Eric Church’s New Music Takes on a More Comfortable Feeling

Carolina Gives a More Intimate Look at the Singer-Songwriter

In 2006, Eric Church‘s Sinners Like Me introduced the singer-songwriter from North Carolina as an artist with an edge. He describes that album as somewhat abrasive, but he found he was able to connect with fans through songs like “Guys Like Me,” “How ‘Bout You” and his rock concert-like performances. “People would ask me, ‘How do you write about my life?’” he says. “And I wasn’t really writing about their life. I was writing about my life, and they just happen to overlap.”

But now with his second release, Carolina, Church wants to introduce another part of his life. Songs such as “Love Your Love the Most,” “You Make It Look So Easy” and “Carolina” show off a thoughtful nature while giving listeners a more intimate view of his world.

He’s quick to point out that life has changed for him over the past few years, but he doesn’t want fans to think he’s gone soft. The album starts off with three aggressive tracks that would feel right at home on Sinners, including “Ain’t Killed Me Yet.” Still, though, the focus of this album seems to be on reflection and the journey of life.

Church sat down with CMT.com and talked about the comfortable feeling behind Carolina, his fans deciding what the first single would be and their extreme ways of showing support.

CMT: You’ve said things have changed a lot since Sinners Like Me, so by naming the new record Carolina, is it a return to your roots?

Church: I wanted this record to feel like home. I don’t make a lot of records, and I never will. I’m a guy that is obsessive and crazy, and if I had to make two records a year, it would probably kill me, so it’s been three and a-half years since I made Sinners Like Me.

Part of the reason we called it Carolina is because I wanted it to feel more comfortable than Sinners felt. I think a lot of the magic of Sinners Like Me was that it kind of rubs you from time to time. It says some things. It’s very opinionated, and I like that, but this record is a little more comfortable. It’s a little easier to listen to. There’s still things that remind you of Sinners Like Me, but at the same time, it’s a different record. It’s a different trip. I think it’s a tamer record. I’m married now.

When you think about home, what comes to mind?

The mountains there. Actually in the song, “Carolina,” I sing about a place that was about a hundred acres of my grandpa’s land, and I grew up hunting and fishing there. North Carolina’s home, but that place is really home. That’s where my soul is at rest. That’s where a lot of the things in a lot of these songs come from. It’s probably the only place in the world that I’ve ever been to that I felt just 100 percent comfortable.

How does that come through on the record?

Well, I think with the title track is the most important way. I sing in the first line “There’s a cabin in a valley/My grandpa built on your land.” I think that that’s intimate. I mean, nobody really knows about that place outside my family. So, for me, that’s about as intimate as it gets with the fans. And I think that the intimacy level is something that we [boosted] a little bit with this record. The first record was a little bit at arms’ length. It had some personal stories in it, but I never really, really let people in. And this time with “You Make It Look So Easy,” which is a song I wrote for my wife for our wedding, and “Carolina,” it’s about as inside as I’ll let people in. It’s a little vulnerable for what we do, and normally we keep kind of a rock star thing going on, but we still do that. We just don’t let our guard down that much, but for this record, we are.

Another song with a tender side is “Love Your Love the Most.” What’s that about?

I think a lot of it’s just about relationships between guys and girls. That’s certainly how I am. I love college football, and I love beer, and I love trucks, and I love guy things. And I’m just hoping that girls understand that when a guy tells you that they love you more than those things, that’s a big deal for a guy.

It’s doing really well at radio. Did you have a feeling about this one?

I think this is one of those things where, this is the people’s choice as much as anybody’s. I think if you asked me when I made this record, “What’s the first single gonna be?” this would not have probably been the first song I would have [picked]. I would have probably, knowing me, went for something that grabs somebody by the neck and pulls their heart out of their body. I mean, that’s what I do, and that’s what I would have went to. And we started playing this song live on the road, and I was blown away. (laughs) … That’s one I actually brought to my management and most of the people at the label and said, “There’s something kind of weird going on with this song.” So, I think it’s really cool that this was the people’s choice. You know, we probably put a record out early, and people showed up anyway. We probably did a headline tour a little early, and people showed up anyway. So I think it really, really is true that if you give them the power, they run with it.

And your fans happen to be really enthusiastic.

They are very passionate. I think a lot of what we try to do is to evoke that passion. Sometimes we say things that I don’t think other artists would say. We don’t play it safe very much, and I think [the fans] respect us for that. We’re just trying to be who we are.

I keep reading that people are getting Eric Church tattoos. Have you seen a lot of these?

(Laughs) I’ve personally seen about 20. I’ve heard they’re up to around 40, and it’s kind of feeding itself.

Is it a weird feeling to see your own words as a tattoo?

Umm, it’s probably weirder to them. (laughs) I think for me, honestly, there’s not a more definitive way to say, “This is my guy,” than tattooing their name or likeness on your body. It’s a humbling thing. I don’t get that way much. But when you see it and you see the people, and they tell you the story of why they did it, I mean, that’s there for life. Some of these kids are 19 years old. One day they’re gonna be 59. I hope I don’t make ‘em mad.

There was one solider that came up, and he and his entire unit had gotten a cross. And above it, it said “I come from a long line,” and below it said “of Sinners like me.” There were eight of them, and they were getting ready to ship off to Iraq. So that’s when it’s about more than music, when you see stuff like that. When a song that you wrote becomes part of life, it’s more than just words and melody. I think that’s when it becomes really cool.

And I love that they do it. I love that they get to shows and they compare, and I’ve seen some great ones. “Sinners Like Me” is my favorite so far. I saw a guy that had gotten one on his shoulder. It’s a big cross, and it’s colored blue, red and black, and it’s just a really cool one. Some of the girls get “Livin’ Part of Life” tattooed on their wrist, too. I’ve only see one actual likeness … it looked a little different than me. I prefer the words (laughs).

Chris lives in Nashville and has written for CMT.com and CMT Edge since 2007.