What’s your favorite memory that happened over bourbon?
Oh gosh. It was an old camping trip with some buddies. When you do what I do now and you’re gone so much, you really cherish when you get to have moments with people you know really care about you and it’s not about any of the stuff that I do. It was one of those things where we were all hangin’ out. We were all camping on a beach, actually, and playing music. It was in Maui. We started pouring whiskey and it was just that thing: the smell of the air, the smell of the fire, the stories that [were being told]. It was a recent memory, but it was one of the better ones that I’ve had. It was just five or six of my best buddies. It was good times.
Do you prefer small intimate groups like that or do you like big parties as well?
I’m the type… When I go to Vegas…
No. Hey look, this is for real.
I want to go to Vegas with you!
No you don’t. I’m an interesting bird. I’ve been to Vegas probably 25 times and I’ve gone out one time. One time ever. I go in my room [after I play]. I’m a recluse. I mean, I’m playing on stage every night [so I’m fine in a crowd], but if we set up a small little thing in front of my bus with 10 people and you give me some bourbon or wine I’ll cut lose. I’ll break out and dance. I will get down. I think it’s more of a comfort level thing for me. The one time we did go out [in Vegas] I ended up being in a booth. I guess that’s a big deal at a nightclub. They were doing bottle service—which is another thing I didn’t know was a big deal— and we were right beside Lil Jon. I noticed everybody waiting around our booth to try and come in. I thought it was the strangest thing. I was thinking, “What is going on right now? Get me out of here.” But anyway, that ain’t my scene.
What’s a day in the life of a country star? What time did you wake up today?
Five minutes ago. [Laughs] It all varies. We are constantly traveling and sleeping on a [bus]. I had a fan tell me something that kind of crossed me. He said, “I work a real job. All you do is sit on stage and play music every night.” My fist almost went into him, but I calmed down. I’ve done every job there is to do and this is definitely the most taxing thing. I love what I do, but this summer I didn’t go home for 41 days. Most of the time when I’m on that bus I don’t get more than four hours of sleep in the night. You’re not winding down. A lot of the times I’m signing [and meeting fans] after the shows, so I’m not getting back on my bus until 1 a.m. I’m not lying down until 2 or 3 a.m. and then I have to wake up at 7 or 8 a.m. to do phone interviews. I go to radio stations and play a lunchtime thing, do a VIP thing for a show and then I do a meet and greet. You’re constantly putting yourself out there and not really getting time for yourself.
You’re open and honest about how it’s been a grind to get to where you are. Do you feel as though that long road of hard work makes you appreciate success more?
Honestly, I’ve thought about this long and hard. It’s like I thrive off of misery. I know that [sounds] like a weird thing, but I’m one of those people who are more comfortable when I’m uncomfortable. Even after the success of “Up All Night,” it was the number one single, it went gold and I still made myself live in this tiny little old studio room. I took cold showers, which was the worst thing ever, but that’s what I did when I first moved to town. I wanted to stay in that mindset of still feeling like I had to get somewhere. I still feel that way. To answer your question, yes for sure.
And you had a little over three years between “Up all Night” and your new album “Wild Ones”?
It felt like 10. I almost lost my mind.
Do artists get nervous that people are going to forget about them when they aren’t releasing music?
Every day. Of all of the things that I’ve experienced in my life and especially in this business… the last two years have been the toughest thing. I’ve slipped into a lot of dark places. In my mind I felt like I almost battled [with] depression at times. And people wouldn’t know it. You go on stage and you’re playing in front of people and they think that everything is great. I’ve battled all of these things inside and thought, “Are they tired of hearing the same songs?” I headlined shows five nights a week playing the same set. At the time I only had one record “Up All Night.” [As a musician] you don’t want to put too much new music out there because then there is no discovery when you actually release a record. You’re just scared in such a world when nobody can focus on anything for more than a second before they are on to the next thing. I just had so much fear thinking, “Are they going to like the new music? By the time I put it out they’re going to be on to somebody else and nobody is going to show up to the shows.” So there are all of those things that enter your head. Because of the success of the first record everybody now has an opinion, whereas I had complete freedom on that first record. Everybody was trying to tell me what to do and sending me these songs that I felt like burning. You’re afraid of becoming irrelevant, but I stuck to my guns the whole time. I stuck to writing the kind of music that I wanted to write and what I thought the fans wanted to hear.
What were you being asked to do that wasn’t your style?
There are all kinds of things. Photo shoots. We were on some— not some TV show it was a big TV show— “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and the makeup lady came in and said, “Okay, well come on sit down,” and my manager goes, “Just don’t even try.” I kind of laughed and said, “I’m all good.” I call it like it is. I don’t sugarcoat things. I’m not trying to be offensive and I’m not trying to be rude. I remember watching the “Hey Pretty Girl” video and thinking that I look like I got caught in the damn Dust Bowl. After that I was like, “No more makeup for me.” Early on you allow things to happen because you think, “This is just how it is,” and then you learn to put your foot down and [say], “It’s not me.” From the artwork of the record cover to the songs I put on the record, there were so many things that were a constant fight to get my vision across. I know people are in my corner and they want the best for me, but everybody kind of does this formulated thing. I don’t have a formulated bone in me, so a lot of the time I’m rubbing with that. I’ve learned to take what they say and use some of it but still force my vision.
Is there a song on “Wild Ones” that you would have never predicted you’d write about 10 years ago?
Oh, man. I feel like there are a few of them on that record. I would say “Heart’s Desire.” I’ve been really good at not really letting people in. I’m kind and I’ll have relationships with people but not really let them in. I think that song was a very, very vulnerable song for me about some things that took place years ago and it was a tough song to write. It took me months to write that song and that was the most exposed I could possibly lay myself on the table.
What’s your perfect writing set up? Is it at night?
To be honest, I do my best writing when I’m delirious, when I’ve been on the road for a month straight, and I come home and I’m so tired that I can barely think. Early in the morning I’ll get coffee and I have a bad habit of smoking cigarettes when I write. Whiskey, coffee and cigarettes just make my brain work. At nighttime, it’s always bourbon and in the morning it’s always coffee. Some of my best songs like “Running for You,” that’s the new single, were done at 2 in the morning coming off the road and just being completely out of my mind. I fix a little bourbon at the studio. There are no TVs, there are only instruments. I just came up with that guitar riff and kind of started humming that melody. There are so many that I’ve done like that and that’s usually when I feel like I’m at my best.
Is there a girl out there that knows “Running for You” is about her?
Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. No, you know, I don’t think that anybody would know. Maybe they do. I’m never going to be one of those to make stuff so direct. At the same time, I have enough respect for the people that have been in my life to not expose them even if it’s been good or bad. I wouldn’t sit here and tell you who they are and if they know. I just kind of keep as much as I can private and to myself, but you’re good at trying to get it out of me.
What is your ideal first date?
Wow. I don’t even know what a first date looks like right now. I don’t feel like I’ve ever been that guy that says, “Let’s go to dinner.” Not that there is anything wrong with that. I guess I don’t feel like eating food in front of somebody for the first time. I think I try to make it as relaxed as possible. I’m going to get ripped apart by my brothers watching this right now. I don’t really have a go-to if I were to go on a date. It would be something simple though. Meet up and go for a walk or something. I wouldn’t make it like, “Let’s go eat some salad,” and have kale on my mouth or, “Let’s go eat a hamburger,” and there’s sauce all over my mouth. I’m not going to do that.
Do you believe in kissing on the first date?
Yeah. If it calls for it. Come on. There have been times when the window isn’t there, but if the window is open, let’s go for it.
Do you have any deal-breakers when it comes to women?
I mean there are a lot of things that are deal-breakers for me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten so fed up with a lot of stuff and that’s one of the things too where, golly, I could ramble about this for quite a while. I think back to when I was younger. I think back on almost settling down in my early twenties and God, it would have been a disaster when I think about it. I think about how incompatible we would have been. I’ve watched people go from relationship to relationship because they are scared to face themselves. They are scared to learn what they are really about and they feel that they have to have somebody else to validate them all of the time. I think that’s the worst thing you can possibly do. I’ll go long spans of being single, hanging by myself and taking trips by myself. I never feel the need to have anybody in my life… What was the question?
If you have any deal-breakers.
Now that I feel like I really know myself I don’t know what my deal-breakers used to be, but now there are so many things. I’m super turned off by the very self-indulgent [Instagram] pictures and girls taking 50 million selfies every morning and constantly trying to be so hot. It just angers me for some reason. And kindness. Kindness is the biggest thing with me. Somebody who is not truly genuinely kind… I can sense that stuff from a mile away. And if you don’t make me laugh… deal-breaker.
Would you say you’re more of a heartbreaker or have had your heart broken more?
I think it’s both. I think you have to have your heart stepped on to ever truly have empathy to what you’re doing to someone else, but I think it’s been both ways. I know I’ve hurt some people before and I’ve been hurt. It has definitely worked both ways in my life.
What was something that has come with success that no one could have prepared you for?
I know the minute that I say this somebody is going to spin this. I was naive to how nasty people can be. I really was, but at the same time people can be amazing. It’s both. Somebody last night made me this unbelievable wood-carved surfboard. It’s in the back of my bus. She went into this long thing about how much my music has done for her and how much she appreciates it. She was so kind about everything and said, “I wish you all the best,” and she gave me this thing. So much detail went into it. Things like that blow me away, and on the flip side you can go out of your way to do so much for people and it’s just not enough and they will rip you apart for it. They’ll turn on you so fast. I’ve seen a lot of amazing [things] and a lot of nasty things.
Does blocking out the negativity ever get hard?
Yeah. I’m getting good at it now. For a while it really got to me, but now I’m just like, “Screw it. Whatever.”
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
[Sings] “If I could have a beer with Jesus…” I know I just made a little thing with the Thomas Rhett song, but honestly my first thought— and then I’ll have the Bible Belt really slamming me when I say this but— I would want to sip on a drink with Jesus. If we are going with somebody that everybody believes in I would say Michael Jordan. I’ve never been such a fan of somebody so much. I get fighting mad when anybody tries to compare anybody [to him]. I would just want to hear stories from him. I’d want to have a cigar, a drink and I’d want to hear about everything that happened in the league. And I’d say, “Man, don’t let anybody compare Lebron to you!”
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