Editor’s note: More of Katie Cook’s interview with Kenny Chesney is featured in a special edition of CMT Insider premiering Saturday (Oct. 11) at 1:30 p.m. ET/PT.
When CMT Insider host Katie Cook recently visited Kenny Chesney at his Nashville-area home to interview him about his album, Lucky Old Sun, the conversation took a more serious tone as the superstar talked about what inspired him to write several of the songs. Notably, he talks about his continuing need to escape to the Caribbean and his mood following his breakup with his ex-wife, actress Renee Zellweger. On a more upbeat note, he also discusses the enduring qualities of reggae music and his work with the late Bob Marley’s band, the Wailers, on his current single, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven.”
Lucky Old Sun will be released Tuesday (Oct. 14) in a deluxe edition featuring five additional audio tracks recorded in concert and two bonus videos. The regular edition of the album arrives Oct. 21.
Here are a series of excerpts from Cook’s interview with Chesney:
CMT: You call this a very serious record. Why is that?
Chesney: Some of the songs on it were kind of hard to write. I call this more of my state-of-mind record cause it describes and paints a lot of pictures of some different states of mind that I’ve been in the last two and a-half years, three years. … The songs are deeper than the Be as You Are album. The Be as You Are album had a lot of songs on it that were more or less a map of places that I like to party and the characters that I met there and some of the lessons that they taught me. This record is more acoustic even than that record, and the songs are deeper. They’re more personal. They are more honest and truthful in lots of ways.
Let’s talk about the song “Nowhere to Go, Nowhere to Be.” Tell us about Trinidad Charlie.
“Nowhere to Go, Nowhere to Be” was where literally this album was born. … In 2006, I had three days off, and it was right around the first of August in that year, and I hadn’t had any time to myself since the tour had started. It was the same thing every day, and I was pretty tired. I knew I had like a month and a-half left, but I was exhausted — mentally, emotionally, physically. I just needed a break. So I got on a plane and went down to my boat completely by myself. Didn’t take anybody with me. And I got in the Jeep the next morning after I flew there, and I drove around to the other side of the island, and I went to this little bar and grill in this cove. … I got there around 11:30, noon, and I ate a big fat juicy cheeseburger and I drank about three or four Coronas. … It was just me at this mahogany bar watching these fishermen bring in fish they had caught that morning to try and sell it to the restaurant. And there was this guy next to me … a local guy down there. His name is Charlie, and it was just me and him there the majority of the whole day.
I sat there with him. After a couple of hours, I realized that for the first time — in probably a year and a-half — that I was completely still, and my heart was still, my soul was still, my head was still. I wasn’t thinking about what I had to do. I didn’t think about any expectations. I wasn’t thinking about the good reason that I had to be somewhere else. It was just me and Charlie, and that was it. And he was sitting over there reading a Hemingway book, and I pulled out a piece of paper and a pen out of my backpack. For the next three hours, I sat there. It was just me, that piece of paper and a pen and that mahogany bar … and I wrote down the lines to this song. And when I got done with the lyric, I went out to the beach and sat down there and took a deep breath, got back in my Jeep, thanked Charlie for a great day and a great song. And I went back to the boat and pulled my guitar out of the case and put the music to it. It was a fun day.
And so maybe for the first time, I didn’t have anywhere to go. Even though if it was just for a day and a-half or two days, I didn’t have anywhere to go, nowhere to be, nobody to talk to if I didn’t want to, nobody to meet if I didn’t want to. … I mean, there was nothing. It was just me — and that felt good. I almost forgot how that felt. … Being still for those two or three days was really, really good for me. And I flew back to the States and rejoined the tour and finished it.
It kind of sounds like the islands, especially the last few years, have been a place for you not to just take a break from work but to kind of get away from some heavy emotions.
Well, yeah. There was a song that I wrote several years ago called “Sherry Is Living in Paradise.” It was on the Be as You Are album. There’s a line in there called “chasing something or running from something.” And that’s the truth. I mean, you could run away from anything down there — the IRS. You can run away from your emotions. You can disappear pretty quick.
Well, I’m no Dr. Phil, but do you think that’s a good way to deal with things?
Oh, it’s good enough. (laughs) I get some pretty good songs out of it every now and then.
Like “Way Down Here.” Talk to us about it.
Whoa. … “Way Down Here” was not a fun song to write.
After my separation or my split from Renee, I was at home, and it was in September of 2005. I was just about in a [bigger] personal funk than I had ever been, and I was home for Christmas. And even though it was great to be home for Christmas, nothing … was making me too happy that Sunday at Christmas. You know what I mean? So, after Christmas, I got on the plane and went back down and met my boat captain, Ben, and he picked me up on the boat. I looked at him, and the first thing I said to him was, “Well, if I’m going to be down, I’m going to be down here.” … That whole song was about my emotion that day. … And when I got down there, I didn’t really feel that much better, but I just kind of inhaled a little bit better and exhaled even better, and so that’s where that song was born.
You talk about how you went through a dark period. How bad would you say it got?
Most people, if they get that down, they’ve got to do something about it. How did you pull yourself out of it?
I’m still doing it.
Yeah. I’m good, though.
You seem good. Music has got to be good therapy.
Of course it is. It’s great. Music is therapy. … Really.
“Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven.” How did you come up with the Wailers for the video too?
They had contacted me six months before that to ask if I would be a part of their record that’s coming out next year. They wanted me to write a song for them and sing that song on the record. I was in a process of doing that, and then I realized this song was going to be a single for us, and I also realized that I wanted to go somewhere really funky. I wanted to be tropical about it, but I didn’t want it to be beachy. I wanted it to have a very tropical feel. We decided to go there to Jamaica … but I wanted to shoot it in the infrastructure. I wanted to shoot it in the middle of Jamaica … and just the whole environment. And I called them and said, “Would you guys be interested in this?” And in about two seconds, they said yes. Next thing you know, I’m in Jamaica doing this song with the Wailers in a place where they recorded a lot of really universal music and far-reaching music. And it was really cool to talk to them and to see what their perspective was on the music that they and Bob Marley recorded.
Did they realize how far-reaching it has been?
They do now. I was talking with [Wailers guitarist] Junior Marvin … and he said he felt like Bob Marley was pretty clairvoyant in ways and he kind of knew that one day this music would touch a lot of people. Obviously, I don’t know if he could have imagined it touching the amount of people that it has because, in my opinion, it’s some of the most universal music ever recorded. … So this was an experience, one that I never thought I would have. And it’s a unique one because I’m a kid from East Tennessee, and the music that I’m recording touched them in ways because they initially wanted me to be a part of their record, and now they’re on my record. And here these guys are from the middle of Jamaica. …. It’s pretty cool to be able to share that music and to share each other’s backgrounds together.