Brantley Gilbert is the opposite of a divo (that’s a male diva, in case you didn’t know).
That’s why it’s gratifying to see him grab so much success this early in his career. Last year, the now 27 year-old singer/songwriter was a bit bummed that many music journalists didn’t seem to want to talk with him. This year, he hardly has time to talk to anyone.
With a nomination for the 2012 Country Music Association (CMA) New Artist of the Year Award, Gilbert is launching the “Hell on Wheels Tour.” It’s the first headlining tour for Gilbert, whose sophomore album Halfway to Heavy debuted at #2 on the Billboard Country charts and who has written a host of #1 singles including “Country Must Be Country Wide,” “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” along with Jason Aldean‘s songs “My Kinda Party” and “Dirt Road Anthem.” He’s also won plenty of fans during his recent tours, including supporting spots on Eric Church‘s “Blood, Sweat & Beers Tour” and Toby Keith‘s “Live in Overdrive Tour.”
Although he’s got some heavy competition for the CMA Award — Love and Theft, Lee Brice, Hunter Hayes, and Thompson Square are the other nominees — Gilbert seems to be taking all the excitement in stride. Although he was battling bronchitis on one of his recent days home, he took time out to chat a bit about his reaction to the nomination, his songwriting, and just what he’s learned on all the tours he has played.
When Jason Aldean released his fourth studio album, My Kinda Party, in 2010, little did he know it would launch a wave of awards, kudos and popularity.
Not that Aldean wasn’t already lauded by the country music community. Aldean’s self-titled 2005 debut and 2009 album Wide Open had both gone platinum and his 2007 album Relentless was gold when My Kinda Party was released. ”Why,” “She’s Country” “Big Green Tractor” and “The Truth” were among the hits that made Aldean a hot country star.
Yet My Kinda Party not only brought with it more hits, including two that reached No. 1— “Don’t You Wanna Stay” (a duet with Kelly Clarkson) and “Dirt Road Anthem,” but an Album of the Year award from the Country Music Association (CMA), and three GRAMMY nominations for Best Country Solo Performance for “Dirt Road Anthem,” Best Album for My Kinda Party and Best Performance by a Duo or Group for “Don’t You Wanna Stay.”
Aldean recently took time out to talk to OurStage about the past year and just why 2012 might be even hotter.
OS: What a year you’ve had! Let’s start with the GRAMMY nominations. How did you celebrate those?
JA: We performed on the GRAMMY nominations show (on December 7) and then I found out after that show. They came in my dressing room and handed me an envelope and told me I was nominated for three GRAMMYs. That night me and my band, we got on the plane and went back to Nashville and we stopped by the liquor store on the way to the plane. It was a four-hour flight so we had four hours to kind of celebrate. It was a good time. The GRAMMYs are huge for any artist and these were my first nominations for a GRAMMY and so it was pretty exciting.
OS: So what’s your celebratory drink of choice?
JA: I prefer any kind of beer. Crown & 7 Up is pretty good, too.
OS: You’ve said publicly that this is the best twelve months ever. If you could only choose one, what would you say was the main high point?
JA: I think winning CMA Album of the Year [For My Kinda Party]. What that album has meant to my career and done for me over the past year and half or so is amazing. To actually win that award at CMA, my first CMA award, too, being Album of the Year, was a really fitting thing for me. It was a pretty proud moment especially with what this record has done for my career. That [win] just tied it all in to complete the year. It was a pretty special night.
OS: So I watched the show on television and you looked like grace under pressure as they were reading the nominations and then when you accepted the award. What were you thinking and how did you stay so calm?
JA: Well, I haven’t been on the receiving end of too many of those announcements! I do sit there and am pretty calm. For whatever reason, [on November 9, 2011] I won the award and it was exciting. My producer [Michael Knox] got to come up there with me and he’s the guy who is responsible for finding me in a club and bringing me to Nashville. So it was a really cool moment to be able to share that with him. It was kind of a shocker but it was a really cool thing and probably one thing this year that really stood out for me.
It was really just over a decade ago that Eric Church arrived in Nashville, another hungry wanna be country star.
Now as he prepares for his first headlining tour—Blood, Sweat & Beers—he’s taking with him a GRAMY-nominated new album, Chief, an ever growing stack of much-loved singles including “Home Boy,” and “Drink in My Hand,” and a rock-solid fan base that he credits for his success. Add to that he and his wife Katherine welcoming their first child last October and you have the makings for a huge boost into the new year.
As if that isn’t enough, his upcoming tour has broken concert ticket sales records and sold out so many venues that new dates were already added.
Just before the outlaw cowboy saddled up for his next adventures on the road, he talked to OurStage about his music, his fans and just what has been keeping him up at night!
OS: You’ve made records for years, your major label debut Sinners Like Me was released in 2006, and now the buzz almost indicates that you’ve suddenly been “discovered.” That seems a bit disconcerting!
EC: I think so, too. My career is almost defined as pre Chief and post Chief. For me, I love to see what Chief is doing, going into the NPR Top 50 and Spin magazine Top 50 [albums' list] and hitting [charts] where country artists don’t usually show up. It’s great to see how wide the record is reaching.
OS: I remember talking to you just after you’d written many of the songs for Chief, in a very secluded cabin, basically walled off from everything else. Is that a process you’ll repeat when you write the next album?
EC: I don’t want [the writing process] to be a gimmick thing. That was an experience in the cabin where I was writing this one very organically. I don’t know about the next one. We’re very young in this record cycle and we’ve already exceeded expectations, certainly my expectations, of where we’d be when we got toward the end of this cycle. I have to plug in, recharge and figure out what is next. That’s how I made [Chief], by shutting everything down and thinking about what I hadn’t tapped into yet.
People talk about the vulnerability of [the songs on] Chief but we had been beating up the road so much for so long, we had finished up the tour [behind the 2009 album Carolina] on a Saturday night and I was at the cabin the following day. The emotion was so raw, so much of that was still decompressing from the tour we had done.”
OS: I’ve read about your reaction to receiving a recent GRAMMY Award nomination for Best Country Album. The question is always what does that mean to you as an artist?
EC: The GRAMMY’s are the Holy Grail, and I’m very, very flattered. But I am going to make the same record whether I win or lose the GRAMMY. But to be GRAMMY nominated this early in [the record cycle], to have them acknowledge it very quickly in the most coveted category, is very cool.
OS: So you’ve got “Homeboy” and “Drink in my Hand” both out as singles and both incredibly well received. When can we expect another?
EC: It’s [probably] going to come out in early February. Now, we’re looking for “Drink in My Hand” to go to No. 1.
OS: The song “Springsteen” has gotten a lot of great buzz including from Rolling Stone.
EC: I am more excited every night I sing that song. I feel like I am seventeen again [when I sing it]. I have to believe that when I feel that way, others will too.
I remember talking [with my song co-writers] about shows at amphitheatres that changed us. I went to a [non Springsteen] concert when I was sixteen, seveteen, and when I hear that [artist's] song I can still see [my date] standing there. I think about her and I think about me at that time. [The other writers] all had similar experiences. I have such admiration for Bruce Springsteen and his career, it seemed he was the perfect [musician] to use for that song.
OS: So on a personal note, you and your wife Katherine welcomed Boone McCoy into the family in October. What’s the most surprising thing about having a new baby in the house?
EC: How little sleep a person can go on! I thought I was somewhat conditioned. I thought if anyone could segue into non-sleep, I should be the most conditioned person out there! It’s great but it’s also about trying to get the schedules right— he had his days and nights mixed up for a while. It’s been great though because I’ve been able to be off in anticipation of the [upcoming headlining] tour, so I’ve been able to be here changing diapers.
OS: I know you have followed Brantley Gilbert’s career [that includes songwriting many hits including Jason Aldean's "My Kinda Party"] and really wanted him to open for you on this tour, which he will. Do you think you might write together when you’re on the road?
EC: I am open to it. I’d love to do it. I got to write with [Toby Keith] and [Miranda Lambert] when I was on tour with them. And [Jason Aldean]. For me, it’s always a cool thing to do when you put yourself in a situation where you’re all sitting around with guitars.
OS: What strikes you the most as you look ahead to the Blood, Sweat & Beers tour?
EC: It’s going to be big. I am amazed. A year ago we were playing clubs and we were all crammed on one bus. I can’t believe how far we’ve come so fast. When they hit the gas on this headliner [tour], they started talking about five buses and four trucks and it’s all astounding. It’s not supposed to be this way until you’ve got eight or ten No. 1 songs. We’ve always done things a little differently and that was not an easy thing to do.
OS: And now you’re breaking ticket sales records and adding more dates onto the tour. What has made the difference for you and your career?
EC: It’s all been because of the fans and their passion.
Earlier today, somebody asked me if I was surprised and I probably would have been if the fans weren’t steering my career. It’s really all about them.
Find out more about Eric Church, including his tour that kicks off January 19 in Fort Smith, Ark., on his Web site.
Don’t miss Eric Church’s video for “Drink in My Hand”
Brantley Gilbert is truly one of those forces of nature, a shooting star come to life.
It’s not that the twenty-six-year-old country singer-songwriter—who has written many hits including Jason Aldean’s “My Kinda Party” that he penned when he was just seventeen years old— is a brilliant songwriter, engaging performer, classic wordsmith or contender for nicest guy on the planet. It’s that he’s all of those things and more.
His music is as multi-faceted as his personality, bringing comparisons to everyone from Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp to Willie Nelson.
“You know what? I never really targeted a market. I just wrote songs,” he said. “I guess my upbringing led me to country and placed me in that market.”
Some of the wild times he lived when he was growing up in Jefferson, Georgia, also places him in the Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings country lifestyle category.
“When I wrote ['My Kinda Party' ] I just wrote about what we were doing,” he said of the No. 1 song. “And, yes, I was drinking at seventeen and yes, I did get a butt whooping from my mama.”
Like many country performers, especially those branded “outlaw,” Gilbert had a life changing incident that brought him closer to music. For him, that happened in 2004 when he was in a one-car accident, which almost took his life. That’s when he was in college—studying to be a relationship counselor—and was thrown out a window after crashing his car.
“I get high with a little help from my friends,” Ringo Starr sang on the Beatles‘ 1967 classic. These days, so do many of music’s top stars. Two’s company, and so is three and sometimes four. The more the merrier, the higher and higher they get.
On the charts, that is.
In the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 for the week ending December 10, seventeen songs were collaborations between separate recording entities. Four of them featured Drake, and three apiece featured Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, who both appeared on tracks with Drake and with each other. But will.i.am featuring Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger—and debuting at No. 36 with “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever),” which the threesome performed on the November 20 American Music Awards—was probably the one that nobody saw coming.
Old-school Rolling Stones fans must be cringing at the idea of Jagger going anywhere near Lopez and will.i.am so soon after Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera went to No. 1 by invoking his hallowed name on “Moves Like Jagger.” But for a sixty-something legend like him, hit records—even if in name only, a la Duck Sauce‘s GRAMMY-nominated “Barbra Streisand—are a near-impossible dream unless they’re in tandem with other, often younger, stars.
Lady Antebellum has a spark. There’s something about the way that Hillary Scott’s clear voice meshes with fellow lead vocalist Charles Kelley’s rougher tones. The way that the two of them sing, weaving their voices back and forth to tell a story, combined with the way that these two powerful voices can give and take seamlessly is so special. The combination of their voices creates an effect which evokes double the emotion, showcases double the talent and makes for an all-around great listen.
There have been many country acts who use both male and female vocals to add variety to their sound, but few have been able to mesh the voices as successfully and as consistently as Lady Antebellum. Many artists choose to create a solo album and then feature duets with other singers, for example Jason Aldean, who collaborated with Kelly Clarkson for a track on his album My Kinda Party, or Brad Paisley‘s duet “Remind Me” with Carrie Underwood. But it is truly remarkable that every song by Antebellum utilizes both Kelley’s and Scott’s voices to their full potential.
Although less well-known than Lady Antebellum, The Civil Wars—an alternative country/folk duo—also blends the voices of two singers (Joy Williams and John Paul White) into every song. Both Lady Antebellum and The Civil Wars feature voices that could easily stand alone, but together create something much more magical. Because these singers are equally incredible at harmonizing and keeping a balance where neither is over-powering, they can create a sound which is phenomenal.
I’ll never forget the day Basia lied to me. Twice. I was interviewing the Polish singer (best known for her 1988 hit “Time and Tide”) shortly before the release of her 1994 album, The Sweetest Illusion, which was coming five years after her previous album, London Warsaw New York. That day, she promised me two things: First, she would never again make me wait so long for new music. Second, she’d never release a run-of-the-mill greatest hits album featuring, well, her greatest hits. She felt that at the very least, artists owed it to their fans to reprise their hits as brand-new tunes, not just repackage the same old songs.
Her next studio album, It’s That Girl Again, wouldn’t arrive until 2009, nine years after she had released Clear Horizon—The Best of Basia, one of those run-of-the-mill greatest hits albums featuring, well, her greatest hits.
The morals of this story: 1) You can’t rush inspiration. 2) The first cut isn’t only the deepest—sometimes it’s the best, too. That’s a lesson Mariah Carey may have learned last year when she scrapped plans to release Angels Advocate, a remixed version of her Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel album, after a new version of “Up Out My Face” (Memoirs‘ best song) featuring Nicki Minaj limped onto Billboard’s Hot 100 at No. 100 and refused to go any further.
But apparently, Lady Gaga, the reigning queen of remix albums and EPs, still hasn’t received the memo. When she released Born This Way back in May, she put out a special edition that included a separate disc with remixes of five of the album’s songs. (Bryan Ferry did a similar thing with last year’s Olympia.) Divine inspiration or clever marketing ploy? Perhaps a little of both, but “Born This Way”-with-a-twang never would have spent six weeks at No. 1. The “Country Road Version” makes for an interesting one-time listen, but I never need to hear it again.
Sonny and Cher. Britney and Justin. Meg and Jack White. Nothing lasts forever. Well, almost. There’s one inseparable pair that’s likely to survive until the end of time: sunny summer weather and pop music. What would these dog days be without the perfect soundtrack? Possibly, over and done with. Hello, autumn!
“California Gurls” by Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg ruled both the airwaves and the charts last Memorial Day to Labor Day, refusing to go down until the temperature did. This year’s girl of summer: Adele, thanks to her No. 1 hit “Rolling in the Deep.” But even if Adele isn’t quite your thing (nor Lady Gaga, nor Perry, who’s once again making heat waves in 2011), ’tis the season for musical memories that will last a lifetime—or at least until next year when beach weather once again rolls around.
What are the biggest summer of ’11 pop trends? Keep reading…
Sisters are doing it for themselves—again. Last year’s Top 10 list in Billboard magazine’s Songs of the Summer 1985-2010 featured only three female artists, and each one, Katy Perry, Rihanna and Hayley Williams, had a boy on the side (Snoop Dogg, Eminem and B.o.B., respectively). Though so many of pop’s leading ladies recently had been standing by their men or whatever last-minute remix cohort could get them a shot at No. 1, this season, the most successful ones are going it alone. Rihanna and Beyoncé may be struggling with their latest pair of solo efforts, but Lady Gaga already has had three Top 10 solo hits from the Born This Way album, including the summer-anthem contender “The Edge of Glory,” and Adele didn’t need any guest rappers to keep “Rolling in the Deep” at No. 1 for seven weeks (as of Billboard’s Hot 100 dated July 2).
Meanwhile, Nicki Minaj, who apparently has never met an artist with whom she wouldn’t collaborate, finally has scored a Top 10 single of her own with “Your Love.” And after enlisting Kanye West to help lift “E.T.” all the way to the top, Perry is carrying the weight of “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” hit No. 5 from the Teenage Dream album, all on her slender shoulders. Deborah Gibson, Corey Feldman, Kenny G, Hanson, Rebecca Black and two guys from Glee all pop up in the video, but the song itself is a one-woman show.
It takes two (or three or four) to make a hit go right. The women on top may be spending the summer alone (at least on record), but they are pretty much the only ones. Last year, more than half of Billboard’s top summer songs paired singers with rappers. This year, if two’s company, three and four is, too. Pitbull is getting by with a little help from three friends (Ne-Yo, Afrojack and Nayer) on his current hit, “Give Me Everything.” The duo LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” has Lauren Bennett and GoonRock on the guest list. Jennifer Lopez had Pitbull and Katy Perry had Kanye West on their respective spring holdovers, “On the Floor” and the already mentioned “E.T.”, while the Black Eyed Peas have each other on “Just Can’t Get Enough.”
If you want to be a boy of summer, learn how to rap. Bruno Mars might get by on hit after hit by swinging sweetly (which he does once again on “Lazy Song,” his latest Top 5 single), but Chris Brown, one of contemporary R&B’s strongest male singers, spent all of his recent Top 10 comeback single, “Look at Me Now,” rapping alongside Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne. And even before he performed with Ludacris on the CMT Awards, Jason Aldean already had a hit with “Dirt Road Anthem,” on which he performed the rap himself. Now the remix featuring Ludacris doing the rap is in danger of becoming the first country-rap collaboration to top Billboard’s Hot 100. Maybe Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” would have had more staying power if Chris Martin had broken into a rap. It’s not too late for the currently ubiquitous Lil Wayne to give a brother a helping hand.
Groove is in the heart (and all over the charts). So you think you can dance? Then you’re in luck. Nearly every song in the Top 20 of the Hot 100 works just as well under the strobe lights as on the radio. The aformentioned LMFAO has a huge international hit with “Party Rock Anthem,” a track whose video features shuffling, a dance that originated in, of all places, Melbourne, Australia. Meanwhile, after escorting Jennifer Lopez into the Top 10 with “On the Floor,” rapper Pitbull, still on the floor, has gone even higher with “Give Me Everything.” This time his dance partners are Afrojack, Nayer and Ne-Yo, an artist previously best known for silky soul singing, but if you can’t beat ‘em, get down with ‘em.
Teenage dreams are still coming true. Last year when “California Gurls” was topping the charts, who would have guessed that Perry still would be putting out the hits from Teenage Dream one year later? As party rock anthems go, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” is my pick for the summer of 2011, but musical hangovers can be just as brutal as alcohol-related ones. Will we remember “Last Friday Night” in the morning? Definitely. But come autumn, “Last Friday Night” already might be a distant non-memory, Perry will be on to the sixth hit single from Teenage Dream (Peacock?), and we’ll probably all still be “Rolling in the Deep.”
Colt Ford is living proof that good things happen in threes.
No sooner was he grabbing kudos for his nomination on the April 3rd broadcast of the Academy of Country Music Awards show in Las Vegas, than he was lauded for co-writing Jason Aldean‘s red-hot hit “Dirt Road Anthem.” On May 3rd, Ford released a new album Every Chance I Get, that gives him plenty of chances to show off his musical range and build his ever-increasing fan base.
“I had this guy in $300 jeans telling me I’m not country,” said ACM nominee Ford with a laugh. “I said ‘Really?’ I guess you think of country a bit different than I do.’”
Those that think Ford’s “country rap” style isn’t genuine should talk to Hank Williams Jr., who invited Ford on his Rowdy Friends Tour along with Charlie Daniels, Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean, Eric Church and the many other artists who work with Ford when they get the chance.
Take Aldean, a good friend of Ford’s. Although Colt had recorded “Dirt Road Anthem,” he was enthused when Aldean followed suit, putting his own spin on the song.
“Jason is one of those guys who can relate to the song. He’s authentic and he made the song sound just like him…That’s just great,” said Ford, noting that he and Aldean both grew up as small town country boys. “He’s one of my close friends. Of course when we talk, we don’t talk [business]. We talk football, fishing, trucks, all those things we both like.”
One of those things, though, may well be country music legend George Jones, who gets a special call out in “Dirt Road Anthem.” “When you think about driving down the road swerving and smoking, you just think of George Jones,” said Ford likely speaking for most country music fans. “It just made sense.”
It also made sense for Ford—who loves the variety of sounds in country music—to invite his friends to join him on the latest record. He spent plenty of time writing songs that would match up well with his guests.
Consider the song “Twisted,” which is all about a small town boy struggling with mixed emotions as he plans to go to a big city university and try to be a football star. So many of the references about sweet tea and other points of small town life would be lost to many, but for guest artist, small town guy and football fan Tim McGraw, they arguably resonated.
“That’s probably one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written,” said Ford. “I want to tell kids that it’s cool to be a country kid. You can be cool and sure of yourself without your pants hanging down. I think that’s why a lot of parents can relate to it.
“The thing is, I believe in God, family, friends and hard work. I can’t not be who I am.”
Country fans are glad of that!
Check out the track listing and featured guests on Ford’s new album:
1. “Country Thang” featuring Eric Church
2. “Work It Out” featuring Luke Bryan
3. “Waste Some Time” featuring Nappy Roots and Nic Cowan
4.”‘Do It With My Eyes Closed” featuring Josh Thompson
5. “This Is Our Song” featuring Danny Boone of Rehab
6. “Titty’s Beer” featuring Trent Tomlinson
7. “She Wants to Ride in Trucks” featuring Craig Morgan
8. “Pipe the Sunshine In” featuring Tyler Farr
9. “Every Chance I Get”
10. “What I Call Home” featuring JB & The Moonshine Band
11. “Overworked & Underpaid” featuring Charlie Daniels
12. “Skirts & Boots” featuring Frankie Ballard
13. “Twisted” featuring Tim McGraw
Find out more about Colt Ford’s new record, tour and other news on his Web site.