CMT Insider Interview: Tim McGraw

Superstar's Let It Go Poised to Be Country Music's First Blockbuster of 2007

Editor’s note: Tim McGraw will be featured on the new episode of CMT Insider Special Edition premiering Saturday (March 31) at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

The entertainment industry can be a brutally competitive business, but the entire country music community is anxiously awaiting the first-week sales figures for Tim McGraw’s CD, Let It Go, which arrived in stores Tuesday (March 27). He’s the first country superstar to release a new album in 2007, and even competing labels are hoping the Curb Records project will provide the spark needed to boost the genre’s overall sales.

As for McGraw, it’s likely he’s too busy working to be concerned about anyone’s expectations. With several national television appearances already under his belt this month, he’ll continue to promote the new album Tuesday (April 3) on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Thursday (April 5) on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live.

McGraw co-produced Let It Go, his first album of all-new music in almost three years, with longtime collaborators Byron Gallimore and Darran Smith. They recorded it in Nashville with McGraw’s touring band, the Dancehall Doctors. The CD’s first single, “Last Dollar (Fly Away),” is spending another week at No. 2 on Billboard’s country chart — right behind the latest track from friend and former tourmate Kenny Chesney.

CMT’s Katie Cook recently talked to McGraw about the new album and his upcoming Soul2Soul tour with wife Faith Hill. Here’s an excerpt from Cook’s interview for CMT Insider Special Edition.

CMT: Last year’s tour was huge. Were you surprised by just how big it was?

McGraw: Faith hadn’t been on the road in a long time. The last time she actually toured was the first Soul2Soul tour, so I felt like people were ready to see her and it would be a big deal. … But you never expect it to be as good as it turned out.

I heard the tour made $90 million.

Well, we didn’t make that much. The tour might have made that much, but we didn’t.

It does take a lot of money to pull off a big tour. What are some of the really big ticket items?

It takes a lot of people who work hard. … The people who set the stuff up every night are the people who really make it happen. We had a massive stage last year. I think there was something like 20 trucks, 18 buses. Something like that, or I might have that backwards. But to get all that stuff out in two hours, two and a-half hours, is just a huge deal. And to get it set back up for the next day. So it couldn’t run without the crew that’s just absolutely perfect, spot on, and these guys were.

Somebody is turning 40 this year.

Don’t tell anybody.

Does that freak you out?

No, it doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t mind it. Just get here and look forward to the next one. I feel like I’m just starting to learn what I’m doing, actually. I’m just starting to sort of figure out a little bit what I’m doing, and I think that the best stuff I can do is yet to come.

You’ve done pretty well for somebody who is still figuring it out.

It’s always a learning process. The minute you stop learning, you probably should hang it up. I feel like that I’m probably 30 percent where I want to go.

Do you feel like maturity has make you pick different material, or do you go for safer stuff?

No, no. I don’t know if I go for safer stuff. I like to do stuff that says something, but I still like to do fun things, too. You’ve got to have fun things. “Last Dollar” is a lot of fun, and you’ve got to have those, but as an artist, you want to do things that are different. You just want to stay true to what you like. … As an artist, you’ve got to just go with your gut and pick the things that you like and hope that your taste matches up with everybody else’s.

If “Indian Outlaw,” came along today would you still cut it?

I don’t know. That’s a tough question because it was such a big song. I’d been doing that song for years in clubs before we ever recorded it. It went over really well in the clubs, and I wanted to cut it for the first album. I didn’t get to. I’d have to say that I probably would — just because the reaction that we got out of it.

Why are you starting a new label, StyleSonic Records?

Just to be able to do the things you want to do musically that might not necessarily find its place on a major label for long. I mean, we’re doing things with major labels, but Lori McKenna, who is a great singer-songwriter, is the first artist. … And then we’ve got Halfway to Hazard [a duo] that’s coming out, too. … As an artist, I love all kinds of music, and I can’t cut everything that I love. First of all, I can’t sing everything that I love. So to have the chance and to be successful enough to do something like this … to have a part in making the record and be a part of somebody’s career that you really respect, it just gives you a chance to do that. And I’m just excited about seeing people take off and hoping I can have something to do with it.

You haven’t been shy about complaining sometimes about your current record deal, but would you do things differently if you had the chance to do them again?

Well, no. I don’t think you ever would do anything different. All points end up here. So if anything at one point along the way would have changed, I might not be here.

Any advice you would give to a new artist setting out to sign a deal now?

It’s tough right now. It’s tough to be a new artist. The best thing I could say is just be true to yourself and not try to go in and conform to what everybody thinks you ought to be.

Let’s talk about the new album. On “Last Dollar (Fly Away),” your daughters are singing with you at the end of the song. How fun was that?

That was a lot of fun. My girls and [co-producer] Byron Gallimore’s girls are singing on there. … It was just a wild idea at the end of doing the song. It sounded like it would be fun. And the song is such a lighthearted, fun song, anyway. They really liked it. They were going around singing it. You know, Big Kenny wrote it, and when Big Kenny gave me the CD of it and I was listening to it over and over and over, the girls were just singing it every time they heard it. They’d tell me to play the demo. I think they liked Big Kenny better than they do me. But I just thought it was cute, and they did a great job on it.

The CD includes a sexy cover version of Eddie Rabbitt’s “Suspicions.” Were you always a fan of the song?

Yeah, I always loved that song. In fact, we do these Bread and Water shows a lot of times where we play clubs after we get through playing our concert, and that was one of the songs we’d been doing for a while. Probably for three albums, I’ve had that song in the back of my mind to do. And you get in the studio and get the new songs. You get excited about them and kind of just forget about it. And this time, we said, “Let’s not forget about this song when we go in.” It turned out really good. It’s kind of got an Eagles vibe to it, and we really have fun playing it. That really is the essence of what I wanted this album to sound like. That song really got the sound I wanted.

I’m wondering if you can relate to the lyric. You’re married to one of the most gorgeous women in the world. Do you find yourself getting jealous at all?

No. I don’t get jealous too often. I mean, every now and then, but only when George Clooney is around. (laughs)

I love “Let It Go.” In fact, I can’t get it out of my head. Why is this the title track?

It just made sense. … You start collecting baggage your whole life, and it starts building up and building up and building up, and you reach a point where you know you’re not a kid anymore, but you don’t know everything, either. And the only way to move forward is to kind of cut some things loose. That’s kind of where everybody gets to at this point in their life, I think, and it sort of made sense for my record.

I think my favorite song on the new album is “I Need You.” You’re singing with Faith, but this is not what I would say is a classic duet in that you’re not singing and harmonizing together. It’s more like you’re kind of trading lines.

That’s what I wanted the song to be when we set out to cut it. I didn’t want our voices to ever touch. I thought that would be cool if we sang a love song without our voices ever touching. It just kind of creates some tension. And she did a beautiful job on it. To sing with her is just tough, though.

Why is it tough?

Because she sings so good. … She’s just a great, soulful singer, and I’m always scared I’m just gonna screw her up if I’m involved. … But I love singing with her.