As a kid, Jason Aldean spent his summers in Florida visiting his dad, so he has a natural affinity for the Sunshine State. When his My Kinda Party tour rolled through Tampa last week, he invited CMT Insider host Katie Cook backstage to talk about those moments just before the curtain falls, the career momentum of his friends and the one song he’ll never play live.
Cook: I’ve heard you say that for the first 10 seconds you’re onstage, it’s just electric. It’s like a lightning bolt. Tell us what goes on those first few seconds.
Aldean: That’s kind of fuse for the show — those first 10-15 seconds you’re onstage. The curtain drops and you see the crowd for the first time and they see you for the first time. The response and the energy that’s going on right there — to me, that sets the tone for the rest of the night. If the curtain drops and the people are going crazy, then you know it’s going to be a great night. If the curtain drops and they don’t stand up and they’re sitting down doing a golf clap, you know you’re in for a long night.
I don’t think you’ve had one of those shows for a while.
I try not to.
For years, you were out on tour with Tim McGraw, Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts — all these huge acts. Now you’re the guy. You’re the head honcho, and you’ve got people like Thompson Square and Chris Young watching you. Is that a big responsibility?
I don’t necessarily know if it’s a big responsibility. I was fortunate enough to be on some great tours and learn from some of the best artists and best entertainers in the business. I took advantage of that. I went out and watched their show and learned things. … I was hoping when I got to this point, I’d be able to pick up some pointers from them.
Do you have any specific examples?
With Flatts, I really loved the way their show was. … I was with those guys for a year and a-half, and it was like their concert was an event. It was more than just them standing up there singing. There was a lot going on. It was entertainment. I took a lot of that and kind of stored it away and went, “OK, when I get to that point, I’d like to use some of that stuff.”
I think the biggest thing for me, having acts out with us now, is trying to make the tour a cool vibe. Make everybody feel comfortable. Make everybody feel at home and welcome and have a fun atmosphere for everybody. I think that’s the most important thing you can do as a headliner.
You’ve had a huge year, but I want to go back a little bit. At one point you were co-headlining with Miranda Lambert when her career took off. Then you were out with Lady Antebellum on the CMT tour and their career took off. Now you are seriously taking off. Was there ever a moment where you were like, “Wait a minute. We’ve all been at this about the same amount of time.”
I think the music business is a funny thing. I’ve said for years that you have artists like Taylor Swift and Lady A that seem to come right out of the gate smoking. They just go into the stratosphere. Then you have artists like Miranda and myself. We’ve had a slow but steady climb to our career. Everybody’s different. … That slow, steady build has really allowed me to enjoy it a lot more — take it in and have time to appreciate it, versus happening so fast, you don’t even really know how to keep up with it.
But to answer your question, I’m friends with all those guys. I think we all pull for each other except when we’re nominated for the same award or something like that. (smiles) Other than that, you want to see your friends doing well. You know how hard they’ve worked to get to this point, and so it’s good to see that.
I’m not sure people understand how tough it is to be a new artist. Can you tell us a little bit about that hard work?
Yeah, especially as a new artist, it’s really tough. But for me, I thought you made a record, you got on a bus, went out and played your shows and made a lot of money. That was the way it was supposed to go down. But there’s a lot more to it than that. There are a lot of early mornings, late nights, a lot of traveling, a lot of being away from home, being away from your family. There’s a lot more to it than people realize.
For me, I love it. I love every aspect of what we get to do. At the same time, everybody gets to see the glamorous side of it, but they don’t see the months in the studio while you’re making a record and getting it ready. All they hear is the end result. They just assume it happened in a couple of weeks.
Do you think it was harder then — or harder now staying at the top?
I think it was harder then, to be honest with you. As a new artist, you come out, and there are so many other new artists. It seems like there’s a whole wave of new artists that come along every year. In ’05, I was part of the crop. It was a lot harder trying to set myself apart from the rest of the pack.
I think once you somewhat get established, it’s a lot easier. People are going to listen to your music. When you send your songs to radio, they’re going listen to it a little more openly, I think. I definitely think it was lot harder than now. I’m not saying it’s easy to get to this point and try to maintain it, but it was a lot harder back then.
Do you have a worst gig story?
The worst gig story I have is from a club in Alabama that I think is still up and running, so I won’t name the name of the club. We got hired in there to play, and the owner was pretty annoying. He kept coming up to me during the show and asking me to play “Purple Rain.” …
We’re playing Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers and Bob Seger and Mellencamp and he’s wanting me to play “Purple Rain.” Finally after about the fifth time — I’m probably 19 years old at this point — I just get down in his face onstage. I had a few choice words for him. Basically, I told him I didn’t know the song and to get out of my face. He let us finish the set and fired us. We didn’t get paid, so that one was pretty bad.
At the end of 2010, you said you were anxious about 2011 because 2010 had gone so incredibly well. Here we are, halfway through 2011. Are you feeling a little more at ease, like things are going well so you can relax a little bit?
This year, things have been cruising along really good. Again, I think it’s important when things are going good just to try to enjoy it and not take it for granted. One thing I’ve learned is that this stuff can go away as quickly as it came. I don’t know how long I’ll be around. Maybe 10 years, maybe 20, maybe two. I don’t know. But as long as it’s happening, I want to enjoy it and have fun with it and not try to overthink it too much.