Eric Church exudes confidence, yet there was one thing that worried him about his newest project, Caught in the Act: Live.
"I'm always nervous about live records because I have some that I adore, and I have some where I'd rather buy the regular record. So for me, it was a sigh of relief when I heard [mine], and I realized that energy was there and that feeling was there that we wanted to capture," he told reporters backstage at the ACM Awards earlier this month in Las Vegas.
"I think it was the right time for us," he said. "I think we had gotten to a point in our career where we were starting to graduate into bigger places -- into arenas and into bigger rooms. And I didn't want to lose touch with how we got there because our path's been very different than other people's. It's been very much on the backs of fans. It's been very much grassroots.
"We made this set list for this live record an hour before show time with a pencil and a piece of paper. And we've got documentation of it with video. We took the band and I said, 'What do you guys want to play tonight?' There was no rhyme. There was no reason. It was about the music. We left the lights up so I could see 'em [the fans]. They could interact with me," he added.
Church recorded the album over two nights in October at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga, Tenn. It's his first full-length release since 2011's Chief, which won an ACM award in the album of the year category. It was nominated in that category last year, too, but singles like "Springsteen" kept the project eligible.
Shortly after winning that award, Church told reporters, "I think it's one of those records that [means] our career is going to be pre-Chief and post-Chief. That record changed everything for us. I would still say that we went about making records the same way for Sinners Like Me and Carolina. It was just Chief that things changed from a fan base standpoint, from playing my shows, from having people out there that knew who we were and that paid attention to what that record was."
Does the ACM win add pressure while making the follow-up studio album?
"That's the most popular question right now," Church said. "I don't look at it from the standpoint of 'This is what the Chief record did.' ... ' It's not a hurdle that the next record has to clear. When we made the Chief record, we made it from a creative standpoint. So creatively, I'm going to put more expectations on it than any other person can put on it. There's no fan, there's no critic, there's not anybody that can put more on it than I am. As long as we clear the threshold creatively. ... I don't know if it will win one of these. But if it clears it in my mind, I'm happy with it. And that's the only way I ever treat music."
In addition, Church told reporters he doesn't pay attention to genres anymore.
"I happen to feel that genres are gone in music," he said. "I just think that with the digital age, whether it's satellite radio, terrestrial radio, Pandora, whatever, there are no more genres. There's good music. There's bad music. I think it's an exciting time in music that you can have all the stereotypes and all the things that are placed on it, whether it's country music, rap music or rock music. That's all broken down at a festival like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo or whatever. It becomes about the music."
In June 2012, Church participated in the Orion Festival, spearheaded by Metallica. Looking back, he said, he was "scared to death walking out there and playing in front of Metallica. Because I know what that is. We were the only country act. And what I learned that day is music still wins. They bought in, and it's one of the best crowds we had. And it was because they weren't looking at us as a country artist, a rock artist or a rap artist. They were looking at us as an artist. And I think that's the coolest thing that's happening with all of these festivals."
This summer, Church will spend almost every Saturday night opening stadium concerts for Kenny Chesney's No Shoes Nation tour.
"I have a lot of respect for Kenny and how he's built his career," Church said. "I understand where we came from to get to the arena levels. I can only imagine what it was like going to the stadium [level]. He's a guy who has put in the work. I think it all comes down to ... you still have to put in the work. There are no shortcuts, and he's a guy who didn't take any shortcuts. So he deserves all of the success he gets. We've only played one show so far, but if that's an indication about what's to come, it's going to be great summer."