For Kenny Chesney’s new album Life on a Rock, the stadium-filling, island-hopping country superstar forced himself to unplug from his hectic life. Slowly, songs began to form.
“I think that it’s really easy to let those life moments that inspire you evaporate into thin air, and you never revisit them again,” says Chesney. “I was able, over time, to actually catch some of those moments and write about them.”
Chesney says he was adamant about letting Life on a Rock be what it wanted to be and relied on the calming beauty of his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands to drive each song. “Pirate Flag,” the project’s first single, currently sits at No. 5 on Billboard’s country airplay chart.
Recently, the singer-songwriter sat down with CMT Hot 20 Countdown ’s Katie Cook to let fans know how the project turned out. Here’s the first segment of their two-part conversation.
Cook: I was listening to Life on a Rock, and it kind of made me feel like it was similar to Old Blue Chair in that it seemed very personal and almost like one of those albums like “I gotta get it out of my own head.”
Chesney: That’s a fair assessment. It’s even more personal, I think, than the Be As You Are record. The stories are more colorful, the characters are a little more colorful. The first song I wrote on Life on a Rock, I wrote in 2006, and I wrote the last one at the end of last year. So this record was made over time and, in a way, that’s unlike how we’re conditioned to make records. Like, a lot of times we go, “OK, it’s 18 months after the last one, so now we’re gonna put out a new record.” This record wasn’t made like that. For a lot of the songs, I literally pulled a legal pad out of my backpack and wrote down just stories, trying to paint a picture. I wrote a lot of these songs without music, without a timeline, without a deadline, without expectations, with just the idea of trying to be a storyteller. Just simple songs and simple reflections about my life, my friends’ lives, their stories and all these great characters. For that reason, Life on a Rock is very personal.
That doesn’t sound like you wrote them really even knowing that they were all going to be on an album.
I didn’t ever know that this was gonna be a record at all. I thought the only people that were gonna hear these songs were the people I wrote them about. We’d all sit around going, “Ha, isn’t that funny.” But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that even though they are really personal songs, they’re still universal emotionally. And I feel like I’ve gotten better at being truthful with the people that have invested a lot of their life into my life and into my music and letting them see inside this a little bit.
We’ve kind of chatted about this before, but I feel like “Pirate Flag” really is you giving us a glimpse into your days off.
Well, it is in a lot of ways. It’s one of the two songs on the record that I didn’t write, but I could’ve. It was almost like Ross [Copperman] and David Lee Murphy wrote that song specifically for me because it does tell my journey in a lot of ways. I think we all have this idea that we’re overwhelmed. Life has its way of throwing some worry and stress and anxiety, and it can be a mundane existence. You got your teachers, you got your boss, you got your lovers, you got this, that. And I think people raise their pirate flag in a lot of different ways. Me, mine is just basically on a boat. Other people may go to the golf course, or they may go to NASCAR or whatever, but they still have that one thing that they lean on to get them away from all that. And that’s the whole idea behind “Pirate Flag.”
One of the songs is titled “When I See This Bar.” Is there a particular bar that this is about?
There is, and I think we all have that place. You had your group of friends, you fell in love at that place, you fell out of love at that place, you met a lot of really interesting people and, over time, you don’t realize that it’s becoming a really important spot in your life. And then life has a way of taking each one of you and moving you along, and you don’t really notice at the time, but all of a sudden, you’re just not there anymore. And that’s the root of this song. I think when we see that bar or we see that place, we don’t see four walls. We see the laughter, we see the faces, we hear the music. I had this bar that I had my first beer in college at and I had my last beer in college at with the same group of friends. And every time I go to that town and every time I drive past it, I think about those people.
Editor’s note: Read the second part of CMT Hot 20 Countdown’s interview with Kenny Chesney on Wednesday (May 8).