From Darius Rucker's point of view, the narrator of "Come Back Song" is easy to pinpoint. He's "that guy who messes up but finds out too late." Asked if that's an easy perspective to write from, Rucker suddenly breaks into laughter.
"I've been there!" he replies. "I can't say we've all been there, but I've tried to be the big dog and walk away. Then you sit there and go, 'What the hell did I just do?'"
"Come Back Song" is Rucker's first single from Charleston, SC 1966, named for his birthplace and year (and a nod to a longtime favorite country album, Radney Foster's Del Rio TX 1959). But this is no well-scripted comeback effort, considering that Rucker's 2008 project sold more than 1 million copies, secured several No. 1 hits, landed him spots on several major country tours and earned him a CMA Award for best new artist.
He also co-wrote all 11 of the new songs, often partnering with high-profile writers like Brad Paisley and Kara DioGuardi. He co-wrote his current single, "Come Back Song," with Chris Stapleton and Casey Beathard.
After a visit to CMT's Top 20 Countdown, the friendly singer-songwriter chatted about his new record, songwriting aspirations in Nashville and his undeniable Southern roots.
CMT: "Come Back Song" is the 77th song you wrote for this album. What was it about that song that made it unique from the others?
Rucker: I have no idea. When we wrote it, it was also the last session of the day. It was one of those 5 o'clock sessions or something. I had written with both guys before, but I don't think any of the three guys were excited to be there. We just had so much respect for each other, so we decided to do the writing session. We sat down and it came kinda quick. I think for me, the reason it made the record is because I dig the chorus. It's so singalong. I love it.
How many of those 77 songs did you actually record?
We recorded 17, so the other 60 are somewhere on a tape somewhere. I'm sure we'll demo them up. We've got our song-shopper to shop them around. With the first record, one of the stigmas was, "Who wants a castoff? Who wants a Darius record castoff?" I was cool with that. I understood that and probably would have felt the same way. (laughs) That was the funny thing. After the record became really successful, the phone calls starting coming in. I think if I ever see somebody with a No. 1 hit that I wrote, that would be bigger than me getting a No. 1. That would be amazing.
"I Got Nothin'" also has that classic country play on words. You've nothing to say and you've got nothing left after she goes.
I love that song. I've been there, where you wanted to say something and you knew you could say something. But there was that part of you [thinking], "Dude, it's over. Just shut up. Don't be that guy who rescues it again." At the end of it, when she goes, "He's got nothin'," that for me is the most important part of the song because he knows how shitty his life is going to be. But he's still letting it go. I like that about that song. It's very realistic. ... If you haven't been that guy, you've been on the other side. You've wanted that person to say something. Say anything. I'll stay if you say anything. If you say, "Please stay," I'll stay. But ... nothing.
Do you always know how a song's going to turn out when you start writing?
Never. There are still songs that I thought were going to be a ballad that turned out differently. "Alright" -- I thought was a ballad until we cut it! (laughs) I'm not a producer, so I'm going in with my singing ideas and [producer Frank Rogers] is going in with his ideas. When he said, 'We're going to play that upbeat,' I said, 'OK.' And when we did play it upbeat, I said, "Ohhh --K!" Part of the reason we work so well together is because, first of all, we get along so well, but second of all, I know what I do, and he knows what he does. He doesn't try to do what I do, and I don't try to do what he does.
"Southern State of Mind" is about life in the South. What's kept you living in the South?
I'm a Southerner. You know, I lived in New York for a couple of years and really realized it wasn't for me. I mean, I knew it before I went there, but I really realized it when I went there. I'm just sort of laidback. I've got that attitude that I'll get there when I get there. That Charleston attitude, you know. There's no place for me to live but Charleston, really. I've thought about it a lot, and Charleston's the spot for me.
"In a Big Way" is about home. For someone who's never been to Charleston, how would you describe it?
It's beautiful. It's historic. The beaches are amazing. I think the one word I would use to describe Charleston is "nice." They have the nicest people in the world there. People are genuinely nice and care about everybody else's well being. I think that's a great place to live. It's slow in the South, but it's slower in Charleston.
"I Don't Care" is just a fun song. What is it about Brad Paisley (one of the co-writers on the song) that sets him apart from the other musicians you've met?
Just writing it, I was laughing the whole time. Brad and Chris (DuBois) started that and stopped after they got to the first verse and chorus because they wanted to write it with me. Brad's a pretty humble guy. He's a lot like how I like to think I am. He knows what he's done in the music business, but he also knows he didn't cure cancer. He's a down-to-earth guy. Outside of being on the road, he wants to have a normal life. He doesn't take himself so seriously. His humor is so dry, people don't get. I get it. He kills me! I get it, man! (laughs) When we're playing poker, I'm sitting over there and I see him take a picture of my stacks. And an hour later, I have three chips and he takes a picture of that. I look at his tweet and he's tweeted my stacks. (laughs) That's funny, man!