Rodney Atkins Is ‘Carving a New Path’ in His Career With Fourth Album
Rodney Atkins has been keeping his fans on the edge of their seats waiting on new music since the release of his Top 5 hit 'Farmer's Daughter.' Now the down-home country boy is back with a new hit on his hands, 'Take a Back Road.'
As Atkins wraps up his time in the studio on his highly-anticipated fourth album, Taste of Country sat down with the singer to find out more about the new music in the works.
Can you fill us in with what you’ve been up to since the ‘It’s America’ album was released in 2009?
We went and did the album with the folks at Cracker Barrel, which was cool. Now we are back working on the next album, which we’re just about done with. We are taking our time with the recording like we did with the ‘If You’re Going Through Hell’ album, making sure that the songs we are recording are going to have that kind of edge on it. When we were putting these songs together, we were trying to make sure that we were carving a new path. ‘Cleaning This Gun’ was one of those songs that said it in a different way that has never been said before. And it's tough to do after you've been down that road ... now how do you beat that? It's been fun. There are three tunes that I’m putting vocals on right now to finish the album up, so it will be ready to go hopefully by June, I'd say. Usually a label kind of watches when a song gets close to that Top 10 area, and that's when they'll drop an album. Everything’s moving nicely.
Are you still doing most of the recording out at your home studio?
We are doing it in our own studio. We go in and track with the band there at the Curb studio, and then I'll bring stuff home and do my tweaking, raising the hood up, and doing vocals that way. It's kind of cool. I felt when we did the ‘If You’re Going Through Hell’ album, we were sort of off on our own. We weren't trying to follow trends. We were trying to blaze a new trail with that album, and we're really getting back to that.
Do you still bounce a lot of songs off of your son, Elijah, who played a big part in the song selection on ‘If You’re Going Through Hell’?
Oh yeah! I'll go pick up Elijah from school, and I'll play him something new that we're working on. He'll go, "Wow!" and start smiling. He'll say, "Daddy ... I think this is gonna be the best album ever!" So we just keep trying to push the envelope.
How old is Elijah now?
Elijah is 9. He's just starting to play kid-pitch little league now. We went from T-Ball to Coaches-pitch to now where he's actually facing a kid pitching to him. It's completely different, but he's a tenacious little ball player. It's fun.
Back in 2006, you were on fire with back-to-back No. 1 singles with ‘If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows),’ ‘Watching You,’ ‘These Are My People’ and ‘Cleaning This Gun (Come on in Boy).’ The label kind of switched gears with the release of ‘Invisibly Shaken,’ and it barely cracked the Top 40. Was that kind of a frustrating moment for you?
[My record label], Curb, would call me and say, ‘What do you think the next single should be?’ I'd say ‘Cleaning This Gun’ or ‘These Are My People,’ and they would really ask for my input. We talked through it, and I'd talk about when we play these songs live, this is the reaction we get. I’d explain how I felt those songs were different and that I had my reasons for why I'd want to go with those songs. When we were ready to go with the next single after ‘Cleaning This Gun,’ I had picked two other singles off that album that I wanted to go with, but they wanted to release ‘Invisibly Shaken.’ I don't think ‘Invisibly Shaken’ is a bad song, but it was sort of a departure. I don’t know if it was the right thing to come with for the tone I want my shows to have. I want my live shows to lift people up. Career-wise, you want to build songs that basically you can build a show out of. It's really hard. I even talked to Brad Paisley about this when we were on tour with him -- about connecting those uptempo songs that say something differently and having hits with those to build a live show. Singles take so long to go up the charts, and you don't have a lot of time to waste. You'd better make sure when you release a song that it's something that is going to connect with folks.
Obviously things got back on track with the next single, ‘It’s America,’ as it became your fifth No. 1 single.
When we got to the next album and I turned in ‘It's America,’ I said, 'This is the one we’ve got to go with,' and boom, we went with that one. Not that I'm some musical genius, but you just need to follow your heart. You work on this stuff constantly and know what kind of sticks with you. So we came out with ‘It's America,’ and it worked. It connected with folks. Then suddenly, I got left out of the conversation about what the next single would be. We went in and started recording again, and ‘Farmer's Daughter’ came through. I said, "We’ve got to go with this one … I'm telling you!" So that's the single we went with, and it worked great.
Watch the Rodney Atkins 'Farmer's Daughter' Video
'Farmer's Daughter' was a huge hit for you, and now ‘Take a Back Road’ is building some traction at radio and on the charts. Do you feel like you’re back in the groove like you were in 2006/2007?
It was pretty neat ... after we released 'Farmer's Daughter,' it might have been No. 42 on the charts, but we'd show up in a town three days later, and they knew the song and knew the words. 'Farmer's Daughter' was a different kind of song because it didn't have the same chorus. There was no one single chorus in that song. Technically, by the 'rules of songwriting,' the choruses need to be the same. It's just like when you talk about George Strait's song 'The Chair' -- there was never a chorus in that song. You just follow your heart, and what you think the right song is what you connect to and what moves you. The way we are approaching some of this stuff is that way. 'Take a Back Road' just came out, but yet we are showing up places and people know the words to the song. There's just nothing like having a song that connects and hearing people sing it back. It's the biggest high from going out and playing live.
‘Farmer’s Daughter’ was released as a single and put on the reissue of the 'It's America' album, but will you be putting it on the new album as well?
I hope so. It was supposed to be the first single for the album coming now. The first time I sang that song was New Year's Eve 2010. That's how long we've had this stuff and been working on it. They released it in some other ways [online] where people can download it out there. That really, really made a huge difference, that people could have instant access to it. As soon as they heard the song on the radio, they could download it.
Your new single, 'Take a Back Road,' is a little bit of a different sound than what we've heard from you in the past, but you really make it your own.
'Take a Back Road' represents a different, raw sound. We were really trying to nail down the kind of songs that I think you aren't going to hear anybody else sing. There is something about each song. It's been a lot of fun trying to pinpoint what it is we are after, and 'Take a Back Road' has that vibe where it can be a throw down the window summer jam or it can be about kind of getting your feet back on the ground. So we're trying to find some songs, and this has a lot more edge on it than anything else I've ever done.
You seem to have pretty good luck with Rhett Akins songs (Akins co-wrote both 'Farmer's Daughter' and 'Take a Back Road').
When I first came to town trying to get a record deal, one of the reasons I couldn't get a deal was because they said I had to change my last name because of Rhett Akins and Trace Adkins. The fact that we’ve recorded two or three of Rhett's songs now is cool. And I just got an email from him; he just sent me a new song. He's a great dude.
Are you still managing a pretty busy touring schedule?
We're getting to headline a lot of stuff now. I’m also working on getting some dates lined up with Darius [Rucker] in the fall. There will be some other big tour stuff towards the end of the year and after the first of the year, into the spring. So I think it's going to be a great year of touring. We've been out there playing the whole time, and it was neat to see the difference when you have a song that connects with people like ‘Farmer's Daughter.’ You could see it was connecting with young folks, the demographic of who you are trying to hit. Those kids were 10-years-old when they heard ‘Watching You.’ It's hard to believe but that was 2006 and 2007, so they're now 15 or 16, and they're connecting with ‘Farmer's Daughter’ now. It's not normal to always hear songs from acts on the radio now that are five or six years old, but you still hear ‘Watching You,’ ‘These Are My People,’ ‘Cleaning This Gun’ and ‘If You’re Going Through Hell,’ so that's really helped out in touring.