Tim McGraw Interview: Singer Explains How ‘Two Lanes of Freedom’ Overcame Distractions
Tim McGraw defies modifiers. In an age where fans and critics want to corral every country singer into neat and tidy pens labeled “Country Rock,” “Pop Country” or “Traditional Country,” the 45-year-old veteran roams free like a buffalo. Some days, he is country-rock, but others find him sounding more soulful or introspective. On Monday, he’s sweet and tender, but come Tuesday he’s a “real bad boy.”
‘Two Lanes of Freedom’ — McGraw’s new album, released Feb. 5 — draws upon the same colorful palate that produced his most recent albums. There’s a reason for this, the ‘One of Those Nights’ singer tells Taste of Country. And it’s not necessarily one his most loyal fans will want to hear. However, it’s important to understand that McGraw is an artist before he’s a businessman, actor or even a singer. His search for inspiration is wide-reaching and never-ending. Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles and Elvis Presley were early influences, but these days it’s, well, … everyone.
“I think every artist takes a little bit and learns something from everybody they see,” McGraw says toward the end of the interview. “Not only growing up, even now. I see artists all the time and hear artists all the time that inspire me.”
Few artists of McGraw’s pedigree will admit that the new crop of country singers provide inspiration, but that’s exactly what he’s suggesting when talking about the current class, including Two Lanes of Freedom Tour openers Brantley Gilbert and Love and Theft.
“Anybody that you hear new, you learn something from. Sonically, musically, all kinds of things. I think that’s part of growing as an artist,” he insists. Quiet confidence. That’s what Tim McGraw sounds like. His answers to questions about the new songs or the legal drama surrounding the making of his album are thorough, but economical. Everything is of even keel. There’s a chuckle here and there, but he’s not jokey. He will protect his family’s privacy — as you’ll find out — but he won’t guard his emotions when it comes to his craft.
ToC: You’ve really broadened your sound over the last five or 10 years. Is there a song on ‘Two Lanes of Freedom’ that will really surprise fans with a new style?
McGraw: I think the title track is really something we based the whole record around. We recorded that song the first or second night of being in the studio, and sonically, when we recorded that song and it was all sort of cookin’. It really became the song that raised its head and we said “this is what we’re gonna base the album off of.” Every track after that … originated from that record.
When you do something like that, do you find yourself having to turn down some good songs because they don’t fit within the theme?
No. I just try to find the best songs I can find. Usually the way I start my process is, when I get ready to record a record I usually have these sounds in my head that I want … that I’m projecting what I want the album to sound like. And when I’m looking for songs I sort of figure out ways to make these sounds work in these songs. But ultimately, I just try to find the best songs I can find and songs that speak to me.
The song ‘Book of John’ catches attention because the songwriters aren’t as well-known as some of the others, and it’s about losing a father, which will make your fans pay close attention. How did you find that song?
I remember Missy Gallimore (wife of producer Byron Gallimore) sent me that song over — and the miracle of modern technology now, I just figured out how to do that in the last year — and I had it on my iPhone. I remember sitting at my kitchen table, there’s some woods out in the backyard, and I was looking across the woods and the song really hit me hard. It was just one of those songs that sort of flooded you with emotion. It was just a guitar and a vocal. I knew instantly I wanted to record it. I just had a great connection with that song.
And it’s from a different place than you might expect because my stepfather growing up, early in my life — it was a very chaotic part of my life, that period and the relationship that we had. And I didn’t know my dad until I was an adult, so I really don’t have sort of a deep well of knowledge about a father and son relationship, and now I have all daughters. When I heard this song it was sort of a way for me to explore that relationship … without having it. It’s really an emotional record for me. And when I perform it live, it’s still one of those songs that sort of … you really have to reach down deep and grab hold to keep from getting too emotional when you sing it.
Do you miss not having a father-son relationship?
I don’t know if I miss it because I never really had it. I wouldn’t trade my father-daughter relationship for anything.
How close did you and Faith come to trying to have another kid in an effort to have a son?
[laughs] Oh man. I wouldn’t wanna go through that again.
I got the impression as you were talking that you’re not the most savvy technology guy?
I’m not the most technologically savvy guy around. I’m not the best at it. I’m learning though. I’m getting better. I mean I can email if I need to. I don’t like to, but if I need to.
You’re not doing Twitter then?
You know, every now and then. I have one of those accounts and I’ll send some stuff out, but I’m not constantly on it.
Do your daughters have Twitter accounts?
No, no they don’t.
Do you have social networking rules in the family?
What are the rules?
Well, it’s just our family rules. We’ll have to keep that to ourselves.