With a major tour on hold, Kenny Chesney is spending his days sheltering at home in Tennessee, watching Netflix, and discovering new and old music alike. Oh, and he’s also promoting a brand new album, Here and Now.
For this interview, he chatted remotely with CMT Hot 20 Countdown Host Katie Cook about the inspirations behind the new songs, including “Tip of My Tongue,” “Guys Named Captain,” and the hit title track.
CMT: For Here and Now, some of these songs came out of writing trips. You were wanting to reconnect with your writing friends, right?
Chesney: Yeah, that’s true. I was out in California a lot last year. I flew several people out on two different weeks and it was so much fun because we didn’t have our phones with us. I kind of frowned upon everybody checking their phone every 10 minutes as we’re trying to write a song, you know?
So it was really great. We got to all reconnect. We had two houses out there that everybody stayed in and we would have writing sessions in the morning and then we would have another at night. You never knew what somebody was gonna come up with.
“Here and Now” is zooming up the countdown. I love this song. I love the message. It’s all about being in the moment and having your priorities right now. It’s great timing for it, too. I need that little reminder right now for sure.
Well, it’s hard for me, because I constantly have to be moving. … But when I first heard this song, it did remind me of the push and pull of my life. I crave being still, but when I get it, I do start to freak out a little bit. But I think that for me in my life, where do I truly feel settled? It feels crazy to feel settled when you’re up there on stage, but I do feel like that’s where I’m the most comfortable.
I spent time with a couple of my big wave surfing friends out in California and we had this conversation. I said, ‘Where do you feel most content? Where do you feel the most that you’re living in the here and now?” And they go, “When we’re on a wave.”
And I went, well, if I think about it, when I’m up there onstage with the audience and we’re all there together, I truly believe nobody’s thinking about yesterday or tomorrow or what happened this morning or hopefully the stress in their life. We’re not looking too far ahead or too far back. I truly believe with the music that we’ve created and with the audience, that is where I live the most in the here and now. That’s why the song meant so much to me.
It really wouldn’t be a Kenny record without a few steamy moments. Let’s talk about “You Don’t Get To.” … When you go into the recording studio and you have a song with this intense delivery, do you start pulling on personal memories? How do you get in that zone?
Yeah, when I first heard that piece of music and that song, I had been there before. When you go into the studio, you do channel all the old emotions with the new emotions. … I feel like that the character in that song is finally sticking up for themselves and moving on with their life. Not getting caught in the trap of having someone come back and try to pull you back in — which we’ve all done.
We all get addicted to people and things. I really loved it because the character in the song truly had enough and finally told the other person, “You don’t get to do this anymore. I’m taking control of my life and moving forward.” I took that emotion into the studio and that memory. It was a beautifully written song. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
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Let’s talk about “Tip of My Tongue.” It’s a very descriptive song.
Yeah, that’s a good way to put it! I’ve had that idea for several years and never did find the right way to write it. I sat down with Ed Sheeran and Ross Copperman. Ed and I share the same publisher and the same concert promoter. We’ve been talking about getting together for a couple years and with our schedules we never were able to do that. About a year and a half ago now, we sat down and wrote that song and I said, “Well, I have this idea and it’s a true memory of a true experience. It happened years ago, but it’s still in my brain and still in my heart.”
And I said, “I want to try to write a song about it.” All I had was, “I love the dimples and the small of your back.” I swear to God, the next thing out of Ed’s mouth was, “The way they’re speaking to me just like that.” We just went from there to there to there. I wouldn’t say it was an easy song to write, but it was a fun song to write. Several hours later, we had “Tip of My Tongue.”
I would imagine there were some smiles and giggles. I mean, it definitely brings up some visuals, so it’s a little on the naughty side.
Yeah! (laughs) There’s a girl out there somewhere that’s going to hear this song, going, “Hmmm, sounds like it could be about me.” (laughs)
What does your mom think of this song? Does it make her blush?
I don’t think she understood it. Thank God. (laughs)
This album has been described as like a handful of postcards. Would you explain that?
Well, there’s a lot of places I’ve been to — I guess that’s the best way to put it — emotionally and mentally, just living, that compiled this music. I started thinking about this album even before Hurricane Irma, which led me down to making of the Songs of the Saints record. So this album’s been in the making for a little while, but I feel that we have a lot of different emotional postcards, if you would, and a lot of roads that we’ve gone down on this record. And there’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of rockin’ songs.
I’ve felt like I edit myself, maybe to a fault sometimes, about my live show and thinking about what’s going to [work]. Because the music you make is a product of what your live show is going to be. But I feel like with the song “We Do,” I was able to write a love letter to my audience and a thank you, just letting them know how much love I have for them and how much I feel that back from them.
“Guys Named Captain” to me is such a postcard. You’ve probably known a few guys named Captain in all your travels.
Yeah, when you’ve lived a lot of your adult life in a boating community, you meet a lot of people like that. I’ve spent so much time on boats and in boating communities and writing songs with those characters — and honestly, just living life with those kind of characters and those kind of guys. A friend of mine, James Slater, wrote this song about his father.
When I hear it, it just paints a picture of so many people that I’ve met in the islands or in boating communities or in New England or in the Keys or in the Outer Banks or overseas in boating communities. People that live that kind of life, I feel a lot of commonality with, and that’s why that song meant so much to me.
My personal favorite song on the album is “Knowing You.” That to me screamed “Instant classic.” Did you have a strong reaction the first time you heard it?
I did. Speaking of one of those emotional postcards, “Knowing You” is the kind of song I haven’t recorded in a while. It just fits so well into my wheelhouse. I think we all have someone in our life, or maybe a couple people, that were in your life and for whatever reason aren’t in your life anymore. It’s not necessarily that it’s a bad thing. Maybe that person passed on, or maybe y’all’s lives just moved in different directions.
But I think this song is just a recognition that your life wouldn’t have been the same without knowing that person. I think it’s a song about gratitude that that person was in your life in the first place, even though you’re not together. And wow, when I heard that song, it was pretty emotional, honestly, because I’ve got a couple of those people in my life. I went in to record that song and it felt so authentic to do it. I’m glad you brought that song up because it is one of my favorite vocals and favorite recordings on the record.