Bringing country back to cool

Bringing country back to cool

Fresh off the heels of their self-titled seventh studio album, Staind singer Aaron Lewis has announced he will soon release his first full-length solo album — country music style.

In March 2011, the 39-year-old Lewis released an EP titled Town Line on Stroudavarious Records featuring five songs including “Country Boy.” Produced by legendary Nashville veteran James Stroud, Town Line debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard country chart in March and the single “Country Boy” sold more than 1 million units and the video was viewed more than 11 million times on CMT.com and YouTube. Even fellow country star Jason Aldean loved the video. That song alone earned him two CMT Award nominations, plus the help of legends Charlie Daniels and George Jones couldn’t have hurt. Not only did the EP make waves on the country side, but it also charted as high as No. 7 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums.

Lewis grew up in Longmeadow, Mass., and helped found the rock group Staind in 1995. All they’ve done is sold more than 15 million albums, three of which were No. 1, and have five of their singles hit No. 1 on the rock charts including “It’s Been Awhile,” “So Far Away,” “Right Here,” “Believe” and “Not Again.”

With Staind so successful and doing everything right, why would Lewis dare to go solo, much less in a different genre? There’s no reason to worry, so Lewis says, because Staind isn’t going anywhere. But don’t let the tattoos and raspy voice fool you — Lewis is country at heart. Somewhat of an outdoorsman, he was introduced to country music by spending time as a kid with his grandfather.

The Examiner spoke with Lewis via telephone as he readies for a brief solo tour. His first full-length album is due out later this spring.

With major success with Staind, did you think this could be a dangerous career move?

There’s always a danger trying to jump music genres. There are a lot of people out there who also try to protect their genre, and I ran into some of that. I hear all the, ‘He ain’t country; he’s from Massachusetts.’ And ‘He’s only pandering to a country audience because he means nothing in the rock world anymore.’ I’ve heard and read it all. One of the key differences is that I wrote the songs I’m recording and I hope that will be a key difference — will help me break down the barrier to get into a genre that I think I belong in. Others in the past have attempted to make this jump but pick songs out of a catalog that somebody else wrote and recorded them as their own.

Was your original intention on releasing a full album from the beginning?

The reason why I didn’t write a full album before was because of a contract issue. I am bound to Atlantic Records. I brought four of the five songs that are on Town Line to Atlantic New York, which is kind of the rock department. They listened to the songs and they thought they were amazing, but added those weren’t rock enough. So I sent them to Atlantic Nashville and they liked them, but they said they weren’t country enough. The project died in the water right there, so it took me about six months with lawyers and litigation to have a waiver drawn up that released me from Atlantic Records. A part of that waiver was the fact I could only put out an EP. They originally wanted me to put out two songs. So the reason I didn’t put out a full album wasn’t because I didn’t have the songs and it wasn’t because I was putting my toes in the water just to see what the temperature was.

What can you tell us about the new album?

The record is going to be 10 new songs. Nothing will carry over. The original plan was to carry the five songs off the EP then add five or six new ones and re-release it as a full length, but once the creative juices starting flowing, I ended up with another full record worth of material.

With pop-country dominating the industry, this sounds like its going to be another breath of fresh air.

I am making an attempt to bring back what I thought country music was. I think we resurrected the ghosts of all the late and greats. If you are a fan of what was country music, I think you really are going to like my new record. If you like this pop-country stuff, there might be a song or two on the record that ever-so-slightly graces that road. It’s very Telecaster-laden and pedal steel. It’s just very traditional in its nature. I went even further in the direction of Town Line and it’s as country as all get out.

How receptive were the Staind fans?

Lots of Staind fans have come over and supported me. I kept hearing the fans say they had never listened to country music before I put out this record.

Lewis will perform Thursday, Jan. 12, at the Verizon Wireless Theater in Houston. Tickets are $55, $45 and $29.50. Doors open at 8 p.m.

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