"I've always told people that there is an abyss of material out there about self-esteem and high anxiety," says Jack Ingram with a knowing smile. "I think opening yourself up to those types of feelings are when you really do find something."
On his new album, Big Dreams & High Hopes, the "Barefoot and Crazy" singer finds equal inspiration in the heavens ("Seeing Stars" with an angelic vocal by Patty Griffin) and the honky-tonks (a rowdy remake of "Barbie Doll" featuring Dierks Bentley).
"Go through the history of country music and great songwriting and you're going to find that it's not all upbeat and 'happy happy,'" says Ingram, who has a college degree in psychology. "'Sunday Morning Coming Down' is all about introspection and trying to figure out what's going on in the world around you -- and how you are affecting it and how it affects you. Those types of songs and that type of songwriting have always been what I'm interested in."
While paying his dues in his native Texas, Ingram self-released two albums in the early 1990s but his partnerships with Nashville labels throughout that decade were unfruitful. Nevertheless, he's always made a handsome living on the road. When his big break came in 2006 with "Wherever You Are," the reputation of his live show prompted opening slots for Brooks & Dunn, Sheryl Crow, Toby Keith, Martina McBride and Brad Paisley.
Here, Ingram discusses his incredible persistence, finding his voice and why his wife is living his dream, too.
CMT: "Not Giving Up on Me" is about searching but also finding balance in your life. What are the challenges of trying to see how far you take this career while still being reliable at home?
Ingram: Yeah, that's always a work in progress. The reason I wrote that song, and I've told people before, is that I've been writing love songs for over 20 years and they're all about the same girl. This was an opportunity to have not just a love song, but a song about somebody who really has been forced to live this dream with me. ... I get all the limelight. I get the spotlight. I get all the appreciation and accolades and people telling me how much they love what I do. And oftentimes when my wife is sitting right beside me, they step right over her to get to me. She already knows it but it's a way in a song to reassure her and reassure myself and put it out there that this really is a partnership. ... I've heard guys at the end of their career talking about their wives and how they wouldn't be here without them. I didn't really understand it then but I sure do now.
Is she easily impressed with anything you do? Or has she seen it all?
No, she's not impressed by me. She's seen my act before. But that's just it -- I don't need her to be impressed by me. I need her to be exactly who she is: honest and loyal to me to a fault. She's my partner. I don't need her to tell me how great I am. I do that by myself. (laughs)
The title track is about ambition, which reminds me that you and I have been doing interviews for at least 10 years. What is it about this career and lifestyle that have made you keep going?
I am like a roach. (laughs) The thing about it is, I love making music. I love this business. I love being a part of it and there's not an end goal for me. I mean, I want to sell millions of records and I want all the No. 1 songs and I want all the things you can get from this business. ... So yeah man, it's every three years, for about 10 years, that you and I talk. And I fully expect and want that to happen until we're done. And I mean done. Because I want to make music. That's what I love doing. That's what I'm getting to do. That particular element plays out in this record and on the song, "Big Dreams and High Hopes," because that's what I have. That's what a lot of the songs are about. You know, I'm not a motivational singer by any stretch but one thing that I do hope that people get out of my music on some level is the idea that you can get anything you want. You've just got to name it and see it and go get it.
I like "In the Corner" at the end of the record. It's really atmospheric.
That was something Doug Lancio produced. You know, I wrote that song in 2003 when I really didn't have a record deal or a whole lot going on. I felt like I was in a corner and I was at a loss for why my career wasn't working the way I thought it could. I thought I knew why and the whole song was about that. I thought I knew what wasn't working and I could fix it but it would be a lie and I would end up in the corner anyway. I would end up in the same spot. So here I am. I've heard songwriters talk about songs being therapeutic and for me that was a big one. It got me through a really tough time in my life and I'm really glad people are getting to hear it.
What was the solution you reached?
I think the solution was to just keep on plugging, man. If at first you don't succeed ... . I was so busy at that time in my career telling people who I didn't want to be like, that I think I was forgetting to really truly find my own voice and just be myself. That song helped me realize that. Once I embraced that, that's when a lot of good things started happening.