Monday, October 26, 2015

Interview Flashback- Full Circle With Tracy Lawrence

I have been blessed to write contributions/reviews/interviews/opinion pieces for several country music and roots-oriented websites and publications over the years including Saving Country Music, Nashville Scene, Country California, Country Weekly, American Noise, The 9513 and Engine 145. As a regular contributor to the last two in that list, I did close to a 100 interviews with different artists- and since both of those great sites have come down, I will reprint some of those interviews here to give them a home in perpetuity. This interview was originally published in August of 2009 on The 9513.
In a sometimes underrated career spanning almost 20 years, Tracy Lawrence has had all the successes a country music artist could ask for.  With 4 Platinum Records, 2 Gold Records, 30 charted singles, 17 number one singles and awards from the Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association and Billboard Magazine, his music has struck chords with millions of fans over that time.  

But it hasn’t always been easy.  Just before his first record was released back in 1991, Lawrence was confronted by three armed men with a former girlfriend at a hotel. When the men robbed them and attempted to force them into a hotel room, Lawrence resisted and was shot four times, allowing his friend to escape. One of the bullets remains embedded in Lawrence's pelvis to this day.

But that adventurous start and his rowdy history seem to be behind Lawrence, particularly with his latest release, The Rock.  The album is an entirely Christian inspirational theme, departing not from the sound of his previous works, but from the message.  Admittedly, Lawrence is not focused on the commercialism of the release or catering to the music industry on this album.  On The Rock, he has set his own path, charted his own course, and it is his journey and life experiences that have led him here.  

Ken Morton, Jr. - This album’s theme seems to be “a promise kept.”  I understand it was a dedication to your parents who had this idea for an inspirational album?

Tracy Lawrence – Well, you know, I grew up in church and this was something that my mom and dad wanted me to do for some time.   Over the last few years I started going back to church and taking the kids to church and this seemed like it was the right place in my life to do and do it the right way because it isn’t the kind of record you can make half-heartedly.  I felt like last year when I started recording it, I was in a real good place at home.  My career was thriving, the kids are healthy and I felt like if I was ever going to do it, now was the time.  

KMJ - Was it the right time for Tracy Lawrence to have an inspirational album, the right time for the country to hear an inspirational album, or a little of both?

TL – You know, I think it was both.  I think it is the most relevant album for the time and place for any album that I have ever done.  And I didn’t even realize it was even going to be like that when I recorded it.  Obviously, I couldn’t foresee what was coming, but I do feel like it was very appropriate.  And that is kind of the feeling that I am getting back from my fans.  It is really striking a chord with people.  It is really moving them a lot which I am proud of.  

KMJ - It seems a little like a coming full circle considering your tumultuous history- not too many artists start their careers off with four bullet wounds.  Was it difficult choosing songs for the album with this specific narrow theme?

TL – You know, I had more of a hard time cutting things out, because I found so many great songs and I was really overwhelmed because I have never done a song search looking for material like this before so I was really blown away by how great the songs were that I actually found and I recorded 12 things and they were adamant about me bumping two of them off because of the distribution deal that I have.  And I had a hard time bumping the two of them off and I didn’t feel like there was
anything weak on the album at all.  I thought it was all really strong and it all seemed to have a place on the record so it was more difficult in that perspective.

KMJ - This album marked the first time you brought your road band into the studio with you.  Why the change and what differences did you see on the album tracks?

TL – Well, I wanted to use my band before.  It’s just such a scary thing because when we go in with the session players, man, they are so quick and efficient and they bring so much to the table that I didn’t want the album to suffer but I felt like talented players around me that were capable of rising to the occasion and the one thing that I was really impressed with the guys is that they were very fast and efficient.  We cut all the tracks in two days which is pretty much on pace with as far as tracking overdubs and getting the music bed right.  I mean, that is pretty quick for a record.  

KMJ - Do you have a favorite song on the album?

TL – My favorite song is one called “I’m Done” and it was kind of a personal thing for me because I felt so attracted to it because it seemed almost autobiographical.  I got to that place a few years ago where I just said, “I’m tired of the way I’m living and I am ready to make some serious lifestyle changes.”  I just got to that point in my life where when I found that song, I said, “This is really a special song.”  

KMJ - A set of inspirational songs would seem to be a harder sell to country radio, at this point in your career, is that important to you?

TL – Not important at all.  I’ve kind of gotten to the point where I’m a little burned out on it.  There are so much politics and it is so frustrating dealing with them.  It has been a difficult sell, but we’ve been managing to sell records okay.  We’re using a lot of internet marketing and we’ve bought some television time so we’re just going through other channels.  I don’t know if the next album is going to do any better with country radio either.  I don’t know if I am going to continue the marketing for it.  You know, it is pretty frustrating.  They have a short play list and if you are not one of the five artists that they are dialing down to, it is almost impossible to get heard.

KMJ – I know the album has been on the country charts, but on the Christian charts, it has actually been a top 10 record – has it been an interesting new genre to be on that side of the coin?

TL – Not really.  I’m still dealing with a lot of the same people, but the only thing I have noticed about the Christian format is that it is not as well-structured.  I’ve visited a few radio station and they are still al little bit behind the times as far as their studio technologies, but they still reach a lot of people.  I didn’t realize what a big format it was and one of the reasons that I wanted to do this now is that my career has still been thriving and I didn’t want it to be seen as me just searching for an easier format.  I wanted this album to have relevance with my fans.  I am glad that I did it right now, but it has been a little bit different dealing with the Christian radio side.  It really is a different beast over there.

KMJ - Are your young daughters fans of Dad’s country music?

TL – They are.  They are big fans of music and theater and everything.  My kids are very involved in my life.  They are very talented in their own right.  My 6-year-old daughter was actually out on the road with me this last week.  Saturday night we were down in Missouri and I had my full set up – it was a big outdoor show.  She is taking guitar lessons and she has a junior electric guitar.  She had
her own riser and my guys set an amp up and so she had her own road manager and her own guitar tech and she got up there and faked the whole show.  She had a big time.  It was really cute.  They’ve been exposed to it since they were little kids, since they were infants, so this is pretty normal for them.  They think this is the way it is supposed to be.  We try to make things as normal around the house.  It isn’t like we dwell on it all the time.  I keep my family time separated and we focus on their education and their extra-curricular activities so they are the focal point when I am at home.  We don’t really talk about the music business very much.  I do my phone interviews one day a week and the rest we keep separate.

KMJ - On your last album, you released “Find Out Who Your Friends Are.”  It hit number one in it’s amazing forty-first week on the charts,  It was the first time that any artist had reached number one with the first release from a self-owned label.  What’s it meant doing this on your own terms and on your own Rocky Comfort label?

TL – There’s been some excitement to it but at the same time there’s been its challenges.  It has its difficulties, it hasn’t been an easy road.  So far, so good, though.  Hopefully we’ll be able to have another hit and keep rolling but I don’t know if we’ll be able to get through the cracks again.  I don’t know what the future holds.  The great thing about the days we live in now is that there are so many different marketing avenues.  There are so many different ways to reach the fans.  It doesn’t have to be just heard on country radio.  There’s other outlets for people to hear their country music.  

KMJ - How has it been running your own label?  You have three artists in addition to yourself on the label (Zona Jones, Michael Scott & Sam Powell), what has it been like promoting artists other than yourself?

TL – A big challenge.  It’s been harder getting them through the cracks than it has been me.  I bring different ones with me on the road pretty much every weekend.  I give them an opportunity to get in front of crowds.  The sell their products and go out and sign autographs and get in front of fans that way.  They’re getting some exposure that way.  So we just take it one step at a time.  

KMJ - Obviously as your promoting one album, it’s sometimes difficult to talk about the next, but what other musical goals to you have for yourself in the coming years?

TL – I want to produce other outside acts whether they’re on my label or not.  I have the desire to produce other available artists.  And I’m actually working on my next album now.  I’ve been writing a lot this year.  I’ve got 20 something songs already finished and a couple of demo sessions in the tank.  I’m planning on going back into the studio probably the first quarter of next year.  I’d like to write 20 or more songs and have about 50 to choose from when we go into the studio.  My goal is to this time to write my entire album.  I’ve never done that in my career.  I’ve had a song on one, maybe three or four on another one.  But I’ve never actually focused enough to sit down and write an entire record on my own.  That’s my goal for the next album.  

KMJ - Would you consider loaning out songs you didn’t use out to other artists?

TL – Absolutely.  After I get my project done and whatever things that are left over, sure.  Not to say that they’re weaker or anything else.  But I can only put ten or so on an album.  There’s going to be some really good stuff left over.  I think I’m at the point in my career when I’m writing better than I ever have in my life.  I’ve got a lot of life experience.  And I’m a seasoned songwriter, I can sit down there by myself and wrestle one out.  But I also enjoy co-writing too.  But I think I’m at the place in my life where I’m going to write some of the best stuff of my life right now.  

KMJ - Being a neo-traditionalist artist in the vast landscape called country music, what’s your thoughts of what’s currently being played on country radio- this modern electric guitar movement?

TL – You know, I like it.  I really do.  I’m a Rascal Flatts fan.  I’m a Keith Urban fan.  But I think there’s always going to be a place for traditional country.  It still is the real backbone of our format.  Country has split off in different directions.  It’s gone pop, it’s gone everything else.  But the backbone is still going to be traditional country.  Other stuff will come and go but fiddle and steel will always be around.  

KMJ - You’ve been a tireless contributor to charities over the years, raising a million dollars for Cystic Fibrosis research and being on the national board of the Alzheimer’s Association National Advisory Council.  How is that important to Tracy Lawrence, the artist?

TL – It’s a huge responsibility that I take very seriously.  I feel like I’ve been blessed with so many good things in my life.  I try to give back in every possible way I can.  I do a lot of work with St. Jude’s.  Cystic Fibrosis.  Alzheimer’s Association.  I have my own non-profit organization back home in southwest Arkansas where we’ve put a lot of money back into the community where I grew up.  I think being a humanitarian is a very important thing to do in life.  There’s a lot of people out there that are a lot less fortunate than I.  I wish more people did it in our industry, but I can only lead by example as much as I can.  

KMJ – What’s the next single off of the album?

TL – Probably a song called “Somebody Who Would Die For You.”  That’s the one that I’m getting the most response on from the radio and fans out there.  

KMJ - What is country music to Tracy Lawrence?

TL – It’s my heart and soul, really.  That’s all.  

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