Colt Ford and Friends Declare Independence

Jake Owen, Jason Aldean and More Guests Featured on New Album

One piece of hip-hop culture that Colt Ford is doing his best to graft onto country is its spirit of collaboration. For his fourth studio album, Declaration of Independence, Ford is still doing things his own way, but he’s not doing it alone.

Jason Aldean, Kix Brooks, Montgomery Gentry, Jake Owen and Darius Rucker are among the guest artists chipping in vocals throughout the album, and Ford says they’re all true believers.

“That’s pretty gratifying and humbling,” says Ford. “For them to go, ‘Man, I dig what you do, and I want to be a part of it,’ I don’t take that for granted.”

In fact, he’s making the most of each opportunity. With “Back,” the album’s first single, Ford enlists Owen to sing the chorus about a happy childhood and its lasting impact. Meanwhile, the video gives fans a peek into Ford’s real life, including footage of his parents and young son.

Ford recently stopped by CMT and talked about how similar he and Owen actually are, finding the right songs for his friends to sing and knowing what you want before you get to the store.

CMT.com: Declaration of Independence is your fourth album. What do you think fans can expect?

I think it’s the best record I’ve ever made, to be honest with you. On the first record, when I didn’t know any rules or anything, I just made the songs I wanted to make. Now there are about seven or eight songs I have to play live every night, or [fans will] be mad at me, so with the last two records, I was trying to please a lot of different people. For this record, I kind of went back to that first one. I tried to make the best, most honest-sounding record I could make with not one single song sounding like the next, and I think I did that.

So it has a lot of variety?

It starts off with a flag-flying anthem that makes you just want to crank Hank Jr. up. Then it’s making you want to hang out with your buddies and cruise around, to making you want to go to a honky-tonk and have a cold beer, to making you want to reflect on your life and call the people you love. And it ends with a song that kinda makes you want to pray and almost feels like a gospel song for me. I couldn’t be more pleased with this record.

“Back” is about your memories of growing up, so how did you and Jake Owen find something to connect on?

Well, he grew up in Florida, and I grew up in Georgia, but actually we’re not very different at all. Jake’s younger than I am, but he grew up playing sports. He was a good athlete. I was a good athlete. I played college golf. Jake tried to play college golf. Both our moms and dads have been married for years and years, both got siblings, both raised in the church. We’re not really that far apart at all.

Listening to the album, I got the feeling that your guests were having a lot of fun being out of their element.

Yeah, I think so. I mean, truthfully, all the songs that they’re on, they could do themselves. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jason Aldean could do “Driving Around Song,” and it would be a gigantic smash. I think the songs suit them. Jason and I had been trying to do a song together for a while — and so had Jake and I. We had to find the right songs. Kix Brooks knows a good honky-tonk song when he hears it, and that’s what we recorded.

You mentioned that it took a while to find the right song for Jason Aldean. How did it finally happen?

I think they just are, or they aren’t. There were a couple of songs I tried to get Jason on for the last two records, and it just didn’t happen. And, again, people need to understand, Jason Aldean doesn’t need Colt Ford one bit. If we never did one song together, he’s still a superstar. So the song needs to be something he can relate to, too. He didn’t cut “Dirt Road Anthem” [which Ford co-wrote with Brantley Gilbert] because we’re friends. He cut “Dirt Road Anthem” because he knew it was a hit song. So I’ve tried before and it didn’t work, but as soon as I sent him “Driving Around Song,” we were both at home around Christmas, and five minutes later he calls like “Dude, this is a f—ing smash.”

What was it about that particular track?

I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I’ve never done anything with those artists that’s been forced. I can’t pay Tim McGraw or Jason Aldean to be on my record. They were on the record because they loved the songs. And they’re not gonna do anything to jeopardize their careers. So, to me, that’s been one of the most humbling things in this town of unbelievable musicians, songwriters and artists — when they take their time to do something with me.

You seem to write songs and put out albums at such a fast pace. How do you keep it going?

I just love music, and I like writing. I don’t follow any kind of rules. I mean, I make records when I want to. I could do one every year, no problem. But writing is mentally fatiguing, and I’ve only got so much brain power I can use. So I only wrote 17 songs, and 15 of them are on the record. Some guys put 100 songs on hold, but I’m not like that. I know who I am and what I want to do. So it’s like going shopping. I don’t need to go to the store and look at 100 different things. I know what I’m going for, so I go in there and get what I’ve gotta get and get on down the road.

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