Country songs, if they’re done well, are timeless. And country singers, if they stay true to their roots, can do the same.
There’s no better example of that than Justin Moore.
Moore moved to Nashville from Arkansas right after finishing high school. And after a few years of writing and playing, he had his first breakout hit, “Small Town USA.” That was released 10 years ago this month, and in the decade since, Moore has released 15 singles, had four kids, and has just crossed the one million mark in Twitter followers.
Later this spring, Moore will release his fifth album — Late Nights and Longnecks — and it sounds just like you’d expect from an artist who’s never strayed from the traditional country sound that brought him to Nashville in the first place. CMT.com had the chance to talk to Moore on his tour bus before his Chicago show on Thursday night (Feb. 21), and get to know what’s changed for him and his music, and what’s stayed exactly the same.
CMT: How would you say your new album compares to your last albums?
Justin Moore: This one is a more mature album in a way. And that makes sense, because I’m almost 35, it’s been 10 years since my debut album, and this is my 12th year on road.
It’s been almost three years since you released your last album Kinda Don’t Care. Was that time off intentional?
It was. It gave us time to decide what we wanted to say, and ample time to write and find songs. I’m not the kind of artist who can write songs at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning like a lot of writers do. I know that means fans have to wait to hear new music, but we wanted to stay true to our roots and not rush things.
So how’d you do that?
Well when Jeremy (Stover) and I were writing songs for my first record when I first moved to town, we both were single, so we’d pop down to the beach and rent a house in the Florida panhandle and drink beer and write songs. Act a fool, then the next day, get up, drink beer and write songs. We wrote a lot that way, and even recorded some songs at some hole-in-the-wall studio in Destin. Then fast forward to about six years ago, my wife and I bought a house down there. So in order to make this new album sound traditional, I said, “Let’s go get a handful of our buddies, and go to the beach and lock ourselves in and drink beer and write songs.” That’s what we did for about five weeks. It was just a bunch of us knucklehead rednecks at the beach.
Did you go back to the same hole-in-the-wall studio to record?
No, we came back to Nashville for that. We actually tracked it at the Castle, where so many great albums have been recorded. Alan Jackson, Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, Reba McEntire, George Strait: they’ve all made records there.
And now that Late Nights and Longnecks is done, how do you feel about the finished product?
Our entire career has been rooted in traditional country. Maybe the last album stepped out of box a little. It had moments, like “Somebody Else Will,” that were different from “Small Town USA”. But about a year ago, I told Jeremy, “I want to make the most traditional album we’ve ever made.” And we did.
So did all the songs come from that writers’ retreat down in Florida?
Not all of them. “That’s My Boy,” the song devoted to my son which I’ve never been able to do, was written in Nashville. (Moore and his wife welcomed their fourth child and first son Thomas two years ago.) We were in Jeremy’s hot tub late one night, and I said I wanted to write a song called “That’s My Boy.” So we texted Casey Beathard, and we just wrote it. And the next day was our last day to track.
Does that happen a lot?
Not for me. It is my first last-minute song. Did you know that David Lee Murphy finished writing his “Dust on the Bottle” on his way to the studio to finish recording his debut album, in 1995? And it was his biggest hit ever. I’m a firm believer in the ones that come out of nowhere and smack you in face and brand a moment in time. Those are the ones meant to be special.
For ten years now, you’ve stood your ground about being what I think of as country country. Has that been difficult with the genre leaning in so many different directions?
I understand that there are people out there who want to hear rock-country, rap-country, pop-country, country-country and whatever. It’s been an ongoing debate. And there are artists who do each and every one of those things, and fans who like each and every one of those things. But I decided early on that I’m gonna do what I do best. I don’t want to go out there and pretend to enjoy doing this if I don’t. It’s not fair to the fans if I am faking it. I’m not an actor.
But do you ever feel pressure to do whatever it that’s hot right this minute?
Not if the team around me is being real with me on song choices and the balance of what we send to radio. We do rocking songs, real life songs, lifestyle songs. But you need someone who will say, “Justin, we cannot do another drinking song.” We’ve stretched our legs with the music over the years, but never compromised what were about. I have a career because we provide insight into who I am as a person. Fans really want to know who you are. They can deal with fact that I may not be the guy who’s the best singer, but I am the guy you want to go get a beer with.
So you like letting fans into your life through the music, but what about through social media. That’s a fine line, right?
Until my kids are old enough to tell me they’re okay with it, it’s just gonna have to be little doses. I want to grow my artistry because of my artistry. I want people to respect what I do from a writing and recording standpoint. I want them to want to keep coming to my shows because of that. The kids know that what I do is different because people come up to me at Walmart, or kids at school tell them, “I love your dad’s song.” But I’m not going to use my kids to further my career.
What little moments from your career still kind of blow you away?
There are times, like on this new record, when Jeremy and I would look at each other like, “Can you believe we’re on the bus writing a song with David Lee Murphy? Or Dean Dillon?” I’m so fortunate to have already worked with so many of my heroes, and I hope I can keep doing more and more of it.
Moore and Stover — who has produced all five of his albums since his self-titled debut in 2009 — were co-writers on all ten tracks of Late Nights and Longnecks, due out April 26.