In his short bio listing on the rock band Staind’s official website, Aaron Lewis writes, “I’m a father and an outdoorsman, and I play in a little band on the side. I like hunting, fishing, golf, etc.”
He omits the part about having sold 13 million albums as Staind’s lead vocalist and probably won’t bother pointing out that his first solo project — a seven-track EP titled Town Line — debuted at No. 1 last week on Billboard’s country albums chart.
Having built a devoted following with Staind hits such as “It’s Been Awhile,” Lewis is bringing part of his existing fan base to country with his single, “Country Boy.” However, the initial sales figures for “Country Boy” and the continuing popularity of the music video on CMT strongly suggest that country fans are embracing his music with open arms.
And this music is being made by a guy who grew up in Vermont and now lives in Massachusetts. Make that rural Massachusetts.
“I live in Massachusetts, but I live in the Berkshires,” Lewis said during a recent visit to CMT’s offices in Nashville. “It’s mountainous and it’s farm country. There’s 1,200 people that live in my town. There’s definitely more farm animals than human beings.”
It’s not a typical geographic area for a rock star, but Lewis has no reluctance admitting his lifestyle and conservative political attitude are not typical of those in the entertainment industry, in general.
“For some reason, most of the people in my business are just bat-shit crazy liberals,” he said. “To be honest with you, it’s really easy to be a liberal when you’ve got more money than you know what to do with. When you’re depending on the dollar earned, it’s a whole different story altogether. The way I see it in this country, the only entitlement that anybody is deserving of — and should look at as an entitlement — is freedom. The only entitlement we’ve got is freedom.”
Town Line falls comfortably within the country format, but Lewis had initially envisioned something a little more adventurous for his first solo project. It included the influence of a well-known British rock band.
“It was probably about a year ago that we were discussing what I was going to do with this solo record and how I was going to approach it,” he explained. “At first, I was going to take the same collection of songs and, on one record, I was going to flavor it completely country and then take those songs and flavor it in a male Portishead-type of a way with programmed beats and all that. It was a big endeavor. And it sounded really good in thought, but actually the undertaking would have been quite ridiculous.”
Ultimately country made a lot more sense.
“As I thought about it, I write on an acoustic guitar,” he said. “I always have. And I’m not a very good guitar player, so the things I write are really quite simple. When I sat down and thought about what direction my solo stuff would naturally go in, country was the natural step.”
Staind had never recorded in Nashville, but Lewis gained the assistance of veteran Nashville producer James Stroud to help him co-produce Town Line. Stroud’s extensive list of production credits includes projects with Clint Black, Toby Keith, Hank Williams Jr., Clay Walker and John Anderson.
“It seemed like my opinion meant more in this recording process than it ever has in the past,” Lewis said of his sessions with Stroud. “I did just as much producing on this as he did. That had never been the case before. My opinion hasn’t mattered as much in the past as it was allowed to on this record. That might be because of all the times he told me he was a fan before he got to work with me. I’m very lucky.”
Lewis wasn’t accustomed to working so fast, either.
“We recorded the entire EP in probably 16 hours, if that,” he said, noting it took 23 days to record Staind’s debut album and approximately six months each to record the subsequent ones.
Since releasing the “Country Boy” video and single, Lewis has been doing a solo acoustic tour, and he’s also working with Staind in anticipation of a world tour that’s likely to begin in Europe.
“It’s a pretty crazy schedule,” he said. “In the middle of working with the band, I’ll go in at 12 every day. At 3, I have to stop what I’m doing and go pick up my kids from school. Then I go have dinner with them and then go back and work until 2 o’clock in the morning and get up in the morning and take them to school and do it all over again.”
He laughs when asked if he has any concerns about burning out.
“If I was to burn out, I’d have done it a long time ago,” he said.