Three Songs That Unlocked Eric Church’s New Music

What He Says About “The Snake,” “Hippie Radio” and “Higher Wire”

You really never know what Eric Church is up to, until he decides to tell you what he’s up to. Which is why we are just now getting details about his album Desperate Man that comes out on Friday (Oct. 5). It’s been almost exactly three years since he released Mr. Misunderstood in a surprise move on the day of the 2015 CMA Awards.

Here’s what we’ve learned about this new music so far: Church says there are a few songs that led to this whole album.

“There were three songs that really led to the rest of the album,” Church said in a recent radio interview, “and that’s ‘The Snake,’ ‘Hippie Radio’ and ‘Higher Wire.’ And there is a creative thing that happened. Those were either of the earlier ones, that took us from this path, and then we went to this (other) path. There’s something pretty magical about those three tracks because they really made the record happen.”

And this is how those things happened, as Church explained by citing “Hippie Radio” as his example.

“There was a thing that happened in the studio where, instead of just having the drummer come in, the bass player come in, and us just record the song, it became a very orchestral thing,” he said of the song’s instrumentation, which includes timpanis. He described that process as watching the composer compose it as it is happening. “I had never recorded that way, where you have somebody looking at somebody going, ‘Now!’ and ‘Here!’ and ‘There!’ and ‘Stop!’ And it was one of the more interesting and creative things I’ve ever been a part of.”

The story in that song is one that Church knows well (Anyone who grew up before seat belts were mandatory will know the story well, too.). “I lived that song. I can remember my dad had that beige Pontiac — ugly as hell — with the bench seat in the back. I remember before you had to buckle up, I remember standing in those seats and bouncing down whatever road we were on.”

Church threw a handful of bits from random songs from long gone eras into the lyrics: Tracy Byrd’s “Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo,” Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son,” Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell,” Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade.”

The autobiographical song ultimately comes to the time in Church’s life when he’s in the front seat, and his baby boy is (very buckled in) in the backseat. “I remember my hands shaking as I tried to just drive him four or five miles to my house,” he said, “because I had never been in a situation where you have somebody like that, this new person in the back seat, you’re driving them home. And I’m telling you, the whole song, I can relate to every part of it.”

But all the new music didn’t come that easy. After his Holding My Own tour, Church admitted he was reluctant to go back into the studio just because it was time to do so.

“I didn’t just want to go back into the studio and make a record,” Church said, “just because it was time to make a record. I don’t believe you can ever make a record when you walk in going, ‘I have to make a record.’ I don’t think it works that way. Ever. Historically.

“You just have to get in there, tune your guitar and play nothing for three days. You gotta vibe it. You gotta feel it. And I think one thing we don’t do very well these days is we don’t just let it happen. We don’t let the creativity happen.”

When you do let it happen, Church says, it takes over. And then you might just end up on another path. “That’s what happened here. We will change course, and we are not afraid to change course. So, I think for me, my favorite thing about this album, is I know where we started and where we ended up.”

Church will kick off his Double Down tour on Jan. 18 in Omaha.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.