Lyrics Uncovered: Jake Owen, ‘What We Ain’t Got’
Jake Owen‘s “What We Ain’t Got” lyrics have helped the singer break through to a new level in his career.
The new single is a dramatic departure from Owen’s recent radio offerings, which have leaned toward feel-good fare. “What We Ain’t Got” is a somber, piano-driven ballad that relies almost entirely on the lyrics, melody and Owen’s emotional vocal performance to tell the story.
The song originally appeared on singer-songwriter Travis Meadows’ 2011 album Killin’ Uncle Buzzy, which was a highly-respected and talked-about album among the Nashville music community. The song cycle began during the last of a series of trips to rehab for Meadows, and ended up as a musical diary chronicling his struggle for sobriety.
“I was kinda taking inventory of my life and what I had lost and what I had gained, if there was anything I could possibly learn from those mistakes — I was kinda like a Tasmanian devil, you know, leaving wreckage everywhere I went when I was in the middle of my drinking. And part of it was a love relationship,” Meadows tells Taste of Country.
“So I was in the middle of that, and that day I was writing with a young fellow named Travis Jerome Goff, and we were talking about that, and I must admit that a lot of that was a blur, but I remember that he was very patient, and we started just trying to hammer out what it feels like — you know, that whole grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side thing. I sacrificed a lot of good things in my life for things that I thought that I wanted, and I’m sure he felt the same way, ’cause we all kinda have a tendency to want things that we don’t have. And then we get them, and realize that we probably had the right thing in the first place.”
The “What We Ain’t Got” lyrics are sparsely poetic, with no syllables wasted in conveying the heart of the song: “All I want is what I had / I’d trade it all just to get her back / She’s moving on, but I guess I’m not / We all want what we ain’t got.”
"We all kinda have a tendency to want things that we don’t have. And then we get them, and realize that we probably had the right thing in the first place."
Owen was a huge fan of Killin’ Uncle Buzzy, and he delivered an interpretation of the “What We Ain’t Got” lyrics that even surprised Meadows.
“For me it was always about a love interest. It was always a guy and a girl,” the songwriters says. “Then when I saw the video that Jake did — which he so kindly asked me to be in — and saw the soldier’s wife and child, the beautiful lady in the wheelchair, and my friend Laura is also in that video as a cancer patient, when she took her wig off … it just hit me like a ton of bricks, ‘My god, it really is so much bigger than I thought it was.’ It’s so weird; I had never seen it that way. It was really quite a gift to see it in a transformative way like that, and see it bigger than I had originally seen it.”
The resulting track is one that required a huge risk on Owen’s part.
“I’ll tell you what, it was such a brave thing for him to do, at the end of summer when everybody’s still doing tailgate songs and partying and whatever, and he does a piano ballad. It was a brave move,” Meadows points out. “I just can’t tell you how proud I was of him. I would have been proud if it wasn’t my song, because that’s a big risk in this industry, to go against the grain like that.”
The risk has paid off with a hit single that stands in bold contract to everything else that’s currently at country radio. Meadows couldn’t be prouder of Owen for believing in the song and bringing it to the masses.
“I cannot say enough nice things about Jake. He has been so kind and so gracious,” he says. “He insisted that he call me — he didn’t want the record label to call, he called me himself to tell me that it was gonna be the next single, and he said, ‘I want to be a career artist. I don’t want to be known as just a fun-loving beach song guy. I want to be a career artist, I want to have some longevity, and I believe that these are the kinds of songs that can give an artist longevity and credibility. That’s why we’re doing this song.'”
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