Jon Pardi has one boot firmly planted in traditional country, while the other boot is digging into what everybody else is doing, too. That stance makes his newest album, Heartache Medication, a particularly interesting entry among the fall’s new releases.
The project stands out because it’s so country — he’s even dancing in the title track’s memorable music video. Yet he’s quick to stand up for any other artist’s definition of what country music should sound like. Shortly before the album release, the award-winning country star settled in for a chat with CMT Hot 20 Countdown.
CMT: I would think this is the time when you’re the most excited, because you’ve been working on this thing for a really long time and now people are finally gonna hear it.
JP: Two months ago, I’d be like, “Why can’t we just put it out now? Why can’t we put it out today?” And they’d say they have this whole rollout plan for the album. But it’s been fun, and I see why we’re slowly releasing it and painfully releasing it. [laughs] It’s fun when we give the fans a song every month and even for me, I see it on iTunes.
I’ve got an Alexa in my house and I’ll ask her, I’ll be like, “Play ‘Heartache Medication’” and it’s like, “It’s up! It’s up! It’s live on the internet!” … I think it’s gonna be awesome and it’s been nothing but good reviews and so much great feedback. So I know this album’s gonna be really, really fun for people to listen to.
For me, it was nice to hear some old school country, because it’s just not out there much. Do you like being the guy that’s sticking to that line because that’s what you do? Or is it a little bit … I don’t know if uncomfortable is the right word, being one of the few guys doing it anymore?
I feel like it’s not really thought about for me. I don’t really think about it that way. I feel like this is my country music. And that’s your country music. But it’s still country music regardless of what it is, what it ain’t. I always say this is what I think country music is. What I inhaled and listened to and breathed and played guitar in bars and everything. It’s right here in this record. And that’s where I stand. Because that’s what I think country music is for me.
That’s what an artist is and that’s why there’s so many influences from artists because that’s what they think their country music is. That’s what they think country music is and they made that record. So that’s where I’m like (shrugs), I just like old school-sounding stuff and I try to make it as modern as possible, to where you listen to it and it reminds you of something but you can’t put it anywhere. It reminds you of something but it doesn’t remind you of anything. It’s brand new.
I get a lot of, “You’re sticking to your guns, sticking to your roots,” and I’m just like, “Man, I’m just writing country music the way I want to hear it.” And so who knows? Maybe I’ll put a Motown record out next one, you just never know. But I feel like it was the perfect moment to make an even more traditional record than my last one.
Because “Head Over Boots” did so well, did that give you confidence to follow this path?
When the radio people told me it was the first single I was like, “Really? Mmm, OK. That’s a county shuffle…” [laughs] This record is different than “Head Over Boots” and still I think as an artist and a songwriter, we’re always moving forward. You don’t wanna try to get another “Head Over Boots.” You can’t get another “Dirt on My Boots,” you know? Like, the two boots songs. Or even a “Heartache on the Dance Floor.” You can’t get another one of those. They’re there. You gotta do something else and so this record is another direction, but it has the soul of [his 2016 album, California Sunrise], I would say.
What are you most proud of on this record?
I’m proud of Heartache Medication, the whole album. I’m proud of every song. We worked really hard to narrow it down to the 14 tracks, or as I say for the new world, it could be an album, or it could be a playlist (laughs). But we went from like 25 songs to like 12 and then begging to get 14. And we got 14.
I was like, “Well, Thomas [Rhett] has 16. And the rappers are putting out 20 tracks. I was like, “With the streaming era, we could put 14 on there.” So there was a lot of, like, “Please, please, please, please…” to make all of these songs come together and be a unit. …
And it was so much work to make this happen, so much behind-the-scenes drama — but not really drama. Just like, from producers to engineers to managers to people at the record label, everybody is a part of this album. As a group, we all talked about it. Before we even knew what was gonna be on the record, we were talking about the songs we loved. And then when we got done, it was like, “There it is.”
And then you start listening to it. And then you want to listen to it again, the whole project. So I’m proud of that because I feel like anybody can say anything about anybody’s record nowadays. … But if they only knew how much work went into this record, and how much time I spent on the road dreaming about putting a new record out, and now it’s finally here.
So that’s what I’m proud about — all the hard work, all the unseen work, that went into this record that people won’t ever know unless I’m sitting down talking to you. But I’d rather have you listen to the record than talk about how hard it was and all this! (Big laugh)