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.
In the second half of a two-part interview with CMT Insider host Katie Cook, Kenny Chesney talks about some of the songs on his new album, Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates, and also reflects on working with Willie Nelson, battling his demons and waking up in a strange place.
Katie Cook: I feel like you’ve dropped your guard with the material on this album, like “Better as a Memory” and “You Scare Me.” Obviously, people will assume you’re talking about yourself here. Is it scary at all — to be vulnerable like that?
Kenny Chesney: Well, yes and no. … We’ve had this really wonderful relationship with all these people that come to our shows and come with passion and heart, and they’ve made the experience what it is. With that being said, I think they’re suckers for the truth. I know I am. I think songs like “Better as a Memory” and “Demons” and several of the songs on this record are very truthful to where I am in my life right now … and maybe where I’m going. To be that vulnerable is a little tough. But I feel like, even though there aren’t any of my songs on this record, I feel like that’s been coming out of my songwriting more and more. That’s tough to do — especially when you’re prone to having a wall up all the time. (laughs)
Do you have a wall up all the time?
All the time!
Let’s bust it down. You said “Better as a Memory” is the most personal song on this album.
It really is. It’s the most brutally honest song on this record about me and about my reality. That whole song is a letter that I’ve written to several girls. It’s very honest. It’s a brutally honest song. It really is. And they will definitely … open up the book a little bit and see inside just a touch.
There are a couple of songs on this album — “Got a Little Crazy” or “Dancin’ for the Groceries” — that may get under the skin of some of your conservative fans. Do you think you’ll catch some heat for those songs?
Maybe. But I guarantee you, if I catch any heat from anybody that’s ever had a one-night stand, they’d be lying to the world. That’s one thing. That’s a true song. I would like to think that a lot of that shenanigans start at my show. (laughs) So you never know!
Not that you would know anything about that.
Not that I would know anything about that. But I woke up in a strange place before.
Care to elaborate?
After a long night … and … yeah, we can elaborate if you want. I mean … just kidding. (laughs) I think it’s a really truthful song. … We’re definitely gonna do that song on the show next year. That might be my speech before I do “Got a Little Crazy.” I’ll say, “I know a lot of you all are going to wake up in the morning and go, ‘Where am I? What happened?’”
“You were a lot cuter last night!”
Yeah! It’s like the old Willie song: “Last night I came in at 2 with a 10, but at 10 I woke up with a 2.” (laughs) I’m gonna cut that song one day.
Let’s talk about some of the heroes you got to work with on this album. How did working with Willie affect you?
Working with Willie really inspired me a lot as an artist, as a songwriter and as a person because Willie lives his life a different way than a lot of us do. And to be able to be in the studio with him and look through the window and be responsible for that man’s music was really an honor. And talk about being scared! God, I was a little scared when I got in the studio for the first day. But to know all the roads that he’s been down … and all the ups and the downs he’s been through and all the songs that he sang and all the people that he’s met and how they all kind of changed and molded him to be the person he is … and here I am responsible for the music that we’re making. I was pretty inspired by it, and I hope I do it again. To see him in there being 73 years old and still making music, and he brought some really great songs into the project that we did. I hope that I still have that much passion about what I’m doing when I’m that age. That I still want to do it and, most importantly, still have people out there that want to hear it. (laughs)
When I was listening to “Demons,” I thought, “You know, either he’s got no demons he’s tormented by — or he’s certainly kept them to himself.” There are no DUIs, no rehab or anything in your past. How have you stayed out of trouble all these years?
How have I stayed out of trouble all of these years? I have a great publicist. (laughs)
No, I haven’t had a DUI. If I go out and I know I’m going to drink … I get someone to drive me. It’s not that hard, really, if I know I’m going to go out and have a good time. I live a long way out of town, so I’ve got a really good chance of getting a DUI. … I don’t have that as a demon. I don’t have a problem with that stuff. … In the song, it talks about music being a demon. It talks about women being a demon — which I confess, that might be mine. And it talks about alcohol and drugs. I know people that have one of those somewhere. Or I know people that have got all of them at once. Are you kidding me? (laughs) What am I talking about?! But we do. It’s how you deal with it and how you move on and how you choose to lead your life. I think that’s what makes this song so powerful.