20 Questions With Mark Chesnutt

He Speaks Fondly of Waylon Jennings, Lee Ann Womack and the Lord

Mark Chesnutt kept it country throughout the 1990s, with hits such as "Brother Jukebox," "Goin' Through the Big D" and "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." He has a new album, Savin' the Honky Tonk, that arrives in stores Tuesday (Sept. 21). In this interview, the native Texan sips a Miller Lite while answering fan questions about honky-tonks, whether his latest hit ("The Lord Loves a Drinkin' Man") is blasphemous and why he can't remember the words to his own songs.

1. I know you play a lot of different places, but what is different about playing in a honky-tonk?

In honky-tonks, you're usually closer to the crowd, and you know the crowd is definitely going to be drinking, and they're going to be smoking in most places, which doesn't bother me. And they're going to be more responsive. They're more fun, I think. They're having a good time, we're having a good time, and it's a lot more fun than singing in front of a crowd that's just sitting down. These people are standing up on chairs and tables. Of course, they've been there a while, and they've had a few and they're cutting loose.

2. Are there any honky-tonks in particular that you love to play in? Or just drink a beer in?

Oh yeah, there are a lot of them. There's a whole list of them. One of my favorites used to be Far West in San Antonio. What's the name of it now? Cowboy's. It's a Cowboy's. There are several Cowboy's across Texas, and we play those a lot. That's the first one that comes to mind. It's a big, big honky-tonk. There's a big dance floor in front of the stage. At our shows, the dance floor is full of people standing there at the stage, and past those people, there's a bunch of people dancing.

3. You got the song "Lord Loves the Drinkin' Man" from Kevin Fowler. How do you see the new Texas music scene? Artists like Fowler, Aaron Watson, Jason Allen, Roger Creager and Pat Green and some "red dirt" artists like Cross Canadian Ragweed and the Great Divide? Why can't they take the song to No. 1 like you?

Pat Green does good, you know? I don't know. I don't know the reason for that. It helps if you're with a major label or an independent Nashville label. A label in Nashville helps. This is where everything happens, music-wise, here. I like all that stuff that's going on right now. I love Pat Green and Kevin Fowler. Those are my two favorites. I like Roger, too. All those guys are great. I've hung out with a lot of them. But Kevin and I are friends, and we've been knowing each other for six or eight years. I don't remember. When you hang around with Kevin, it's hard to remember anything. I just recently met Pat Green in the past few months, and we've hung out a few times. He's a lot of fun. I love their music. It's a free music. They're not worried about what people in Nashville are worried about, like whether or not you're pissing somebody off. They're not worried about that in Texas. That's just the way it is. That's why I like my album so much. I finally got a chance to do one of those albums like those guys in Texas are doing. Of course, I still live in Texas. I don't want anybody to think that I've moved to Nashville. I still live in Texas, and I'll always live there.

4. How do you feel about the song, "The Lord Loves a Drinking Man"? Do you not feel it is very blasphemous? I'm very disappointed that you have chosen to record the song.

If you feel that way, then you haven't listened to the words of the song. Because it's not blasphemous in any way, the way I see it. I'm a Christian, and anybody who says that this is non-Christian or blasphemous, evidently, they don't have a whole hell of a lot to do with their time. That is a complete waste of time to sit there and criticize my music as being blasphemous. When you listen to the words of the song, you'll understand. That's one thing that pisses me off. When people put it down, they don't even hear anything. They don't know what it says, and they haven't heard the words. They just see the title. The Lord loves everybody.

5. I want to be a country singer. Any advice?

Yeah. Give it up. Get a job. (laughs) It just depends on how bad you want it because you pretty much have to give up everything. You've got to sacrifice a lot of your personal time. If you have a family already, it's best to not get into the music business. It's hard on families. It takes you away from your families for months at a time. Unless you like non-stop going. If you're the kind of guy that likes to kick back and relax a whole lot, this is not the business for you. It's non-stop. It doesn't get any easier with every success you have. It actually gets harder.

6. I have followed your career from way back and always appreciated the songs and albums you put out. I live in Nashville and have seen and read how bad the current country music situation is. I know you have had label changes, too. How do you feel about the current Nashville country scene and Music Row?

There's both good and bad going on right now. But there is definitely more country music being recorded in Nashville than there was 10 years ago. And there's more of it being played on the radio. It's still hard as hell to get a song played on the radio. If it's real country, it's still hard to do that. But it's happening more than it was 10 years ago. I think it's going to get better.

7. What got you through during the time between your last album and your signing with Vivaton records? What kept you from giving up? We're so glad you're back!

I had bills to pay! (laughs) I can't give up. I couldn't give up. (laughs) I worked. I stayed on the road. I worked non-stop on the road 14 years. During that time, I was doing the Rockin' Roadhouse tour. So, no, I haven't slowed down at all. The fans always kept me going. They were always at the shows. I didn't go away. I just wasn't on the radio with anything new.

8. Do you wish you could tour more often -- or less? Or are you pretty happy with the amount of touring that you do?

I'm pretty happy with the amount of touring we're doing. We're doing it right. We're not out there for months at a time anymore. We had to slow that down once we started having kids. I've got to be with those boys. I've got to raise them because I've seen the results of some of those careers in the past. When Dad's gone all the time, the kids don't turn out very well. (laughs) So I don't want to let that happen. I love to tour, but I also like being at home. If you can get a nice balance, that's really good.

9. When will you be performing back in Beaumont? We miss seeing our hometown boys performing for us.

I don't know when we're going to be back in Beaumont. We've had offers from Wild Bill's and Dixie Dancehall. We're still talking about doing that, trying to schedule those. It's possible that Tracy [Lawrence] and I will return to the Labor Day music festival next year, if everything turns out right. I'd love to do more at Beaumont.

10. If you could sing a duet with anyone who would it be?

I pretty much had my dream come true with that. I had a chance to do a couple of duets with George Jones. I did one on one of his albums, and he's on one of mine. I did one with Waylon Jennings and Lee Ann Womack. I just did one with Kevin Fowler. So I've pretty much seen my dreams come true with that. Maybe someday I'll do something with George Strait. That would be fun. Or Alan Jackson.

11. What was it like hanging with Waylon? He's one of the reasons I listen to country.

Waylon was one of the nicest men I ever met. Everybody was always intimidated by Waylon. He looks like he'd be mean, but his image and his personality were two totally different things. He was just the nicest man. The first time I met him, it was like we had known each other for 20 years. He treated me like I was an old friend of his, with a lot of respect. A lot of my heroes, like Merle Haggard, George Jones or Hank Williams Jr., those guys have always been really, really nice. They had no ego. They just hang out with you. They drink a beer with you. I spent a lot of time with George Jones, and it's just like old friends.

I met some new big stars -- people that came out on the scene in the last few years who weren't nearly as nice. And I don't understand that one. Johnny Cash was a sweet man. These guys are so nice. I don't see any reason for anybody to be an asshole, not when you meet the greatest singers who ever lived and they're as nice as they can be. And then you run into some guy who had some recent success, and he won't even talk to you. That's bull.

12. I loved your duet with Lee Ann Womack on "Make Memories With Me" on her first CD. What do you think of her music?

I love Lee Ann Womack. She is one of my favorite singers. Not just girl singers, but all-time favorite singers. I loved her first album most of all. It's really, really traditional country. Of course, that's what I like. I love that sort of stuff. She has the potential to be the biggest female country artist of all time. She's a sweet lady, and I've known her now for 10 years. She was good enough to sing with me on my new album, and I'm honored to have her on there. She's great.

13. Do you think you'll make another video?

Yep. We're going to make another video. I don't know when or what song, but when it's time, we'll do it. I'm not a very video-friendly artist. (laughs) Like Kelly [on his management team] said, if a camera adds 10 pounds, he was wondering how many cameras were on me. (laughs) We were watching some of the stuff I did on Fox and CNN. Asshole. (laughs) It's because I didn't have a hat on. Hats change your appearance. When they stick those damn cameras up your ass, that makes anybody look big.

14. How often do you forget the words to your own songs?

About once a show. (laughs) Actually, the more I drink, the more I remember -- except whiskey. If I drink one shot or two shots of whiskey, I can't remember my phone number, my address, I can't remember my kid's name! (laughs) Actually, forgetting the words is a pretty common thing. I ask other singers that all the time, and they say the same thing. As soon as you start thinking about what you're doing, you're going to blow it. You're going to forget the words. I'll be up there singing "I'll Think of Something" or "Too Cold at Home" or "Ol' Country" -- one of these songs I sang thousands and thousands of times. And if I start thinking for a second what the next line is going to be, it's gone. I've asked other singers. I thought I had brain damage or something. But they all do the same things. It's a mind thing. It's nerves. You're nervous in front of a crowd. It's like riding a bicycle. If you start thinking about how you're going to ride this bicycle, you're going to bust your ass. You've got to be on autopilot and not worry about it. It used to bother me when I forgot the words. Now I just laugh.

15. We really enjoy your singing style, real country. I notice a lot of your songs have a comedy touch to them. Was Ray Stevens one of your influences?

(laughs) I love those old Ray Stevens comedy songs. No, I probably got that sense of humor just from those old George Jones campy songs, like "Who Shot Sam" and "Root Beer." I don't know if you're familiar with that stuff, but growing up, I always got a kick out of hearing some songs with a little humor in them. As far as Ray Stevens being an influence, I wouldn't call him an influence, but I love comedy. I love to laugh. I like to make people laugh. And I make a lot of people laugh. They laugh at my ass every day.

16. Did you have any albums growing up that you just wore out from playing so much?

I wore all my Elvis albums out. I wore out all my George Jones and Merle Haggard and Hank Williams Jr. eight-tracks. I played them so much the tapes would break. Then cassettes came along. I wore all them out. So I was really happy to see the CD, although I'm wearing them out, too. You scratch one of those bastards, and they're gone.

17. I've read before that you're an Elvis fan, so which song(s) would you say are favorites?

Oh God, that ain't fair. There's just thousands of Elvis songs that I love. The easiest way to answer that question is what era, because Elvis reinvented himself so many times. I love all the early '50s stuff, the Sun stuff. I love everything he did from 1968 to 1970. To me, that's the best stuff he ever did.

18. It's been said that you prefer not to have a traditional fan club due to problems that happened in the past. Can you explain?

We had some problems with holding the fan club together. We tried to do meet-and-greets before or after the show with fan club members. But to be quite honest with you, some of the fans were a little rude. It was always the same group of fans that ruined it for a lot of people. We just decided we would not do that anymore. That's the main reason, right there. The old saying, "A few can screw it up for everybody else." That's what happened, basically. We figured it would be a lot easier to do meet-and-greets with the fans instead of fan clubs because there were some incidents that shouldn't have happened, so we called it off. ... We do these shows, you only have so much time, we have a tight, tight schedule, and there's places people shouldn't be if they're not working on the show. Things like that were happening every night.

19. What do you like to do in your free time, when you are not on stage?

It depends. If I'm on the road, and I'm not doing interviews or shows, I like to sleep as much as I can. Just hang out on the bus and watch TV. (laughs) I love doing that. We've got satellite on the bus. I'm a big remote nut. I like to sit there and surf. I watch a lot of VH1. From time to time, I'll watch CMT. I like some of the shows like Most Shocking. I love that stuff. They had one called Greatest Drinking Songs, and if I'd just had this single out before they did that, I'd be right on there! I love that kind of stuff. The history, like Lost Highway, I love anything to do with the history of country. I'm glad to see them doing that now.

20. Do you like hunting?

Yeah, I hunt. I deer hunt. I duck hunt. Dove hunt. I really love hunting and fishing. Those are my two favorite things. Hopefully I'll get some time off this winter to do some of that. I just got on a new deer lease out in West Texas and haven't even seen it -- 5,400 acres. And I haven't even had a chance to go out there and check it out. Luckily my brother-in-law and my friends -- we're all on this lease together. There are 13 of us, and we're all friends and family. It has a nice camp on it and all that. They're out there putting up stands and everything we need. By the time I get to go, all the work will be done. (laughs)

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