Editor’s note: See Katie Cook’s interview with Kenny Chesney when the new episode of CMT Insider premieres Saturday (Sept. 15) at 2 p.m. ET/PT.
Kenny Chesney’s Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates is one of the fall’s most anticipated albums — in any genre. He’s already publicly stated that Kanye West and 50 Cent, who are also releasing new CDs on Tuesday (Sept. 11), better keep one eye on Nashville.
“It is a little aggravating to watch people talk about how they’re going to come out with a record — and how they’re going to do this and do that — when they’re not looking over here and seeing a guy who’s coming after his last four albums debuted at No. 1,” Chesney tells CMT Insider host Katie Cook. “We just wanted to let them know we were comin’ and that we were there, you know? It wasn’t a cocky statement, it was just … ’You might want to look over your left shoulder instead of your right.'”
In the first installment of CMT Insider’s two-part interview, the ambitious superstar talks about finding the right songs, singing with George Strait and why he didn’t record the Rascal Flatts’ hit, “Take Me There.”
Katie Cook: Do you feel like the Nashville songwriters have a good handle on what kind of material you’re looking for?
Kenny Chesney: Yes and no, because it changes a lot. And with this album, it is ironic that it’s called Just Who I Am and I didn’t write any of the songs on it. But if you really sit back and listen to all the songs on this record, there’s probably more me in this record than there’s ever been. And I’m more comfortable in putting that out there, even though I didn’t put pen to paper about these emotions. But some really talented guys and girls did. I could’ve put some songs on my record that I wrote, and it wouldn’t have been the same record. It would’ve been pretty good, but pretty good isn’t good enough for me. And it never really has been.
I sometimes edit myself to a fault when it comes to music. And sometimes I’m pretty tough — not sometimes, all the time. I’m really tough on myself when it comes to: “OK, what am I going to put on my record? What’s going to make somebody feel something?” Or, “Is this going to mean anything to them? Is this going to make them wanna get off of their couch and come to a concert for a couple hours one summer? Is it gonna make them feel anything at all?”
For this album, I found songs I felt like will touch them more than the songs I wrote. At the same time, these are songs that describe me emotionally, really who I am. There’s a little bit of everything. There are so many … so many … chapters to this book. I’m proud of it.
How did the George Strait duet, “Shiftwork,” come about?
That’s my favorite song on the record, if only for the reason that George is on it. It will sit in line with a long line of feel-good records that I’ve had, the kind of songs I like to do for my show. And having George be a part of this was really special for me. I wish I could’ve been in the studio when he did it, but I was actually filming the video for “Don’t Blink” and couldn’t be in two places at once. That was the only time that he could do it because he was on his way to get on his boat and go fishing. So I couldn’t be there when he did it.
You don’t mess with his fishing schedule!
No! But it was an honor. To get to know him throughout the years and feel a mutual respect for him. It’s just a big thrill. And to have him be a part of my life in a small way and be on my record that will last forever is really, really cool. What makes me feel good is that he didn’t have to do it. He could probably count on one hand how many times he’s sung with people, so I’m excited that he chose to sing with me.
You wrote the new Rascal Flatts hit, “Take Me There.” Obviously people are going to ask, “How’d you let that one get away?”
I had the idea for that song several years ago, and I had written it down on a piece of paper in a notebook. I was going through a bunch of stuff and saw where I had written that down and had forgotten about it. The whole idea of the song was about meeting someone who still has their guard up from a previous relationship or whatever it is. There’s something inside of her that she’s not showing anybody, about what makes her tick, about what makes her love, what makes her give, what makes her be who she is.
I had three lines written down. … So I called Neil Thrasher and told him about this idea when I found it in my notebook. And he says, “Let me think about that for a little bit.” He called me back in a couple of days, and the next thing, you hear him on the phone with a guitar (singing) “Tell me ’bout your mama.” … I went “Oh my God!” (laughs) “It sounds pretty good!”
Actually, I was going to record that song, but I felt that melodically, I had already been there. It’s a great song, but it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like it was meant to be on my record. Obviously I was right because Rascal Flatts cut a great [version]. I couldn’t have been prouder of it if I had done it again. I’m glad it got to where it got.