Kenny Chesney’s new album Life on a Rock is a collection of very personal stories originally scribbled down in Chesney’s notebook while he soaked up the sun at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Some describe the friends and acquaintances he has made there over the years, while others attempt to make sense of Chesney’s crazy life.
In the second part of a two-part interview with CMT Hot 20 Countdown ’s Katie Cook, Chesney opens up about the people and moments that inspired the new album.
Cook: “Lindy” is one of my favorites on the album. Is this based on a real person?
Yeah, Lindy was a unique individual. He was a person that I never had a conversation with, and I don’t know that many people that did. He was just a person on the island. Just one of the brushstrokes that could give a place heart and charm. And he was an example of … really look into his eyes and look past a dirty shirt, and you can find a really good person.
One night I was walking past this church on my way home, and I heard somebody in there playing piano. I walked up the steps, and there was Lindy. I was there for a couple of minutes and realized, “As different as our life is, here was a person alone with his thoughts and his music.” And I realized that Lindy and I had a lot more in common that I could’ve ever imagined. And I went home that night and pulled out my notepad and sat on the porch and started writing the song “Lindy.” That was in 2006, and that’s where this album, Life on a Rock, was born.
It’s a beautiful message. I love that one. And then there’s “Coconut Tree” with Willie Nelson.
You know, my life on the road — and sometimes my life off the road — can be insanely complicated. I’m just busy. I’ve got a lot going. “Coconut Tree” is a very simple song and a very simple lyric, but it kind of exemplifies how I’d like to look through a certain window of the world. And Willie Nelson inspires all of us in a lot of ways. The simplicity of Willie is what really inspires me. I had the opportunity to spend some time with him out in Hawaii this past December, and we sat around a poker table for a couple of hours and just listened to music and laughed, told jokes. I heard this song, and it almost defines that day. (laughs) The idea of the world being as simple as just climbing up a coconut tree and having fun.
The title song is about needing to get back to the islands. How long can you go without feeling like, “OK, I’m kind of on edge now. I need to go decompress”?
(Laughs) Getting shorter and shorter. If you think about it, Katie, we all live life on a big rock, right? But for me, this song describes a lot of things I’ve gotten used to, the way I’ve gotten used to living since 1998, 1997, something like that. It was interesting for me to learn that people live that kind of lifestyle. I think it takes a unique individual to live there all the time. That’s why I was drawn to those people so much because they live the kind of life I craved so much, because I was a 180 away from that. I think if you can do that it adds years to your life, there’s no doubt about it.
I love “Marley.” There’s that lyric, “Sometimes I feel the knife of responsibility.” You are responsible for a lot of people. How would you say that’s a blessing and a curse?
I mean, anytime you’re responsible for a lot of people, there’s a certain knife of responsibility that comes along with that, and you feel that. I try not to think about that too much. But along with that knife of responsibility, I do feel like this song is more about the contrast of my life and how hard that I do work but also in how much I appreciate the fact that I have music in my life and that I can share it with so many people. The fact that how hard we work makes so many people smile and happy.
But this song basically describes where I go in my heart and in my head and how I try to get away from all that … where I’m away from all the sounds from being on the road and the knife of responsibility, or I can literally sit and listen to music and be still. I’m telling you, when you’re planning constantly and you’re working and everything that you do associated with your work is ahead, you’re constantly planning in our business. It’s really hard to live in the moment when you’re constantly looking forward.
It’s hard to sleep at night.
It’s hard to sleep at night. So, that’s where the idea of “Marley” came from.
Another one that seems very personal, and this one I think will make anyone tear up that hears it, is “Happy on the Hey Now.” You sing about Kristi. Can you open up about who Kristi was?
Well, Kristi was a part of a really special, wonderful circle of friends that I had met in the Virgin Islands years ago. In a lot of ways, she defined that circle of friends. She defined living in the moment. She wanted everybody to be happy. When someone like that passes, when they die young, I don’t care who you are or what you do, it stops you in your tracks. It did me. I mean, it changed me. It changed the way I write songs. And things I used to get mad at, I don’t get mad at that much anymore. I think it changed the way I look at my relationships. If you’ve got somebody in your life that you love, you better tell ’em, you know? So this song is a simple reflection of her friendship and how much she meant to people and how big of an impact she made on my life. She never knew, but this song was a simple thank you to her.Read the first part of CMT Hot 20 Countdown’s interview with Kenny Chesney.