Jason Aldean on the 8 That Came Before 9

The Learning Curve of Making Music for 14 Years

When Jason Aldean announced his next album title, he said that it was one of those if/then situations. As in, if I get to my ninth album, then I’ll call it 9. It was his baseball number and his all-around lucky number.

And now, 9 is ready. Aldean will release the album on Nov. 22, and the lead single “We Back” is already on the radio almost every ten minutes. Which makes sense. Because in the 14 years since his self-titled debut album came out, Aldean has learned a lot about what kind of music to make, songs to cut and singles to release.

So when he was in Chicago on Sept. 27, I asked him to take me through his first eight albums that brought him here to 9.

Jason Aldean (2005)

“On that record, I learned so much. It was my first full-length album that I’d ever done. I learned a lot about how to put an album together — top to bottom — and just how to make sure that the songs I cut were all great songs, because I had no idea which ones would be singles down the road. And I started to really pay attention to song selection and how I wanted people to perceive me through my music. As songs started coming out, I started thinking, ‘Okay these are the songs I’ll be playing forever. So I better really, really like these songs.'”

Relentless (2007)

“When that album came out, it didn’t really do as well as the first one. We had had all that heat with ‘Hicktown’ and our first No. 1 with ‘Why.’ Then ‘Johnny Cash’ was the first single off this one, then ‘Laughed Until We Cried,’ then ‘Relentless.’ I remember thinking that there were some cool songs that we left on that record that would’ve been good singles. After that, I was like dissecting things all the time. Like, ‘Why did this work and why didn’t this work?’ I look at ‘Laughed Until We Cried’ and it is such a great song, but it probably never should’ve been a single because it didn’t really go with my vibe and what we were at the time. I think it was confusing to fans who thought our sound was ‘Hicktown,’ then here comes this song that’s completely out of place. We had to pay better attention to this if we were going to start to build a brand.”

Wide Open (2009)

“By the time we were making that one, we knew things before we even got started. And because we’d had some hits, we really started getting cool songs sent to us. Like ‘She’s Country,’ ‘The Truth’ and ‘Big Green Tractor.’ When we made this one, I even don’t think we knew how cool it was at the time. We didn’t know how well it was gonna do when it came out. But it lit the fuse for us. It got ball rolling in a big way and put us on the map, for sure.”

My Kinda Party (2010)

“At that point, we were getting better about pushing the envelope. And we went into this one with a lot of confidence, I will say that. When we had ‘Hicktown’ out on the first record, everyone said that that was over-the-top, edgy rock and roll. We ramped that up and then I was starting to feel like we could get away with some things. So we had ‘Dirt Road Anthem,’ ‘My Kinda Party,’ and then we had Kelly Clarkson come on that big pop ballad ‘Don’t You Wanna Stay.’ We were going in some different directions, that’s for sure. And it worked. That was the biggest album of my career so far.”

Night Train (2012)

“Because of all our continued success since 2005, by the time we were making this one, we kept getting more and more great songs sent our way. We even had guys writing specifically for us which was cool. I actually turned away ‘Drunk on You.’ We had that one hold. But we had to let it go (ultimately to Luke Bryan), because we didn’t have room for it. We were really firing on all cylinders. We felt like we could do no wrong, which is exactly how you want to feel when you’re in the studio. One of my favorite songs I’ve ever recorded, even though it was never a single, was on that album. It’s called ‘Staring at the Sun.’”

Old Boots New Dirt (2014)

“When this came out, to me, it felt cool and different. We’d had cool stuff before, but I feel like this is maybe when I started playing it too safe. On other albums, we were kind of rolling the dice and taking chances with songs. We didn’t care what anybody thought. We were just cutting songs we loved. But then on this one, we did safer songs. ‘Burnin’ It Down’ and ‘Tonight Looks Good on You’ and all the other singles were huge hits, but they were just like fast balls straight down the middle. That was the routine we’d gotten into at that point.”

They Don’t Know (2016)

“I always feel bad about the songs we have to leave on the table. And this one had a lot of those that I wish could’ve been singles. They would’ve been hits, I think. I love ‘This Plane Don’t Go There,’ because it has such a cool vibe to it. But we went with more laidback things for singles, like ‘A Little More Summertime’ and ‘Any Ol’ Barstool.’ But for me, and for the fans, it was the big tempo songs that had helped us out early on. So I needed to keep that in mind for the next one.”

Rearview Town (2018)

“We had so much momentum, and we were determined to keep it going. The label trusted us that we knew what we were doing. For this one, I remember talking to my producer Michael (Knox) and telling him that we need to pay really close attention to the songs we cut. We’d gotten comfortable with songs that were doing great, but we weren’t blowing people away. The songs were doing fine, but for me, I needed to move the needle. ‘You Make It Easy’ was huge for us, because that was a sound people hadn’t heard from us. And that’s exactly what had always gotten us to the party: when we took chances on songs and did not play it safe. That’s when we had the most success. It was getting back to that again, and getting more creative and less complacent. It’s easy to put things on cruise control after all those years and all those albums, because you could put out whatever and know it would do alright. But at the end of the day, you always want to go back and listen to the music and think, ’This could go down in history as one of the best country albums ever.’ We always strive for that. And I think we got back on track with this one.”

And that gets us to 9. Aldean said that this album will be packed with 16 songs, most of them penned by his longtime collaborators and some of Nashville’s most prolific hit makers.

The Complete Tracklist:

1. “Tattoos and Tequila”
2. “Blame It On You”
3. “Champagne Town”
4. “Some Things You Don’t Forget”
5. “Got What I Got”
6. “Keeping It Small Town”
7. “Camouflage Hat”
8. “Came Here to Drink”
9. “We Back”
10. “Dirt We Were Raised On”
11. “I Don’t Drink Anymore”
12. “Cowboy Killer”
13. “One for the Road”
14. “Talk About Georgia”
15. “The Same Way”
16. “She Likes It”

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