Trace Adkins ran the numbers. And it turns out, he thinks he's way ahead of the game.
"If you look at the life span of a country music artist, and you take into account the careers that have lasted 30-plus years and all the one-hit wonders, then the average life span of an artist would be just about five or six years," Adkins told CMT.com. "I'm way beyond that. I'm so far past the life expectancy that everything's gravy now. I'm just glad I'm still around and have some relevance."
That's how he sees the title track off his new album, Proud to Be Here, released Tuesday (Aug. 2). After 15 years on the country charts, he's just glad to be on the right side of the dirt, as the song says.
One song on the new album, "Days Like This," is a tune he wrote with his friends Kenny Beard and Casey Beathard early one morning while they were having coffee on the back deck of Adkins' cabin.
"The morning news was on in the background, but we were just looking out over the vista," Adkins recalled. "Someone said, 'What are we gonna write about,' and I said, 'Not this bad news. Not on a day like this.' And I went over and turned the news off. Forty-five minutes later, we had a song. It's nice when it's not a chore."
There was a time, though, when songwriting was somewhat of a chore for Adkins.
"I just got kinda burnt out," he admitted. "It had gotten to that point where the business had just beat me down. I didn't want to write. So I disengaged from writers, kind of pulled away. Even if I had an idea for a song, I'd just call a songwriter friend and give it to him so it didn't go to waste. But then in the last couple years, Kenny [Beard] would push me back in that direction. He shamed me into it, I guess. But I write with friends of mine. I'm not gonna go downtown and sit in a cubicle."
Even when he's singing the words of another songwriter, Adkins does so, as he always has, like he means it.
"Every song is a personal statement from me," he said. "Rest assured, I'm not gonna sing something without conviction."
Proof of that is his current hit "Just Fishin'," which Beathard wrote with Monty Criswell and Ed Hill.
"That song is one that puts me in a real place. I've fished with all of my daughters. They enjoy having fun with it, not getting too serious. It's not about getting on the Bassmaster circuit," he laughed. "But it's easy for me to sing and believable doing it."
And in what's become a signature of every Adkins album, the tracks on Proud to Be Here seamlessly take you from his sentimental balladry to light-hearted novelty songs to what he calls stone-cold country. There's one of those called "Poor Folks," and Adkins said it's been a while since he's recorded a song with such strong traditional country overtones.
"First, the chord progression is just traditional country," he said. "But then the lyric of song is a line I've used so many times when you're doing something so country. Me and my buddies will be stuck in the mud, fishing or hunting, and I'll say, 'I wonder what the poor folks are doing?' We don't have five dollars between us, but we're having the time of our life. At that moment, the irony of it strikes you: You're poor yourself, but it's a rich experience."
Then again, not all of Adkins' songs will necessarily reflect the irony of a poor man's perspective on life or make you stop and think. Sometimes, a song will just throw two of the genre's most distinctive voices together in a studio and see what comes of it.
"If I Was a Woman," which Adkins wrote with Beard, Sherrie Austin and Jeff Bates, was originally planned as a duet with Toby Keith. But the way Adkins explained it, when it came time to record, there was really only one guy silly enough to sing the bonus track with him.
"I called Blake [Shelton] and said, 'Sing the thing with me,'" he said. "He agreed to it before he'd even heard it. And when he did, he said, 'Thank God. I thought it was gonna suck.'
"I cussed him for a good, solid 90 seconds for thinking that."