Veteran country artist Tracy Lawrence says he prides himself on not wasting any time in the studio. “(I’m) very meticulous about my advance work”, he recently told Link. “I usually know everything that I’m going to do when I get in the studio. I have it all mapped out.”
This approach has clearly worked well, as over the course of his nearly 25 years of recording he has hit the top of the Billboard charts with 18 singles, including “Sticks and Stones”, “Alibis”, and “My Second Home”.
When it came time to hit the studio for his recently-released Headlights, Taillights, and Radios, Lawrence says it was initially business as usual. “I had originally planned on going in and cutting a very traditional record. I planned on writing it all, or having it all come from my staff writers inside my publishing company.”
For the first time in his career, though, Lawrence says he had to alter his plans halfway through the process. “I actually went in and cut seven sides, and as I started going through the process I just wasn’t happy with where it was going.”
Undeterred, Lawrence altered his vision for the record. “I started looking outside for songs, and I found some really contemporary things, and went back in and did another session. I kind of ended up with two really different perspectives on the album, and the title that I chose was further reflective of that.”
Since it’s release in August, Lawrence’s new album has been receiving raves. Billboard calls it “the album of his career”, while CMT says it “brings to mind the material that made him a star in the 1990’s”. Lawrence will be performing tracks from the album, along with his hits, at The District on Saturday, December 21.
Q: What was your biggest highlight of 2013?
A: One of the biggest would have to be something I did recently. The George Jones Tribute Concert was a great thing to be a part of, man. It was like a world record event that had more artists sharing the stage at one time. It was four hours of George Jones music. I think they said there was 120 artists. It was pretty amazing to be a part of it. I spent a lot of time with George over the last 10, 15 years, and got to know him real well. It was a nice thing, and I was honored to be there to commemorate the life and music of a man that I got to know as a friend.
Q: That sounds amazing. Who else was involved?
A: Vince (Gill) and Amy Grant were there. Kid Rock was there. Megadeth played. Jamey Johnson. Patti Loveless, John Michael, Joe Diffie. Everybody and their brother was there. It was just a huge thing.
Q: What artists from the past year impressed you?
A: For new artists, I really love Kacey Musgraves. She’s doing real well. I’m glad to see Randy Houser having some continued success. I’m a big fan of his voice. I like Chris Young’s voice a lot, and I’m digging his stuff. I still lean more towards the traditional sound. I like the earthy stuff. I think there’s a lot of great music out there. Obviously, there’s some that’s a little bit cheesy for my taste, but overall the format is strong. There’s a lot of really talented people out there.
Q: There’s controversy these days about what is real country, primarily because of artists that are including elements of hip-hop and pop music. What are your thoughts on this?
A: From a taste perspective, it’s not my thing. Personally, I have no desire to go there. I think it’s a little bit cheesy. There’s a few people having success with it, and at the end of the day if it’s selling records and you can see yourself doing when you’re 60, then God bless you. I’m more of a traditionalist. I can stretch out and go a little rock-pop, but that’s just throwing a little heavier electric guitar on a track. It’s not rapping. But it’s all just a personal choice. Country music has been a big melting pot for a long time, and the great thing is that artists can draw from all of these different influences, whether it’s gospel, R&B, jazz. That Christmas record I did a few years ago was strongly jazz-influenced. That was the approach I wanted to take with it because I thought it was really cool.
Q: In some respects, though, isn’t this the same debate that’s been going on since The Byrds released Sweethearts of the Rodeo?
A: Oh yeah. They were saying this stuff about Alabama in the 80’s. They were too pop. Country music has continued to evolve and grow, and I think it’s stronger now than it’s ever been. It’s definitely become more of a worldwide format. There are artists that are going to take it to the extreme, and others that choose to be more traditional. It’s just a personal choice.
Q: What do you listen to when you’re at home or on your tour bus?
A: When I do listen to music it’s classic rock stations. I make myself listen to the current country format mainly to stay abreast as to what is going on, but I listen to a lot more classic music.
Q: What is one album or artist that you love that may be a bit surprising?
A: It depends. I like some of Britney Spears’ stuff. I know that sounds crazy, but some of it is cool to work out to when I’m on my treadmill. I grew up with a lot of hair bands in the 80’s, so I like some of the heavy metal stuff. I was a big Dokken and Tesla fan. I love AC/DC. I like Lady Gaga.
Q: The idea of you working out to Britney is kind of funny.
A: Yeah, put some “Toxic” on and I’m all about it.
Q: While everybody has been affected by the downturn in the music industry, country seems to be hurt a bit less than most genres. Why do country fans continue to purchase full-length albums?
A: I wish I could answer, because it’s something that we’re all trying to understand. I think it’s continuing to change. I think we’re evolving, but I think a lot of our fan bases are still people that want to plug the physical product into the dash of their pickup truck. I don’t know if they’re behind the times, but I think people are still into having that physical product in their hands. It’s changing more and more. You’re going to see that dwindle down in the next five years as well as the trends continue to grow and technology continues to change.
Q: The music industry is moving a bit towards an on-demand platform with the rise of companies such as Spotify and Pandora. What are your thoughts on these services?
A: We’re actively working on building stronger relationships between our label and Spotify, Pandora, and all that. We’re working on it from a label’s perspective. I do wish the royalty rates were better, but I think as an independant label we have to look at every opportunity and every pathway we have to get to our fans and consumers out there. I look at it from a different perspective. I’m not just some artist on a label. We’re looking at things just as much from the creative side of the artist’s perspective as we are from the label’s side looking at ways on how to brand artists. I do hope the royalty rates evolve a little bit, because I think that’s something that’s hit us all very hard. Losing the revenue stream from our intellectual properties has hurt the business a lot.
Q: After doing this for over 20 years, what helps you keep the creative juices flowing?
A: I just decided several years ago that I was going to focus on being happy and remembering the reason that I got into the music in the first place. It was because I was passionate about music. I stopped being negative about it, and stopped dwelling on all of this other stuff. I decided to look at ways to be more creative. It really took awhile, because I was burned out. In 2006/2007, I looked at actually getting out of the music business. I just decided that I was going to make a conscious effort to focus on doing music for the reasons that I got into it in the first place. After several months of doing that, and intentionally making myself look at if from the eyes that I had when I was fifteen or sixteen years old, it helped rejuvenate myself. I think it’s all a choice, man. You can bicker and complain about how you’re not as far along as you thought you’d be, or how radio don’t play you anymore, but that was never my reason for playing music in the first place. I did it because I loved it, and I think if you get back to doing it because you love it good things will come back to you. I really believe that.
Q: I read that your initial plan for the new album was different than how it turned out.
A: Yeah, it was. I had originally planned on going in and cutting a very traditional record. I planned on writing it all, or having it all come from my staff writers inside my publishing company. I was very adament about. I actually went in and cut seven sides, and as I started going through the process I just wasn’t happy with where it was going. I had some long conversations with Kenny Rogers about how he reinvented himself numerous times over four, five decades to remain viable, and it made me rethink where I was going. I started looking outside for songs, and I found some really contemporary things, and went back in and did another session. I kind of ended up with two really different perspectives on the album, and the title that I chose was further reflective of that.
Q: Does that happen often during the creative process?
A: It’s the first thing that it’s ever happened like that for me, as I pride myself in being very meticulous about my advance work. I usually know everything that I’m going to do when I get in the studio. I actually go into the studio and work the sequence of the record, and think about how songs are going to segue from one to the next. Usually I have it all mapped out. I’ve thought through it, and worked it all in my head. I’m that meticulous when I go into the studio, so this was a very big departure from how I normally do things.
Q: I would imagine that at times this became very frustrating but at the same time very rewarding.
A: I don’t think it was ever frustrating. It was a work in progress that I knew I’d know when it was done. After we did the second batch of songs and I started working on the sequencing, it still didn’t fit. It didn’t feel right to me, so I actually went back in and replaced the bass and drums of the original session with the two musicians that played on the progressive stuff to give more cohesion to the album.
Q: Looking ahead, what are your plans for the new year?
A: I think I’m in a good place. I think we’ve done a lot of great work on social media, and I think that’s going to continue to evolve. We’re anxiously waiting for the release of a little independant film that I was involved in last year. We’re trying to get the score and the music finished on that record. It’s kind of my acting debut, so I’m anxious to get that thing wrapped up and out. We’re looking at going back in and doing a couple of recording projects next year. I’m going to do a rerecording of my hits, and I’m now writing for my next full production record. I’ll be in the studio quite a bit next year. I’m watching my company grow. I’m almost at the point where I can go and look for some outside acts. I think 2014 is going to be a good year for us.
Q: You have a busy year planned out.
A: I do, man. I really do. I like it that way. It keeps me out of trouble.