On “Old Boots, New Dirt,” the title track of Jason Aldean’s sixth album, the country superstar addresses the aftermath of the cheating scandal that took over his life in 2012.
Photographed kissing former American Idol contestant Brittany Kerr at an L.A. club while still married, Aldean instantly became the face of every tabloid in the country.
“It’s a guy getting out of a situation that he had been in and looking for a place to start over, looking for a chance at a clean slate,” Aldean told CMT.com about the song. “He just picks a town and says, ’I don’t know where I’m going or what’s going on. I’m a little worn down, but it’s me, and I’m looking for a place to hang my hat now and escape the past a little bit and put some things behind me.'”
In real life, the singer is eager to move on as well. He and Kerr are now engaged, and the album’s first single “Burnin’ It Down” has reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s country airplay chart.
In an interview at CMT’s offices in Nashville, Aldean comes clean about his evolving sound, defends his new single’s most controversial line and acknowledges the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
CMT.com: When you came out with “Hicktown” in 2005, it was unlike anything else at the time. Do you feel like the rest of country music has caught up to that style now?
Aldean: I think when we hit the scene, this country/rock/edge thing we were doing, nobody else was doing it. It was something we brought in. And I think over the years — like anything in Nashville — if anything works, every label in town tries to go out and find something that mimics that. So eventually anything that was cool at one point, everybody’s gonna start doing it and it’s not gonna be cool anymore.
That, for us, is the thing. Instead of falling behind and following suit with what everybody else does, I’m always looking for ways to go out and try something else. If everybody is — for lack of a better term — copping your style, let’s go do something else.
I tell people all the time, it’s like having a shiny new red truck. If you get a shiny new red truck, it’s really cool until all your friends get the same truck, and then it’s not really that cool anymore, so you need to go trade it in and get another one.
The new songs sounded influenced by ’90s R&B to me. Did you listen to Boyz II Men and stuff like that?
Yeah, of course. I think all of that stuff was really big at the time I was a teenager.
The reason I ask is because it seems like synthesizers and drum machines are coming back, even on your music.
I think a lot of times what people do is look to the pop world and whatever is going on in pop music. They take that and try to incorporate it into whatever they’re doing, whether it’s a drum loop or vocal effects or whatever it is.
But it’s also like country music is scared to be the innovators of that stuff. They want to make sure it’s cool and that it works for everybody else, and then they go, “OK, I’ll try that. Maybe I’ll ease that in here.”
I never want to be scared to try new things. I want to be the first to do stuff and not feel like I’m just following in whatever everybody else is doing. And I’ve always been that way. I draw from a lot of influences, whether it be blues or hip-hop or R&B, ’90s country, ’70s country and even stuff that’s going on today. I got an 11-year-old and a 7-year-old that play music I’ve never heard of, and I hear stuff all the time that I’m like, “Who is that?” It gives me ideas, too.
“Burnin’ It Down” is one of those steamy, R&B-flavored songs, and one of the things people seem to remember is the “nekkid in my bed” line. Did you have any idea that would be so noteworthy?
I had a feeling. I had a feeling just because when “Hicktown” came out, it was the “butt crack” line. That was the one line that everybody was like, “Oh, that’s the butt crack song.” If that’s how you gotta remember it, then that’s exactly what it is. It’s the butt crack song. But sometimes all it takes is that one word or one phrase that makes people go, “Oh, yeah, that’s the song that talks about being nekkid in bed.” Yup, that’s the one.
The title track seems really relevant to your personal life at the moment. Is that part of why you liked it?
Absolutely. That’s the main reason I liked it, honestly. You know, over the last couple of years, my personal life has just been on blast and out there for everybody to have an opinion on, and it’s been the focus of everything for me. No matter what I did in my career, my personal life was the focus of everything. And it’s just a drag, man. It’s really annoying to me.
The fact is, you know, shit happens. It’s life, and things happen. And you deal with it, and you move on and you don’t sit there and dwell on it. And we’re trying to move past all this stuff, but you can’t because people are always bringing it up. And, for me, this album was a way to escape and get away from that … channel my energy into something that was positive.
I put everything I had into the record, and now coming on the other side of it, I’ve got a lot of the things that were weighing me down in the rearview mirror, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds both personally and professionally. And I hope that the focus now will shift to my music and things like that, which it should be on. To me, that’s the metaphor that sums it all up and is a way of me saying, “All right. This shit is over. I’m tired of talking about it. Quit bringing it up. Let’s move on.”