Kenny Chesney threw a party for his upcoming album, Life on a Rock, on Tuesday (April 2) in Nashville, but it wasn’t the sort of sunny shindig you’d expect from the superstar.
Rather than playing the kind of anthems you’d hear at his stadium shows, Chesney has populated the new album with what he called “incredibly personal, incredibly autobiographical” songs. About 50 people were treated to a preview project during a private show at a small Nashville music venue, the High Watt. Life on a Rock will be released April 30.
Dressed casually in a gray shirt and khaki pants, Chesney sat alone onstage and spoke extensively about nine of the 10 songs on the album. (He skipped past the first track, “Pirate Flag,” since it’s already a hit at country radio.) Then he reached over to a nearby laptop and shared the new material for the first time.
Not unlike much of his catalog, Life on a Rock is very nostalgic. In particular, Chesney said he considers the songs “When I See This Bar” and “Happy on the Hey Now (A Song for Kristi)” as the lynchpins that inspired the project. For both songs, he draws on friendships for inspiration, with the latter being a tribute to a friend who died too young. He also noted he wrote the oldest song on the album, “Lindy,” in 2006. It’s about a man he often encountered on the islands, although they rarely said anything beyond basic hellos.
Most of the album is midtempo, although Chesney is not afraid to add a lighthearted feel to the mix. He told the crowd he wrote the lyrics to the thoughtful “Spread the Love” at the request of the Wailers , and their Jamaican groove in the arrangement is unmistakable. Later in the album, a duet with Willie Nelson titled “Coconut Tree” is a hoot, especially because the duo is “high on the coconut tree,” and presumably they’re not just talking about elevation.
Slowing things down at the end of the album, Chesney pays tribute to Bob Marley in “Marley,” which also references one of the country singer’s favorite novels, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Later, Chesney said he co-wrote “Must Be Something I Missed” with Mac McAnally after being so busy that he didn’t feel like he was really living.
Over the course of the two-hour event, Chesney spoke about pushing the envelope with his fans, balancing creativity with the demands on his time and using songwriting as therapy. Yet despite the deep thoughts in his banter, he smiled often and spoke openly and at length about his motivations for writing the music.
In addition, Chesney told the audience that by looking at the artwork on the final album, fans will be able to see snapshots of his journals as well as some of his own photographs from the islands.
As guests entered the party, they were encouraged to write questions on a beach-themed note card. After the final song on the album was played, Chesney fielded a few preselected questions.
On the final note card, he was asked if he was scared to expose so many feelings on his album.
“It is scary,” he replied. “There is so much living that went into making this record. … I was writing these songs and the next thing I knew, I had what was the start of a pretty cool song cycle. Just simple expressions, postcards about my life, about my friends’ lives.”
He continued, “I never knew really knew this record Life on a Rock would come to be, because I didn’t think anybody was going to hear these songs. I knew they had a lot of life in them, and I knew they had a lot of my life in them.”
As the event came to a close, after sharing a few more of his thoughts, Chesney remarked, “This record is very different. It’s very honest and very authentic. It describes my life — the last decade of it anyway. … It’s scary, but it feels right.”