“There were wardrobe people there, like I need wardrobe — that’s funny in itself. But they started trying to clean the dirt off me,” Atkins remembers. “I said, ‘I don’t think it matters if I’m dirty or not. I think I probably should be dirty to be believable.’ Chris Hicky, the director, said, ‘I agree. Get him more dirty.’ So they started picking things up from the ground and wiping it on me. I remember one of the ladies that actually worked at the dairy farm said, ‘Uh… that’s actual sh… that you’re wiping on him. That would be cow manure.’ It’s a good thing CMT doesn’t have Smell-O-Vision going on.”
With “Farmer’s Daughter” cultivating success at country radio, Adkins is plowing ahead with a brand new album, expected next year. (He says he’s recorded about seven songs so far.) During a recent visit to CMT, he also talked about the enthusiastic crowd response to his latest hit, his ambitious goals for 2011 and the country legend that opened the door for him in Nashville.
CMT: Why was it special for you to cast your wife in the video for “Farmer’s Daughter”?
Atkins: It was her idea. You’re working on the farm now, and that’s the farm that [the title character] grew up on. You’re making your way home to the farmer’s daughter and reflecting back to when you first started working there. So it made perfect sense that she would be there when I got home. It’s actually the same farm where we shot the “Watching You” video, and I didn’t even realize that until we got there. It just looked different in that video because of the time of the year. I didn’t see the address until I got up and got ready to go that morning to shoot the video. I just knew it was close by. The people there are a great older couple who have been there a long time. I love the place.
I consider “Watching You” as your breakthrough video. Do you?
For video, yeah. It’s definitely my breakthrough video. For “Going Through Hell,” I will say it opened the door. I had done limited video stuff before, but it was important for me to play a role in the video, not just stand around singing. … I found out that made me really love to do a video. I got excited about playing a character, whether it’s out there getting dirty or spending the day with my little boy. [Atkins' young son, Elijah, co-stars in the "Watching You" video.] Man, I wish we could have gotten to do a video for “Cleaning This Gun”! That one got by us. It moved so quick, and we were on the road so much, but that could have been a hilarious video.
What has been the live reaction to “Farmer’s Daughter”?
It just started. Once the video got out there, and people started seeing it — and we started using pieces of the video live — this song became an anthem. It was everything that I hoped for: The downloads, the sales, the way it connected across all demographics. And we needed a song like that to shake things up. It was a blast. It’s still growing.
When someone comes to see you live, what do you hope they take from that experience?
My goal, what we talk about, is energetic gratefulness. We want people to come away feeling that that’s what’s inside of us, as a band. It’s not just about me as an artist saying, ‘I’m up here, check me out.’ I keep trying to go in the direction where it’s all of us in this together. I love having “These Are My People” because that’s the vibe that you want people to get. Sometimes I think my job is to be a distraction — to lift people, to lift them up and take them away somewhere and make them forget, so they can get caught up in the show and sing along. Next year, we’re adding a lot more of the technical gadgetry. Not just having the big screens up there, but also the hi-res and the robot cameras. It’s going to be cool, man.
Along with a new album, what else is on the docket for 2011?
To be able to take country music places it hasn’t been or maybe hasn’t been tried before. We just played a rock ‘n’ roll club in New Jersey, and they had never had a country act in that place. We sold it out. It’s right outside of New York City, the Starland Ballroom. They said, “There’s never been a country act here.” I said, “Are you kidding me?” And they were just singing. It was absolutely a blast. It was energy and that’s what you want. You never want them to forget it. When we left, they were talking about, “We’re thinking about getting these country acts, too.”
When you’re recording, I know you don’t just lay down your vocal and walk out the door. You put a lot of thought into how the record will sound as a total package.
I don’t want to just drive the car, I want to get under the hood. I work on stuff at the house a lot. Like when we got “Farmer’s Daughter,” I first thought, “That’s the name of a Haggard song, man. I don’t know if we want to …” And then I heard the song and thought, “That’s a completely different song.” There are songs all the time that have the same title, but somebody has a different idea. … The last thing I would do is something disrespectful to Merle Haggard.
Actually, the first time I came to Music Row — I had been doing writer’s nights and driving 100 miles one way because I was going to school and working about three jobs. I was playing writer’s nights all over town and finally got an interest from someone who had an office at the United Artists Tower. I was lost and didn’t know which way I was going. I found the tower in the middle of Music Row, between 16th and 17th, by Curb Records. It’s round, you can’t miss it. I went up and I’m trying to get in the door, but I’ve got a guitar and a backpack. I’m stumbling, nervous, everything else, and a hand reaches across me and says, “Let me get that door, son.” I said, “Thank you.” The door opened up, I turned around and it was Haggard. So the first door ever opened for me in Nashville was by Merle Haggard. It was one of those moments, like, “Is this for real? This is really Nashville!”