stadium tours with Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban, I watched those guys shake hands with their fans night after night. If it’s not too much for them, it’s not too much for me. As far as playing faithful clubs and dancehalls, I’ll quote my friend Darrell K. Royal [former football coach at the University of Texas], “You’ve got to dance with the one that brought you.”

3. What was it like touring with Keith Urban?

That was just an amazing show. The show is so incredible and the musicians were just so over the top talented, and you pile that on top of everybody being just the nicest people you ever met in your life. It was the perfect touring experience. And I have to say, I cannot draw any distinction between touring with him and touring with Kenny Chesney but to say that Kenny’s catering was a little better. But that’s hardly a distinction to make.

4. You can headline sold-out shows at huge venues in Texas and then support other nationally-known artists like Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and the Dave Matthews Band on their tours. You seem to be happy with either position with no ego involved whatsoever. Was that consciously developed, or did things just work out that way?

I’m the luckiest idiot that anybody ever met. Really, I am. I’ve toured with the two biggest country acts over the last 18 months and the biggest rock act in the last 15 years. Man, that’s great. The cool thing about opening the shows for those big people is the pressure isn’t on you. The pressure is on them to make the show happen. All I’ve got to do is get out there run around and scream and put my hands up in the air. That makes my job of as an opener really easy.

When there’s 20,000 screaming people who love the fact they just spent every dime that they have available on getting in this place, wow! What an amazing open front door that is! Just come on in and entertain us. Like the old song by Nirvana, “Here we are now, entertain us.” When I walk out on these stages that are bigger than my house, I’m just like, man, this is the thrill of a lifetime. It’s like riding a roller coaster.

If I’m meant to be that guy — if I’m meant to be Kenny or Keith — that’ll happen. I ain’t worried about it. What am I going to do, get a job? I’ve been unemployed for my whole life.

5. Do you hate it when the fans chant the “Pat F**king Green” chant? When kids go to the shows, it isn’t right. But when it’s just college kids, it might not matter. But does it bother you at some point?

No. It did at first. My wife’s grandmother was at a show of ours in Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas. She’d never seen the show, and she lives up in North Texas on the flatlands. She’s kind of a country girl. … She’s standing there with Kori, who’s now my wife and was my fiancĂ©e. The crowd starts going, “Pat F**king Green, Pat F**king Green.” Ninny, who’s like 90 years old, looks at Kori and goes, “Does that mean you’re going to be Kori F**king Green?” This girl has never said one cussword in her life. So I thought that was funny.

In the grand scheme of things, after 13 year of singing for a living, if you can get 50 or more percent of every crowd that you play to be unified in one thing, let them go with it. And Waylon Jennings had the same thing, I found through my own research on the Internet. It makes me feel like I’m in good company.

6. So why did you decide to go from Gibson guitars back to Taylor guitars?

I really don’t know. I’m kind of just a wishy-washy guitar person. The grass is always greener, you know? You hear a sound that you like for a long time, and then you go get another sound and start digging on that, and that’s what you want to hear for a while. So who knows? But it’s always been those two kinds of guitars for me. It’s a deeply entrenched battle. But right now, Taylor is winning.

7. How did you go about building a crew for yourself to play the clubs before you became a star?

Am I star? I had no idea. Basically, when I was in college at Texas Tech University, there’s a music school just a few miles down the road in Levelland, Texas, about a 30-minute drive. It’s called South Plains College. It’s a great music school there. A lot of great musicians came out of there. I called the music school and said, “Hey, I need a bass player?” He says, “I know a guy. How much does it pay?” And then from that point on, it was the same kind of thing. I need a guitar player. I need this, I need that.

And then in College Station, Texas, this guy came up to me. I didn’t have a fiddle player, and he said, “You need me in your band.” I was like that’s a pretty cocky move. … And so I said, “Sure. I’ve got a gig here in a couple weeks. You just come and play that night.”

And, literally, he came and played for four hours that night, so he was hired. And he’s still with us. And then one by one — with the exception of my bass player, who’s been with me since the very first day — as one guy would quit, Brendan Anthony [the fiddle player] would say, “I know a guy.” And it was, “OK, here’s a drummer.” And then, “I know a guy. Here’s your guitar player.” … He very craftily hired everybody in his college band to be my band. So he kind of just surrounded himself with everybody he knew.

8. When you first started playing in front of people at Texas Tech, were you nervous at all? I play a little guitar and I took a guitar class at the U of A. I had to sing and play for my instructor, and I just couldn’t quit shaking and messing up. I just wanted to know if you went through the same phase.

I still shake. On the big shows, it doesn’t matter who you are. … Like the first show that we played on the Keith Urban and the Kenny Chesney and the Dave Matthews tour, you’re just rattled. You can’t help it. There’s just too much energy out there to tap into, whether you like it or not.

If you’re onstage and the microphone’s in front of your face, that energy gets channeled right into your head. You don’t have a choice. You just have to put it down. And the only way to learn to do that is experience, unfortunately.

My hands shake. It’s visible. You can see it. It’s just natural. My friend, Jack Ingram, it doesn’t matter if he’s playing for 10 or 10,000 people, his hands are shaking the entire night because that’s just what he is — a bottle of nervous energy.

9. How does the process of writing a song work for you? Can you sit down and bang out a song, or do you have to nurse it along and grab the opportunity when inspiration strikes?

Yes. That’s the best answer to that question. Songs come in so many different ways. … I have a notepad by the bed, and I’ll be asleep and I’ll just [think], “I’ve gotta write that down.” I’ll dream a song. Then I’ll have to find music for it.

But I will tell you this. My dad said this to me when I was a kid, and ever since then I thought he was a genius. The best songs come melody first. Not necessarily the chords that you’re playing but the actual notes that you’re going to write your lyric over or you’re going to put your hook over. Those are the songs that really shine.

I have a song that I think is one of the strongest lyrical songs that I’ve ever written, but it’s not one of my favorites because the melody didn’t come first. And the melody I wrote for the lyric was still not as great as the lyric. So that song has been shelved, for all practical purposes, on the stage show because I can’t stand to sing it. … I feel like I just let myself down. On the other hand, there’s a song called “I’m Tired.” I found the melody just jaw-dropping. I wish I could make up a melody like that every day. And then I started writing the lyric to it and, well, let’s just say it ain’t “Hey Jude,” you know? It’s just a regular song, but I still sing it every night I can get my band to play it because I love to sing over that melody.

10. Who’s your favorite drummer?

To me, my drummer, Justin Pollard, has taught me so much about music. And he co-produced my last record. He is a gorilla on the drums. I mean a 900-pound gorilla with a metronome for a brain.

We timed him one time, over a 3/12, four-minute song, and he was only off the beat by .017 seconds throughout the entire song. I was like, “OK, he’s good enough for me.” There’s a couple of other cats who come to mind. Of course, Max Weinberg is really great.

Greg Morrow is a Nashville studio cat, and besides just being a prince of man, he can make up the most ridiculously cool stuff on the drums. And I’m a big drum fan, myself. I was in a high school band. I was the drummer in our high school band. We played things like, “She Works Hard for the Money” and AC/DC songs and things like that. I was a terrible drummer, but I love the drums.

11. It seems that in the past two years, there’s been an influx of Texas country artists going to Nashville and trying to make it on a national scale rather than sticking to Texas. You were essentially the first to do this a few years ago, and everyone screamed, “Sellout.” What do you think about the changing attitudes of Texas musicians and commercial country’s ability to embrace them?

I always felt like whenever a person enters a bigger world to make it in wood carving or painting or poetry or any kind of creative outlet, then that’s their world. So my advice to them is that whenever you make your record, you do what you want with it. You have to serve that beast, whatever it is in you that keeps you moving creatively. And if you don’t feed that thing with the righteous stuff, with the stuff that’s pure to you, then it will go away. It will die. It will wither and that instrument will not be usable anymore.

So if I was creating stuff that I thought was unbelievably cheesy or sell-out material, I couldn’t do it. I would not be able to do it. I would have to quit because I couldn’t look myself in the mirror. I feel like I’m writing music that I want to write. And I’m putting out records that I need to put out in order to satisfy myself.

While I agree it doesn’t sound like the stuff that I recorded 10 years ago, I have to say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I’m a different person. I was, hands down, the biggest town drunk you ever met in your life. No fun for me to be around, much less anybody else. That’s all well and good for the hour and a-half that I’m on the stage. The people who come out to the show get to see this happy-go-lucky drunk guy, but everybody else that’s around me and close to me has to live with it. So I had to move away from that. I had to become a human being, when I was 28, 30 years old.

So now I’m writing about the things that just get me going. Like my wife, my kids, this amazing amount of humanity that surrounds me every time I get onstage. All the energy that is just so great, and then you have to go, “OK, thank you, God. When I woke up this morning I didn’t think of that, and now I’m thinking of that, so I’d better write it down. And try to put it my way.”

The word sellout doesn’t mean anything to me. Nothing. It used to really piss me off, but now I’m just like, whatever. If you’re calling me a sellout, then I don’t want you to get paid for anything you ever do in your life. Do what you do for a living for free, and see how that works out. Call me.

12. Do you think the recent change in band members and their roles will result in a change in the sound that has brought so many fans flocking to you?

I hope so. Those changes were by design. I never liked to listen to a band that put out the same record time after time. It’s like Jaws. The first Jaws was great. But by the fifth Jaws, you knew that, OK, big sharks eat people. … You get it. It’s been done. So that’s why I kind of feel like you’ve got to make things interesting.

Change is a good thing to me. I’ve never seen change that didn’t spark somebody to be better, spark somebody to challenge themselves, challenge me to be better. All of that. So I never fight that.

13. With all due respect to what I expect to be the obvious answer of “I need to grow as an artist and the fans can grow with me,” your music has strayed sonically from the songs that carried you to the top of the Texas scene and into national acclaim. Some say you’ve strayed too far into the uninspired pop sound of today’s Nashville, and your songs are starting to sound too much alike. Is this an honest and natural progression or a grab at fame and broader appeal? I am a fan, and I want to believe in what you’re doing, but the more I listen to Three Days and follow it with Lucky Ones, I can’t help but worry that “Feels Just Like It Should” is a sign of Pat Green crossing the line into Nashville pop.

My answer to that would be, “Where would the Beatles be without ’I Want to Hold Your Hand’? Where would Johnny Cash be without ’I Walk the Line’? Where would the Rolling Stones be without ’(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’?” I don’t care what band you’re in. In the world, you have to have hits to sustain it.

I didn’t get airplay. I had to go put songs on the radio. In Texas, I’ve had as many hits as George Strait or Kenny Chesney or whoever else. That’s how come I play the big places there. That’s why we play 20,000 seats there. But the rest of the country never heard those songs.

Texas has heard me play these songs because, as an independent band, they played “Carry On” just as much as they played any George Strait songs. They played, “Guy Like Me.” They played, “Songs About Texas.” They played all these songs that were never played anywhere in the country. So in my core market, in my home base, we have as many hits as anybody.

But you step out one state to Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana and you go right next door … “Wave on Wave” is the only song they know. So in order to build that group and build that following, you have to get into the mainstream before you can try to affect it. You can’t affect the mainstream from the outside. Sooner or later, you have to swim with those fish for a minute, and then you can start to put out the stuff that you want to put out. But it takes dedication and perseverance, and you have to listen to a lot of people who don’t believe in what you’re doing. But that’s fine with me. I can accept that I have a plan. I can accept anybody that says something negative to me because I know what I’m doing.

14. Are you a Bruce Springsteen fan? I know why I am, but why are you?

Absolutely! He’s a monster. He’s the best showman out there. If you watch a Bruce Springsteen show with the E Street Band, you’ll understand what the word “persona” means. … It’s just an amazing show. And that’s who I want to be on stage. That’s cool to me.

15. Can you tell me more about the “Feels Just Like It Should” video? Where was it filmed, and does the sail or the design have any significance?

No. The sail was just what the boat had. It was filmed in Galveston, Texas, and it was a beautiful day out there. It was a spring day and it was nice and cool. It wasn’t like a big party. Like I said earlier in the interview, a big party for me is a couple of beers now. Woo-hoo! But no nudity. Sorry.

16. Do you think that the Houston Texans made a mistake in taking Mario Williams as their first pick in the NFL draft?

I’ll tell you this. I would make the worst football coach of all time — absolutely not the right person to ask. Let’s call Troy Aikman. He’s a buddy. I’ll get it sorted out.

I’m not an armchair quarterback. I’m just happy when we’re winning. And I’ve got to be honest. I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan and have been all my life.

17. What are some of your favorite golf courses?

There’s just so many. Pine Valley stands out. Pebble Beach stands out. Augusta National stands out way, way, way above the rest of the world. St. Andrews [in Scotland] was a great day on the golf course.

I have a list of every golf course I’ve ever played in my life. It’s like 278 golf courses now. And I have a system. I have a rating of every golf course. I have logged in every time I ever played it, what I scored that day. I’m a total golf freak. All those things were great, all those golf courses. But the one that stands out worldwide, I would say, is St. Andrews, the home of golf. That’s when my hands were shaking visibly on the golf course. I can handle just about anything, but that got me. I missed a four-footer for a 79. [Phil] Mickelson, watch your ass. I’m coming.

18. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?

I live there now — Fort Worth, Texas. It’s a fantastic place. It’s a million people living in a city, and there are no traffic problems. It’s an amazingly well planned-out place. And I’m a Texas transient. I’ve lived everywhere. I’ve lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio, now the DFW area, Lubbock, Waco. I’ve had residences throughout my life in all those places. And I kind of feel like Fort Worth is a home for me and my wife and family as long as we’re breathing.

19. What is your favorite supper that Kori fixes for you after being on the road?

There’s so many. Fish tacos are so good. Oh, man, she’s just an amazing cook. She makes this lobster pasta that would knock your socks off. There’s no way to answer that. I don’t think she’s ever cooked me the same meal, except maybe twice. She’s a freak. She makes stuff up. And lobster pasta and fish tacos are probably the ones I ask for the most.

20. Where is your favorite barbecue restaurant?

The Salt Lick in Austin, Texas. Man, it’s the sauce. I don’t know what they put in that stuff. I mean, a cow’s a cow. You put that stuff, that sauce, that they got on them cows. … I don’t know. Maybe they feed them cows that sauce in the beginning. Maybe that’s the trick.

My wife had a great idea. … It’s about 45 minutes from where we lived in Austin. She was going to buy land either next door or half way back and call it the Nap ’n’ Crap because you get so full out there. And it’s a long drive back in. And you know, guys, let’s face it. They get full on that stuff, and then it’s time to go. And the girls that have to ride in the car back get all angry at them because it’s smelly. So she wants to have this thing where all they do is rent out one of the rooms at the Nap ’n’ Crap. And in the room is your crapper, a Lazy Boy and a TV and some candles. So you do your business, and then you sit there for a minute — and all the TV shows is golf reruns. So you do your thing and then zone out, a little 20-minute nap to recharge your batteries, out you go, and it’s like 12 bucks.