Today (July 26), Eric Church fans will finally be able to get their hands on his highly-anticipated new record, 'Chief.' The new album comes hot on the heels of his sophomore album, 'Carolina,' which spawned hit singles 'Love Your Love the Most' and 'Smoke a Little Smoke,' both of which are Gold-certified singles.

His latest single and first release off the new album is the prolific 'Homeboy,' which he co-wrote with Casey Beathard. The tune has become Church's fastest rising single to date; it's currently in the Top 15 and climbing. In recent years, Church has been earning himself much-deserved recognition within the country music industry, including nominations for the 2011 CMT Music Awards and the ACMs, from which he walked away with the New Solo Vocalist of the Year award.

Taste of Country recently caught up with Church to discuss the music on 'Chief' and his signature sound and style, which he has perfected with the new collection of stellar songs.

How does 'Chief' compare to your previous albums?
It’s different. I think this is our best album. It’s funny ... with [my last album], ‘Carolina,’ we just got a Gold certification, so I’m very, very proud of [that album], and I’m very proud of [my first album] ‘Sinners Like Me.’ I think ['Chief'] is our best record. I think there were glimpses of what this record is, top to bottom, on the first two -- we just didn’t capture it the whole record. I think that makes each record unique. This one, I’m happy top to bottom. I think it’s a living thing. It feels live to me. I love records that aren’t perfect. I think imperfection is what harvests that creativity and gives it a heartbeat. For me, that’s the kind of music that I like. It’s raw at times. It’s really about the music and that moment. I think in doing it that way, the fans are going to feel the same energy that I feel when I’m listening to it.

Have you been playing a lot of these songs live in the recent months to test them out on your fans?
Actually, it’s funny. I haven’t. I’m old school a little bit. I like to wait until release day. I like the surprise of fans not knowing what’s on the records and having to have that excitement. In this day and age, with the digital outlets like YouTube and everything else, it’s very hard to have really “new” music. I’m only playing ‘Homeboy’ until July 27 -- the day after the record comes out. We’ve been working on another set that we’ll debut and go from there when we play the new stuff.

Well, your fans are going to flip out when they hear this album, because all of the songs on this record will go over well live!
We got here on our live show. We got here touring. That’s how we got to where we are. This record was really a tribute to the fans, and keeping in mind the live shows and what our shows are live. We made this record live. A lot of times, I was in the studio live with the guitar players and with the musicians. We ended up using that track. I didn’t go back and redo it. I kept it. There are some mistakes. There’s some stuff, if I was going to be perfect I would have fixed it, but just like a live show, you can’t go back and re-sing it. We kept it about the energy and about the moment.

You mentioned ‘Carolina’ being a Gold album. Did that put added pressure on you going into making ‘Chief’ because you felt that you had to top the success of that album?
I felt more pressure making ‘Carolina,’ because ‘Sinners Like Me’ was a very critically acclaimed record. It was an identity record. Everybody talks about whatever the sophomore jinx thing is. Everybody discusses that, so I felt more pressure there, really. And my career was in a weirder spot coming off ‘Sinners Like Me.’ I had yet to really have a Top 10. We had a lot of success touring, and we built a fanbase, but it had been slow. I think we were probably a little off everybody’s radar in the industry. That was OK. I liked that. I liked being able to make a record from that place, but this time, we had some success.

How did you go about the writing process and compiling songs for this new album?
I took six weeks off to write this record in North Carolina. I got a cabin with no cell phones and TV. I did that because I really went to have some reflection, to really look at how we got here and where to go from here. I was really more relaxed with this one. I think it comes because of ‘Smoke a Little Smoke.’ That was a song that a lot of people said, “You’ve lost your mind for putting this on the radio” ... with that being the single and coming off of two Top 10s. There’s a lot to say for the stuff out there. It became the biggest hit we had. It gave us a Gold record, and it did so many things. It changed our career. It’s something that was a little risky and something that was a little out there. So when we made this record, I wasn’t worried about that at all. I knew we could go all the way to the wall with it and still have success.

It’s like you’ve honed in on who you are as an artist and what you want your music to be with this album.
Yeah. I felt very comfortable since ‘Smoke a Little Smoke.’ The guy that people see live is the guy you see onstage and is the guy that’s singing that song and it’s the guy that’s in that video. I think that it matched up for the first time. It just lined up right.

I read that the album title, ‘Chief,’ holds a special meaning for you. Can you tell us about how you came to pick that as the title of the album?
Well, my grandpa’s chief of police for about 30 years in the small town I was from. Growing up, that was his nickname. Everybody called him “Chief.” Unbeknownst to anybody on the road, the band began calling me “Chief,” kind of as a joke when I put on my hat and my sunglasses because that means it’s showtime. They started giving me a hard time about it a couple of years ago. It’s been a long time. “Chief” was kind of adopted. It’s been my nickname for a while. When we decided to title this record, it’s from a live place and it’s for the fans, and so that’s where that name came from. I thought that was one fitting way to title the record, but at the same time, it meant more to me. To me, it was just an interesting coincidence that it was my grandpa’s nickname, too. It’s a multi-generation nickname. I thought it was a really neat thing.

You recently shot a very powerful video for 'Homeboy.' Can you talk about that day?
We shot it at the [Nashville's] Tennessee State Prison, which is a serious place. Anybody who’s ever been there knows it’s got a heaviness. You feel that when you go through those gates and they close behind you. I said to my wife when we shot the video, there’s a lot of people who never got to go back through those gates. It really lent itself to the seriousness of the song. I think that the video did a great job conveying that. It’s my favorite video that we’ve done. I love the impactfulness of how they took the lyric and gave it a visual concept.

Watch the Eric Church 'Homeboy' Video

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