When Kid Rock talks about his new album, Born Free, he insists his fans will immediately recognize the authenticity in the music — not just the latest trends in technology.
“I’m all about change, and I know things are going to move forward in life, and that’s just how it goes. But to have a computer that can do all your work for you, you gotta be careful,” he tells CMT Insider. “We recorded my new record with a bunch of guys sitting in the studio, me in a vocal booth, playing music together. We’d play four or five times, and that was it. That was the take. So the technology can shake things up a little and give people a false sense of what’s really real and what isn’t. I think at the end of the day, people are smart enough to know if it comes from the heart and if it is something true and blue.”
In this exclusive interview, the musician talks about collaborating with Martina McBride and Zac Brown Band, spending more time in Nashville and bringing his diverse musical worlds together. He also discussed working with producer Rick Rubin, whose long list of credits include Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series and other projects with Tom Petty, Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and many others.
CMT: On Born Free, you worked with producer Rick Rubin. What do we hear different as a result of his involvement?
Kid Rock: Rick’s been a good friend for a long time, I’d say 10 years plus. His greatest talent is really bringing out who you are and where you’re heading musically — and really keeping you true to that. He’s always said to me, “I think you’ve positioned yourself to make the next really great Americana, rock ’n’ roll record with all your tinges of blues and country music, hip-hop, rock ’n’ roll.” I just gave him the wheel. And I left my comfort zone of my home studio in Detroit, which I’ve been pretty successful doing what I do best there, and let him have the wheel and rode shotgun. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t yellin’ out once in a while — “Hey, turn left here!” …
It was a great experience. He brought in a lot of great players and really made me focus on the songs. He raised all the keys and made me sing in a lot higher keys than I’m used to. He put me to work, which I’m not scared to work. I’ve worked very hard to get where I’m at, but he even took it to another level of making me really work hard and focus on the songs, singing and just having great players in the studio. We knocked that record out after we had spent so much time writing it. We got all the great players in the studio together. We recorded it in two weeks. It was done. No quick tracks, no tomfoolery. It was just honest people sitting around that have practiced the craft for a long time. … We made a record like the way it’s supposed to be made, I think.
In that regard, for lack of a better description, it’s maybe a more organic record.
Do you think it will change people’s perception of you a little bit because it is more of a move in that direction?
I’m not sure if there’s any way anybody could really … I mean, to have a perception of me, I guess, is to make whatever perception you want because there’s enough information out there to support any perception you want to make of me. This record is just another move. … I’ve always made music from the heart, and that’s what I do. And at the end of the day, whether it works or not, I can say I tried my best. That’s really me doing that, and I’m not just doing something for the sake of trying to get it played on the radio or for a format or to please a certain group of people or whatever. It’s just what I think is good music from the heart, and that’s all I got.
We’ve seen you in Nashville a lot. When did you first come to town? And how have your relationships here changed how you see yourself or the kind of music you’re putting out? Has it affected you in that way at all?
Yeah, sure. I started coming to Nashville years ago, just touring. I’ve always had a love of country music. … One thing I found about Nashville is, you know, Music City. It has some of the greatest players, songwriters — just musical people — in the world. And my dad always told me, “If you want to be a painter, don’t hang out with a carpenter.” So I started spending some time down here around the best painters that I knew of. They kind of opened up their world to me and let me be a part of it. So I’m very happy to be down here, and I hope I make a pretty good guest.
One of the cuts on the new album features Martina McBride and T.I. When people look at the public persona of all three of you, they probably think, “Now, how’s that gonna work?” How did you make it work — and do you think it’ll surprise some people?
I think the surprising part is Kid Rock has a song with Martina McBride and T.I., and people go “What? OK, he’s just trying to shake things up.” This, that, and the other — and that’s not the case at all. … I could have done the whole song by myself. I could have sung Martina’s part and I could have rapped T.I.’s part, but I thought the song is such an important song. The song’s called “Care.” I think it really speaks to everything going on nowadays. It says, “They’re screamin’ on the left, and they’re yellin’ on the right/I’m sittin’ in the middle tryin’ to live my life,” which I think speaks to the politics nowadays without taking a side.
I thought it would be much more powerful to grab a very classy country singer like Martina and a rapper like T.I., who I respect, and bring all these worlds together for the sake of making a great song and, hopefully, opening the eyes and ears of some people that maybe wouldn’t have heard it or listened to it. And now that Martina McBride knows of T.I., and T.I. knows of Martina McBride, that made me very happy, too. It’s introducing worlds to different people and bringing them together with a song. That’s what I really think it’s all about at the end of the day — bringing people together through music.
You’ve also got a cut with Zac Brown, which some would say sounds like a couple of guys just sittin’ on the front porch pickin’. Is that what you were going for?
Completely. When we wrote that song — it’s called “Flyin’ High” — we were calling it “The Porch Song.” … I’m the biggest fan of the Zac Brown Band. Love, love ’em to death. Think they’re one of the most talented things going in the business, and I’m always following them around like their groupie. They’re kind enough to let me jump onstage with them and sing a song here and there, and usually we’re doing a Marshall Tucker song or “All Summer Long” or “Chicken Fried” or something like that. Me and Zac have always talked about, “We should just write own song and have something to sing every time we get together.” So when we finished this song, I was like, “Ah, I think this will work with me and Zac.” Once again, I’m very, very happy to have him on the record with me and to be able to share that love of music with a good friend.
Do you feel this record has more soul because of the way you cut it?
Yeah, the record definitely has more soul because of the way we cut it because not only have I learned a lot in the 20-plus years that I’ve been making music, it’s been a natural progression of trying to fine-tune my craft — what I’m good at, what I want to do, what comes from my heart, which is music and write songs. So I think it’s right where I’m supposed to be. It’s just … you know, getting better and working hard. I can definitely say I haven’t got lazy.