Jason Aldean has firmly planted the roots of his new album, My Kinda Party, into Southern soil. Nearly every song on the project celebrates a rural lifestyle, but the title track especially captures a time in his life the Macon, Ga., native recalls fondly. His cousin, who is about five months older, immediately came to mind when Aldean first heard the song.
"When we were teenagers, his mom would go out of town. He lived on about a 100-acre farm, and we would always have these big parties out at his house," Aldean says. "His mom came home one time and they had cars lined up all down their dirt road. She turned the corner, and all these cars were lined up -- 50 or 60 cars out there. That was what I thought about with 'My Kinda Party' -- throwing parties out at his house when we were younger and getting into trouble."
Today, nobody's complaining about Aldean's rowdy ways. He launched his career in 2005 with "Hicktown" but solidified himself as a key artist in 2010 with No. 1 hits like "She's Country," "Big Green Tractor" and "The Truth." During a visit to CMT's offices, Aldean talked about playing behind chicken wire, choosing Kelly Clarkson as his duet partner and why nobody should be surprised by his Southern rap.
CMT: Do you see yourself in the narrative of one of the new songs, "Tattoos on This Town"?
Aldean: A little bit, yeah. When I was in high school, the night before we graduated, we all met up at our school at midnight and spray-painted our names all over the parking lot. So when all the teachers came back the next day, they had something to remember us by. It was pretty cool. It was like big names, you know? That was what I thought about when I heard that song.
At what point were you itching to get to Nashville?
When I was 18, I went out on the road and started playing a little circuit of clubs. I did that for a few years. By the time I was 21, which was when I moved to Nashville, I was ready to get up here and give it a shot. Of course, I thought I was ready at 18 to move here, which was ridiculous. I think at 21, I was ready and still had a lot to learn once I got up here. But it was cool to get here early and get my feet wet at an early age.
When you were getting started, what was the smallest town you played?
It might have been Thomaston, Ga., which is actually where my dad is from. We played a place there called the Dew Drop Inn -- and it was really a classy establishment. The bar wasn't much bigger than this room, and I remember this old man and his son ended up getting into it while we were playing. The old man beat the hell out of him right in front of us, right in front of the stage. Stuff like that happened on a pretty regular basis back in those days.
Did you ever play behind chicken wire?
Yes, down in South Georgia. I don't remember the name of the club, but there was a place down there that did have it. That's a pretty scary deal. I've played some rough clubs, but when you walk in and you're in a cage playing, you know it's going to be an interesting night.
One line in "Church Pew or Barstool" describes you pretty well -- "When you don't seem to run on either side of the fence, people act like you don't make sense."
Yeah, it reminds me of when I was living at home in Georgia. All my friends were going to college or getting jobs. We were all starting to become adults and do all that deal, but I didn't want any part of any of that. I didn't want to go to school. I didn't want a real job. I wanted to play music. But when you tell people you're a musician, it's like, "OK. Right." I think everybody felt like it was a hobby for me, like at some point I was going to be playing clubs around our hometown. But I had bigger plans than that. I knew what I wanted to do. It was just a matter of me putting it into motion.
You have a duet with Kelly Clarkson on "Don't You Want to Stay." Do you remember the first time you ever heard her sing?
Yep, like everybody, on that first year of American Idol. I think everybody was tuning into that deal. I remember hearing her, and it was very obvious to me who was going to win that show, very early on. I've always been a huge fan of hers. I think she's amazing. She has such a distinctive style and voice -- a very breathy, soulful thing she does. She was who I wanted for this song. ... What you see when you watch her sing, it really is the real deal. She sounds amazing. She came in, nailed it, and it was like, "OK, well, there's a single." She turned a great song into an even better song, which sometimes is really hard to do.
To me, that song is more about hooking up than romance. Do you think there's more of a lust factor in that song than in a typical duet?
I don't know, man. I'm not much of a romantic. (laughs) It's true. So I don't know. I thought the song was really one of those soulful, sexy kinds of things. There's one subject matter that never goes out of style, which is love. ... Now I think this song is more different for us than "Dirt Road Anthem." I think this is more of a stretch than any of that stuff, but I think that it's so cool. The song is great, and the fact that she's on it, I think is going to open up a whole new avenue for us to travel down in the future.
Do you consider that spoken part of "Dirt Road Anthem" to be a rap?
I don't know. ... You know, "She's Country" kind of had that rapid-fire lyric in it, too. I mean, this one is probably more so, but "She's Country" wasn't that far from being a rap, honestly. This one's just got a little different groove. I don't know. It's Southern rap.
What was going through your mind when you first heard your version on playback?
When I did the first scratch vocal on it, I was like, "All right, this is kind of different. It's kind of cool." The more I listened to the demo and the more I got comfortable with the lyrics and how to do that stuff, it was pretty apparent that it was going to be way different. But still, I don't think it's going to be so different that people are going to be freaked out by it. We've set ourselves up to be able to go out and try new things like that, and it really not be that big of a deal. I really think that people who like "Johnny Cash" and "She's Country" and "My Kinda Party" -- this is all in that same vein. I think if you like those songs, you're going to dig this song.
The last track, "Days Like These," is about driving around, listening to the radio.
That was a song that came in almost at the very end. We were looking for some more tempo stuff, and that song came in. To be honest with you, man, when I heard that song, it almost had like a Keith Urban vibe. I don't really know what you call it, but I call it kind of like a "peppy" song. We've never done a lot of that stuff, but I really liked the song and the melody. ... The song is just talking about those days when everything is going right and you don't really want it to come to an end. My favorite line is, "Rest your feet upon the dash/Leave your toe prints on the glass." Those visual things, even something that simple, will grab me and make me want to listen to the rest of the song. I ended up falling in love with the song.
When you're deciding which songs to record, how important is the melody when you're making the final cut?
I think it's very important. Obviously, subject matter and lyrics are really important, but you could have great lyrics and the melody sucks -- nobody wants to hear that. So it has got to be that ear candy, so it's easy on the ear. You grab people's attention with that melody, then they listen to the lyric and go, 'OK, that's cool.' Yeah, the melody to me is just as important as the lyrics are. That's the key with finding great songs. It's finding songs that have both of those qualities -- and that's not really easy sometimes. It takes a while. But I'm a guy that loves those big, soaring melodies and really cool and different hooks. That's always been my thing, trying to find those songs that are cool and different.