Aaron Lewis interview: Staind singer embraces his country roots
April 25, 2011 by Bill Palmer
by Bill Palmer
Aaron Lewis may have gone country on his new EP Town Line, but he’s not forsaking anything in his career which came before it. In fact he’s in and out of the studio with his longtime band Staind right now, working on their next record for release later this year. But in the mean time the baritone singer is finding considerable country chart success with a collection of five songs which he says represent his most autobiographical work to date.
“I’ve never been shy about saying that I hunt and that I fish and that I live out in the middle of the sticks,” says Aaron of the fact that he’s always been the ‘Country Boy’ portrayed in the lead single from Town Line. He sees it all as a natural progression from his mid-period Staind days which saw him steering his music more toward an acoustic bent even while attempting to fit it within the framework of his band.
“It was always in the plans that I was going to do a solo record and I was always going to branch away and do something on my own,” he says. “I just hadn’t really decided where the proper home for me to do that would be. But when I started thinking about it, I write on an acoustic guitar. The songs over the years like Outside, It’s Been Awhile, Everything Changes, Zoe Jane, So Far Away, Epiphany, Tangled Up In You, those are all songs that I wrote on an acoustic guitar.”
Country Boy sees Aaron paired up with country music legends like Charlie Daniels and George Jones, collaborations which were surprisingly simple to pull together. After he mentioned to producer James Stroud that he’d like to bring in Daniels for instrumental accompaniment, things were set in motion a phone call later. “He picked up his phone and he from memory hand-dialed Charlie’s number and the phone call went ‘Hey Charlie what’s up, it’s Jimmy James. I’m in the studio and I’m working with this guy Aaron Lewis and he’s got this great song, he’d love to have you come in and hear it, and if you like it, to lay something down on it either with your fiddle or your guitar.’ And there was a little bit of pause, and James went ‘Thursday, 10:30? Alright, I’ll see you then.’ And pretty much the same exact thing happened with George Jones and with Chris Young.”
While the song paints Lewis as a small town native who “sold my soul to the devil in LA,” he wants to make it clear that he’s simply being honest as usual in his lyrics and is in no way rejecting or vacating any of his earlier work.
“In trying to pay attention to how people are feeling about the whole thing,” he says of the reaction to Town Line, “one of the things that I’ve seen is that, ‘So does this mean that everything you did to this point is a lie?’ I’m confused a little bit by that. I don’t understand how just because I live out in the middle of nowhere and I do things like hunt and fish, and I grew up doing that with my grandfather and checking his traps because he was a trapper, I don’t understand how all the feelings that I’ve shared over the years somehow can’t come from somebody that’s country. When I say country, it’s how I live, it’s a way of life. It’s how my mind works. It’s my love of this country. It’s more than just country music. I’m not quote-unquote country music, I’m country. I live in the sticks. I believe in this country. I value this country. I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve found it a little bit odd that people would think that both things can’t come out of the same person.”
Confusion or not, he’s found instant success in the country music world, with Town Line having debuted at number one on the country charts. So does Aaron regret having only released a five song EP instead of a full length country album? Again, the honest answer.
“I didn’t have a choice. I would have loved to have made a full album. I had the songs to make a full album. It wasn’t about that. It was about the fact that I am signed to Atlantic Records and this collection of songs, I brought them to Atlantic on the rock side and they said ‘These songs are great but they’re not rock enough.’ I was like okay, so I brought them to the country side and I got ‘These songs are great but they’re not country enough.’ The whole project kind of died in the water right there. We worked it out and I got them to sign a waiver because they really didn’t know what to do with the songs that I was delivering, but as part of the waiver and as part of the stipulation, I could only release an EP. So it was an EP or nothing, folks,” he says with a laugh.
Touring on Town Line while recording the new Staind album and “trying to be as much of a participating parent as I can” has Aaron joking that it might have behooved him to think about just how much he was chewing off before he put it all in motion, but he says he’s got another country solo record planned for after the new Staind album. And for fans who are wondering, the days of his country roots necessarily bleeding into his work with Staind are in the past. “Now there’s no line to be blurred,” he says. “Staind will be Staind and my solo project will be my solo project, and we’ll move forward.”
In the mean time, the Aaron Lewis solo concerts are indeed a blended cocktail of everything he has going on. “They’re a perfect mix of both sides, of both of my split personalities. I throw Staind songs in there, I throw the solo songs in there, I throw rock covers in there, I throw country covers in there.”
And what did Lewis, who turns forty next year, learn from working with the seventy-four year old Daniels and the seventy-nine year old Jones? “You’re never too old to do this.”