Aaron Lewis Interview: Staind Frontman Talks About ‘The Road’ That Brought Him Into Country Music
After the release of his seven-song country EP in 2011 titled ‘Town Line,’ which spawned the gold-selling single, ‘Country Boy,’ country rocker Aaron Lewis is back with a full-length album of monster songs that will put his name on the map of industry hitmakers.
Lewis penned all but one tune on ‘The Road’ — a 10-track album that hit stores Tuesday (November 13) — including its lead single, ‘Endless Summer,’ and his follow-up release and current single, ‘Forever.’ ‘The Road’ shows growth in Lewis’ career, and after one listen, it’s easy to realize that the heart and soul of the man behind the music is pure and honest.
Taste of Country recently sat down with the frontman of the rock band Staind to talk about the music that fills the new album and his journey through the entertainment business.
ToC: Compare this new record to the first EP. Would you say it’s similar, or does it show another side of you?
Aaron Lewis: I would have to say from a traditional standpoint, it’s a lot more country than the EP. Definitely there were no fear of there being too much pedal steel or too much Dobro or too much of the country pickin’ on a tele. It’s just more country.
What did you learn from making that first project that you carried into the work you put into ‘The Road’?
That the country genre does not like outsiders [laughs]. It’s odd. I’ve gotten a sense over this time frame that the 14 or 15 million records that I’ve sold in the rock industry has been held against me by some. I’ve been welcomed with very open and warm and nurturing arms by others, so I guess that’s probably how it always is.
When was that moment when you knew you wanted to take a bit of a break from the rock world and try your hand at the solo country stuff?
Well the solo thing I’ve been doing for about 10 years now, just me and an acoustic guitar. I guess it was when I sat down and in my mind, I was like, ‘I’m going to write a country song.’ Then I wrote ‘Country Boy.’ Then I started playing it out live. It wasn’t recorded; I just figured I would play it out live and see how people reacted. The reaction was so big that it kind of made the decision for me. The song has 15 million views on YouTube, it was nominated for three CMT Awards, two ACM Awards, the CD it was on debuted at No. 1 on the country charts… I think that writing that song was kind of telling me something. I think that I’ve done alright so far in my adventure.
You mentioned writing a country song. Talk about how that is different from writing a song for something that Staind would cut.
It’s storytelling. Writing Staind songs for me has always been exposing and torturous in its content, if that makes any sense at all. It’s always been the things that have been bothering me and the things I’ve been carrying around on my shoulders… the things that I have a hard time expressing in regular conversation. The country thing isn’t that. With the country thing, I can tell a story about taking my three daughters to the beach for a weekend. I couldn’t do that with Staind. Could you imagine if I brought the lyrics to ‘Endless Summer’ to the table for Staind [laughs]? It just would not work.
Do you find that songwriting is a little easier in the country world?
Not easier; refreshing though. At the moment, I’m a little over scrapping the plaque off the back of my psyche walls to express all the sh– that I stuffed down. It’s kind of nice to pull up happy stuff — maybe not even happy stuff because it’s not like the whole record is lyrically driven from the same place as ‘Endless Summer.’
You wrote all of the tracks on the album except for ‘Granddaddy’s Gun,’ which was penned by Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Bobby Pinson. What made that song so special that you went ahead and recorded an outside tune?
I would have written that song eventually, but it wouldn’t have come out the same way [laughs]! I did jump in on writing it in a roundabout way. I changed a few things around in the song for it to perfectly fit. The song originally said, “Someday, I will pass it on to my son.” I’ve got three daughters [laughs]. So, I changed it to grandson. Little things like that. Like I said… I would’ve wrote that song because I felt so strongly about that song. I love the way that it fit the way that it did. It happened so naturally, and it wasn’t like I went looking for a song. I heard Rhett play the song years before in an acoustic manner with just his guitar. It was such an amazing song. I instantly fell in love with the song.
Through the making of this album, it just got to the point where I would have to sit down and come up with another whole song to complete the project or give my very dear friend Rhett the ultimate compliment by recording a song that he wrote that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up the first time I heard it. That’s really what it was. It wasn’t that I needed to record somebody else’s song, it was that I wanted to. He’s my friend, and it’s an amazing song.
Was the recording process this time around a little more relaxed because you knew what you were getting yourself into after the release of the country EP?
The schedule I was on to record this record was insane. I was on tour with Staind. I had blown my vocals out completely. Through most of the recording of this record, I was on my second round of steroids to fix how blown out my throat was so I could just get through the tour. I would play three or four shows with Staind, and on the fifth day when I should have taken a break, I flew to Nashville and I recorded. I was doing my vocals four days into ripping my throat out with Staind. The approach for the lyrics with Staind is a lot more aggressive than the country approach. I’m screaming a lot, and basically singing for Staind is screaming at the top of my lungs through all of it, whether I’m screaming or singing.
What is the current status of Staind … are you guys still together or just taking a break?
There’s no breakup or anything like that. We’re just taking a break. There’s absolutely going to be the material for another Staind record. I’m absolutely going to need to express myself in that manner again, but again… I don’t think that should be held against me. It doesn’t mean that I’m not fully committed to the country genre. It means that I’m creatively bipolar [laughs]. I need all these different outlets. Stuff gets stale and stagnated. I’ve got to expand on my creativity.
Seems like you just don’t like a whole lot of downtime!
I totally value my time at home. I’m just not one to rest. I’m not one who is afraid of hard work. The music industry is one big smoke and mirror show. As many records as I’ve sold and as well as it seems that I’ve done from looking at it, it’s not how it works. I work as hard as I do because I need to because everything that I’ve worked so hard to obtain will slowly have to be let go of if I don’t.