After climbing the charts for eight months, “Startin’ With Me” has finally jump-started Jake Owen’s career. He has notched his first Top 10 hit at country radio, found an audience on the music festival circuit and warmed up the crowd for Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn. In September, he’ll join Sugarland and Little Big Town for CMT on Tour 2007.
Here, the 25-year-old Florida native talks about moving to Nashville, smarting off to his father and living in the moment.
CMT: Where did you play when you had the band Yee Haw Junction?
Owen: I played four, five or six nights a week, all over. I was either playing at a fraternity house or a sorority party, or we were playing at a bar in Tallahassee. There was a bar called Potbellies that I used to play a lot. I just tried to stay as busy as I could, and I played as many nights as I could.
What was the scene like there?
It’s a place with a bunch of young kids. They’re going there to have a good time. They want to hear “Sweet Home Alabama” and “The Joker.” I was always sneaking in my own songs to let everybody know what I was all about. After playing there for four or five years, I decided I had to get up to Nashville. I feel like I took my music to a place where people were appreciating the ideas that were coming from my mind and heart.
What do you remember about your first trip to Nashville?
I remember pulling into Nashville and seeing the signs that said “Broadway” and I saw the skyline. I thought, “Man, I’m here. I can’t believe it.” This is where it all happens. This is where all the guys I’ve ever listened to recorded their music and made careers out of it. It was an exciting time for me.
Did you ever come to visit or check out the city before moving to Nashville?
No, I dropped out of school with nine hours [of college] left and said, “I’m on my way.” I drove up here and didn’t know anybody. I said, “I’m going to do this.” I got an apartment when I moved to town, and the rest is history.
Do you remember the first night that a crowd sang your song, “Yee Haw,” back to you?
Yeah, that was a pretty interesting deal. That’s a song that was written for that purpose — to make people have a good time. I remember the first time I watched people singing it back with excitement. They were fired up that I was playing it. It makes what I do so much better and so meaningful when you could look out there and see a complete stranger singing the words to a song you write.
Is there a line in “Startin’ With Me” that made you think, “Whoa, that cuts a little too close to the bone”?
With the song starting off with “I had a one-night-stand with my best friend’s baby sister,” that throws it all out there. You know, I came home from college one Christmas with my brother, and we went out, like most people do, on Christmas Eve. That’s the big hometown reunion every year when everybody gets to see each other. I came home and my dad was pretty upset with the fact that we went out on Christmas Eve and had too much fun. I started smarting off to my dad. I pushed my dad and took a little swing at him. That’s not something I’m not proud of at all, and I’ll never forget that. That’s one of the lines in the song, and every time I sing that, it takes me back.
The character in that song seems very stubborn. How stubborn are you?
I’m pretty stubborn. I’m like anybody who wants to do things on their own. I’m a person who wants to do things and know that I did them on my own. I am pretty stubborn about the fact that I don’t want help to do it. I’ve learned a lot, though, and having that mentality doesn’t always work for me.
It takes a lot of people to get a country career going.
It definitely does. It totally does. Now that I’m part of it all, I feel like I can say that. … There are so many people who make me who I am every single day, and without them, there’s no way I could do it.
Did you get rejected a lot on your way to this point?
Yeah. I had my ups and downs, but overall, I can tell you that I’ve been very, very lucky and somebody’s been looking out for me. There are a lot of guys here in Nashville that I talk to on a daily basis, who are friends of mine, and people who I’m acquaintances with, and they have as much talent in their pinky finger as I do in my entire body. It’s amazing the way the ball rolls. I’m super lucky. I don’t feel like I’m better than anyone else.
These days in Nashville, you need a hit right off the bat. When “Yee Haw” didn’t turn out to be huge, were you concerned that you might not get a second chance?
No, I really wasn’t because I was so blown away by the fact that I could say this is what I was doing now for a job. I don’t care where a song goes on the chart. I can walk out on stage and play guitar and sing songs for people all around this country and get to travel and meet new people and say that that’s my job. The thought of having a hit or not having a hit doesn’t affect me. It’s all about living in the moment and appreciating everything that’s going on right now.