Can you believe it — a Texas singer and songwriter who doesn’t think Nashville is out to steal his soul? Such a statistical oddity is Pat Green.
Green is now touring in support of his second album for BNA Records, What I’m For. BNA is a division of the gargantuan Sony Music Nashville complex, whose very size, to some minds, make it a scourge of pure art.
But not to Green.
“I just don’t fall into the category of the big angst-filled artist who’s got to go against the flow of the corporation I’m working with,” he says. “I also don’t feel like I have to be one of those guys that just goes out there and stands up to the authority.”
Certainly, there are no signs in the new album that BNA has blunted Green’s thought-provoking lyrics or his crowd-pleasing persona. He wrote or co-wrote eight of the album’s 10 songs, and the two he didn’t write (one of which is the title track) have a decidedly Green tint.
“Country Star,” the artist’s current single, pokes fun at the aspiring singer who longs to graduate from dreary “coffeehouse gigs” to arena-level glamour and debauchery. But most of the songs take a more serious, introspective turn, even those that start out with apparently light-hearted imagery.
Green’s co-writers are Brett James, Bobby Pinson, Patrick Davis, Justin Andrew Pollard, Walt Wilkins, Chuck Cannon and Lari White. Marc Beeson and Allen Shamblin penned the manifesto-like title cut.
Although he says he’ll give any potential co-writer a try, Green admits that he’s more exacting in the ones he continues to work with. “First of all, I have to be able to be friends with them,” he ventures.
“I want [them] to share [my] desire that the quality of the song matters more than the hook or the sell-point or the commerciality of it. I am of the ilk that if you write great songs, people will understand how good they are. And if you write trite songs, it’s a flash-in-the-pan kind of fame.”
Implicit though it is throughout the album, the question of art versus commerce arises specifically from a statement Green makes in the media biography that accompanies the album. In it he says, “I was always willing to sell part of my soul, but I’ve always wanted to be in charge of what part was for sale.”
Green insists he’s not being flippant.
“I guess what I realized is that if a company like BNA wants to put up several million dollars to put out a record on me, then I’m going to listen to their opinion,” he explains. “That’s good business.
“These guys have sold millions of records and have had tremendous amounts of success throughout the years. Why wouldn’t I listen to them? … I’ll change a song or consider a song for recording that you put in front of me. But I have to buy it. I have to agree with you.”
But Green disagrees that it’s only Texas artists who are “angst-filled” when confronting Nashville’s supposed wiles.
“I think there are certainly some from Texas who feel like they could not operate in the Nashville model,” Green muses. “But I think that’s true everywhere. What I’ve found is that most of the people who want to fight the system and are vocal about it don’t get very far.
“And here’s another truth about the music business: If you don’t get on the radio, the chances of you being successful are pretty slim. Why not make it easier on yourself rather than harder?”
San Antonio-born Green, who continues to live in Texas, began his recording career in the mid-1990s, releasing albums independently. He later signed to New York-based Universal/Republic, where he had his greatest success with the single “Wave on Wave,” which went to No. 3 on Billboard‘s country chart in 2003.
Green says he asked to be released from Universal/Republic when the company refused to transfer him to one of its subsidiary labels in Nashville. All his radio promotion was being done out of the Nashville office, he says, even though most of the profit from his record sales were going back to New York.
Such an imbalanced arrangement, he feared, would eventually cause the Nashville division to lose interest in him. So he went shopping for another Music Row major and found it in BNA, to which he signed in early 2006. That same year, the label released his album Cannonball.
Green, who worked with producer Don Gehman on his last three albums, tapped Dann Huff, the studio wizard behind Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts, to produce What I’m For. “Big guitar records is what I like,” he says. “Dann was an easy pick for that. I don’t know that the sound was really all that different.
“It was just the personality change I was looking for, something that would put me on edge as opposed to being very comfortable. … I like the [recording] situation that says, ‘Oh, man, this could go in any direction!’”
Green says he is pleased with what he and Huff came up with. “What I was trying to get at was a record that was accessible enough to [appeal] to anyone,” he says. “But if you’re inclined to sit there and listen to it, you can find some pretty clever stuff in there.
“I’m not trying to preach or change the world or have some delusion of grandeur about who I really am. I’m a country singer. But I want to be clever. I want the lyrics to be thought out and intelligent. I want them to be my songs.”
This year, Green is touring under the sponsorship of Jagermeister. He says the liqueur maker came to him with a proposal. “They said pick your guy you want to go on the road with. They wanted to put us in small venues — a thousand seats or less. Man, I’m all about that … to get to communicate with a crowd like that and get paid like you’re playing an arena show. … They’re trying to get people into having fun, and we’re trying to get people into having fun. Man, as long as everybody gets in a cab when it’s all over, I don’t care.”
If Green has an overarching mission, it is to excite the crowds that come to see him. “That’s the whole gig. That’s it. That’s why I cannot stand it when musicians sit up on stage and pontificate about what they think their political beliefs are.
“People came to hear music and have a few beers and a few laughs, you know, and if they’re real drunk, maybe get in a fight with their wives. The stage is a sacred place, a clean place. The stage is so righteous. Why go any deeper than what it really is? We’re here to entertain.”