Eric Church Pre-CMA Fest Interview

Jun 8, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I’m in this week covering the CMA Music Festival with photo and interview coverage of all of this year’s festivities. The CMT Music Awards are the formal kickoff to the weekend and we caught up with Eric Church to discuss his nomination this year and his songwriting for the new album. Eric is offering his fans — the Church Choir — and listeners of Sirius XM’s The Highway an exclusive preview of his new album Chief during CMA Music Fest when he takes the stage at the Music City Theater tomorrow. —-

Church will perform new music and crowd favorites acoustically for the fans. The intimate audience — limited to 60 lucky guests — will be the first to hear behind-the-music stories as The Highway host Storme Warren talks to Church about Chief. The album hits stores on July 26.

Eric Church is inarguably one of the hottest new acts in Country music, recently taking home the Academy of Country Music Awards’ Top New Solo Vocalist honors. Even though the recognition is just beginning, he has had seven Top 20 Country hits in five years, most recently with “Homeboy,” the first single from Chief.

CityBeat: Well first off, I saw your show and shot it I think two or three times last year, once with Miranda Lambert and once on Country Throwdown, and was very impressed, especially with the Miranda Lambert show. I think you stole the show a little bit. It’s pretty high energy when you are in person.
: That’s definitely what we do. I think that comes from us starting in bars. That energy really comes from how we grew up and the types of crowds we play for. A little bit rowdy and a little bit reckless and very much a good time.

CB: I wanted to talk to you first about the CMT Award Nomination as we head into CMA weekend and the CMT Awards kicking off the festival in Nashville. I know you’re nominated for the Nationwide Insurance “On Your Side” Award. And I’m sure you’re really excited about that. Can you just tell me a little bit about that?
: Well I think it’s about the live show which is important to me. I think that’s what we do best. What we try to do is make the best records and try to put on the best show out there. Those are my two focal points. I don’t ever, to be honest with you, worry about awards very much because I think you can get caught up in the game of changing who you are or changing your music to win awards. I’m fine winning awards as long as I can be who I am. I’m not going to change to win awards. I think for me it’s pretty simple, keep making great records, keep going out kickin’ ass touring. Everything else will fall the way it’s supposed to fall. But it’s always cool to be recognized.

CB: I also recently photographed you on the ACM Red Carpet out in Vegas and I know you also won that night. So that was probably exciting as well?
Eric: Very much so. And the same thing applies. It was fantastic because we were able to be who we are. I didn’t have to change. I think that I owe that to my fans. That’s where it becomes bigger than awards and bigger than number one songs. The people, the guy that I was when I started this thing and building who we are is the guy that I need to keep being, and the music that I need to keep making. I think that it has taken us a little longer, I think I kind of lasted. This year I won the Top New Artist Award, and I’ve been doing this for six years.

CB: Right, that’s always odd for people.
: And I think that’s because we’ve done it a little different. We’ve been our own artist. We’ve made music a little meatier and a little heavier subject matter-wise than a lot of people out there. And I’m proud of that. I’m proud we did it that way. I think we built our career on a pretty solid foundation and with our next record and what I know is on the record, it’s going to be fun to watch it go to the next level.

CB: I know that you are first and foremost a songwriter and that’s how you got started. I had read recently that you went out to your secluded cabin and wrote the new record that’s going to be coming out in July. Isn’t it a lot of pressure to just go lock yourself in somewhere to write? Do you have to force the writing?
: Actually, ironically, no. Normally what happens, I’ll bring a writer or co-writer out here on the road. For example, we are playing a show tonight. If we were to be writing, we would be writing from 3-7 because I have interviews until 3 and then from 3-7, I’m free and then I have a show. You really have a four-hour period where you are hurry, hurry, hurry to write a good song. It’s the same thing in Nashville, I think you sit across from somebody and say, “What are we going to write? What are we going to write?” and then you have another appointment the next day. If you bring them to the cabin, it really is just hanging out. There wasn’t a TV, there weren’t cell phones. I brought in four or five different writers. They each stayed a week. So we would get there, we would hang out, we would drink beer, we had 1500 acres that we could play on or ride around on. We had little ATVs that we could just go out onto the top of a mountain.

One night, we went to the top of a mountain and built a fire in a field and just hung out. It really lets you free up the creative process and not choke it and not have to write a song. I don’t care if we don’t write a song. If that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is. Let’s just get up there and relax and let’s think about it and let’s talk about it. It really was cool once the process started, it just flowed. It was amazing some of the stuff, how many songs we were able to write in a four or five day period. With some of the co-writers, we were able to write eight or ten songs in four or five days and they were great songs. I think that is because creatively we allowed it to be free and allowed it to flow.

CB: So what’s your favorite song on the new album and why?
: Hmmm. I think… Damn. I think it’s going to change week to week. But today, it’s “Springsteen”. I’m just a Bruce fan and I love the way Bruce has built his career. It’s interesting. The song really doesn’t have anything to do with Springsteen though. It’s titled, “Springsteen”, but it’s about an outdoor show, it’s about an amphitheater, it’s about falling in love with a girl up on the lawn, and the soundtrack of that love is Bruce Springsteen music because he is the guy on stage. I can relate to that. I can remember going to a show when I was 16 or 17 years old, and even to this day, when I hear that artist, I think about that girl because that was where that love started. Every song that played, you thought it related to you. I think it was a unique way to look at a song and to tie Bruce and his career into it and it’s a cool song too. So, right now that’s my favorite song on the record.

CB: That’s a great story. I think that everybody can relate to that with songs, and attaching people to songs and experiences. I read an interview from a couple years ago, when the first album came out, and you were talking about how you rarely get nervous but when you were opening up for Bob Seger on the opening night of the tour, it was in Cincinnati and you were extremely nervous. I just wanted to ask you about that night and what happened.
: It’s to this day, hands down, the most nervous I have ever been. ACMs, CMTs, none of that bothers me very much, I don’t know why, maybe it means something is wrong with me. But the Seger thing freaked me out. It freaked my band out. Normally when you get into a high stress situation with a band, you can usually get around them and it feels like what you do everyday, but I have never seen my band that nervous. I have never seen them that freaked out. Everybody was just flipping. And it’s probably because the arena we were in (U.S Bank Arena), we were down below the stage downstairs in the dressing room, so the arena was above us and all we could hear was everybody chanting, “SEGER! SEGER!” I had to sit there and listen and I knew that they have no clue who I was.

I was thinking this is a disaster that is about to happen, but we went out there and they were great. One thing I love about Bob’s crowd and people from that generation, a lot of older fans, they like to discover music. I think that’s how they found Bob Seger, they discovered him. As long as you’re up there playing good music and have something to offer them that’s not fluff, I think that they give you the benefit of the doubt. I know that about halfway through our show, I could feel the crowd changing and I calmed down a little bit. It was a fantastic show looking back on it. That’s hands down the most nervous I’ve been in my life. That was more nervous than asking my wife’s father to marry her. That was the most nervous I ever have been.

CB: So speaking of being nervous, you’re about to be a dad soon?
: Yeah. Our first child. October. A little boy.

CB: How do you think things are going to change?
: Oh God, I have no idea. I’m sure they are and already have. I don’t know really. I guess I’m interested most in how it’s going to change me artistically. I know it’s going to change me. I’m anxious to see that from a songwriter’s side, just to see the person that I become. So, I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited. I think it’s one of the questions we will get to see answered looking forward. It’s part of the reason I’m glad we finished this record before that happened. I think this record is a different time piece for me. It will be the last record before I become a dad. It will be interesting to see.