Before recording a note for his upcoming fifth studio album, Jake Owen had a conversation with Ross Copperman and Shane McAnally that changed the tone and trajectory of the album, and maybe their careers. The two songwriters and producers are at the helm of this project, and they cowrote "Real Life," Owen's funky new single. Owen rightly recognized that no one needed the other two. The end product needed to justify the collaboration.

"I said, 'Look, guys ... we have to do something that will change the perception of us a little bit, because otherwise why would we do this? This isn’t gonna change our lives unless we do something great,'” he explains.

Sometimes, listening to songs that I didn’t write makes me tap into something internally that I was too scared to write with my own pen.

That's the bar Owen is setting to jump over. Greatness — as in a great album. Album of the Year nominations will mean more than Song or Single of the Year. The 33-year-old says he wants to release a project with a consistent theme from top to bottom.

“I’ve never made a record like that before. I’ve made a record with a bunch of random songs on it that worked on radio, but I want a piece of material that is consistent throughout each song, that talks about that feeling of growing up," he says. "The feeling of looking back and the feeling of appreciating it all."

"Real Life" sets the tone for an album that promises to be more upbeat and optimistic than Owen's previous four releases. It reflects where he is now, as a man, as a singer, as a father, husband and son. Turning 30 was a big deal. Over the last few years he's begun to recognize that the time for growing up is behind him. Owen needs to have grown up. Watching his father's battle with cancer urged him in that direction, and as a result — and along with a few other things — he's slowed down. A beer or two at dinner is as far as he goes on most nights.

“I make bad decisions when I drink, so let’s take out the bad decisions in life and that comes from drinking,” Owen declares.

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When describing the types of songs he was looking for before he started recording this new album, Owen wrote down the name of the '90s rock band Sublime. "Real Life" recalls their unique and influential sound in ways that are difficult to put in words. It tapped into some sense of nostalgia for Owen, but not the bittersweet, syrupy kind.

“My whole record, honestly, revolves around when I was a kid growing up in Vero Beach, Fla. growing up 50 feet from the ocean … that’s right around the time Sublime put that (self-titled) record out.”

A song called "Everybody Dies Young" is this album's "What We Ain't Got," but despite the heavy title, Owen says "It's a song about living," meaning living life to he fullest. That's a lesson he's learned in the days and years since his dad beat cancer. Steve has renewed energy, but Owen expected nothing less from him, even during the darkest days.

“It was hard to watch, but I never in my life let the thought cross my mind that he wasn’t gonna be OK," he admits.

He didn't write "Everybody Dies Young." In fact, so far not a single one of the songs Owen has spent writing over the last few years has made it. To some, this would seem discouraging. Owen just smiles and promises that those songs will have their time, one day.

“Sometimes, listening to songs that I didn’t write makes me tap into something internally that I was too scared to write with my own pen,” he says. That's what you hear on "What We Ain't Got," and it sounds like that's what you'll hear on a number of songs from the upcoming album.

No schedule for the full project's release has been announced. "Real Life" was released to radio this week (it's also available at iTunes) and Owen says it resembles what he wants to get back to. "I (told Copperman and McAnally) 'Everything in my life right now, I'm 33, I'm married, I have a kid, my dad beat cancer — I've gone through a lot of real life situations over the last couple of years. I wanna get back to things that are real to me, and real life scenarios.'"

"Next thing I know, a couple of weeks later the two of them sent me a song that they wrote together, called 'Real Life.'"

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