Country music artist talks old boots, new baby and high school memories
This weekend, Chaifetz Arena welcomes one of country music’s top up-and-coming stars, Grammy winning artist Eric Church.
Church, the self proclaimed “outlaw rebel of country music” is becoming more and more well-known – and his music is becoming less and less mainstream in the process. His recent single “Drink in My Hand” is the first No. 1 hit of his career, and it comes from the critically acclaimed album Chief, a unique mix of traditional country and untapped creativity.
Church is known for other hits like “Homeboy”, “Springsteen”, and “Smoke a Little Smoke.” He plays at Chaifetz Arena on Friday night, and tickets are still available through the box office.
Chris Ackels of The University News got a chance to sit down with Eric Church earlier this week to discuss anything from cowboy boots to college memories.
Your newest album, Chief, is pretty sonically different. With songs like “Hungover and Hard Up” and “Creepin’” , it’s pretty unique and ambitious. Is this the direction country music is going, or are you just having fun with this stuff?
“Hell I hope so. I believe that as an artist, there’s a certain period of time when the spotlight is on us. So while people are paying attention, it’s up to us to do something different, and maybe take the format somewhere that it hasn’t been.
I just get bored easy. I get bored with my own stuff, I get bored with other people’s stuff, you know. I just think that the coolest thing is reaching out, saying ‘hey let’s take country over here, take it over here,’ and I think that’s our job. I think it’s healthy for the format, I think it’s a natural evolution of the format, so it’s something that we strive for every record.
So Chief just happened to be the record that for whatever reason, we just captured whatever that emotion and whatever that feeling was that was rolling around in that studio. And we were able to keep it and capture it for the whole record. I think that’s why a lot of the stuff on this record is maybe a little more out there, a little more progressive than the other stuff we’ve done.
And there was a healthy level of, frankly, just not giving a shit on this record too. We had just come off “Smoke a Little Smoke”, which everybody had told me was career suicide, releasing a song with that subject matter, and it was the biggest hit we’d had. So when I came in to make the Chief record, I was feeling pretty good about sticking to my guns and doing my own thing.
So we made our decision, ‘hey on this record, we’re going to 100% follow the creative path. And I don’t care what the label thinks, I don’t care what radio thinks, I don’t care what fans think. We’re gonna let creativity dictate the path of this record. And if it’s great, so be it. And if it’s not, we can at least say that we were creative as we could be.’
So, I think a lot of it is that attitude of fearlessness.
Life on the road must be interesting. When you travel to St. Louis, what does your timeline look like?
It depends where we’re at. I think we’re in Evansville on Thursday this week. When we leave Evansville, it’s about one or two in the morning by the time we load out. And then we come to St. Louis, we get in early in the morning, normally around nine or ten.
Then, you’re just there all day. Some days, depending on the situation, I’ll get out and I like to jog. Especially college campuses – that’s still something I enjoy doing is just getting out and jogging around campus. And other things would be just figuring out what to do in the city. We try to get out when we’re there and try to do some things and have some fun.
Now, you’re a new father. Obviously you’ve got a family and a new baby boy to think about – what’s that like out on the road? Do they travel with you, or do you just keep in touch with home?
They travel with me. We’ve had to adapt some things on the tour. But I bought an airstream that we pull behind the bus. It’s a little 16 foot airstream that we turned into a nursery. So when we are parked in the towns and at these arenas, he can have a place to go and still have toys and his own world. And I enjoy it, because you normally only get one chance at your first arena headlining situation, and it was just important to me to not miss out on the other part of my life.
I ultimately think that affects the creativity too. I have so many friends, guys and girls, that go out and play in front of ten or twelve thousand people a night, and then they come back to an empty bus. And back wherever they’re from, their family is there. I just think over time it grates on them and I think it affects their music. So I really like what I’m doing.
Speaking of being on tour, I’ve heard you’ve had the same pair of boots since high school? Is that true – and if so, what in the world to do they smell like now?
Yeah, they’re on a shelf now. But yeah, up through my first three years touring, I had the same pair of boots – they kind of made the journey with me. And they smell horrible. Just horrible.
I’ve had them resoled so many times too that it got to where the last time I tore ‘em up I was in Denver, and the heel came off and they just got beat up. Well the guy who resoles the boots told me he wouldn’t resole ‘em anymore. So that was it – they were done.
But you know, that’s what the song “These Boots” is about. I’d had ‘em all through college, made the trip to Nashville in ‘em, and they’d just been with me my whole life. And I still have a soft place for ‘em. So, they sit on a shelf and look at me know.
Obviously “These Boots” is one of your more popular songs, but you have another one that’s vaguely about boots called “Lotta Boot Left to Fill.” Did you piss anyone off with that song?
There were some people that were aggravated for sure. At that time especially, because I was still relatively unknown in a lot of circles, so they were aggravated that I was saying what I was saying.
But you know, I don’t really care about that. I didn’t get in the music industry to make friends, I got in it to make music. And I’m gonna call it like I see it. As a matter of fact, I don’t have very many friends who are artists in this industry. And I’m okay with that.
Well assuming they don’t all hate you, if you could do a duet with someone – anyone – who would it be?
Goodness, I have a bunch. There’s just so many people I’d love to do that with.
But even before I wrote the song that’s a hit right now, I’ve always wanted to do a thing with Bruce Springsteen. Something that had nothing to do with bands, it was just two acoustic guitars. And just back and forth song to song. That’s always been something that I really love to do, is just kind of strip it down. I’ve seen him do that, and I’ve done that from time to time, and I just think it would be a cool moment.
Finally, you’re talking to a college audience here. Tell us your craziest college story.
I’ll give you a more sanitized version… there’s no way you could print this if I didn’t.
We had a bunch of crossing bars in the parking lots where I went to college. Well we decided one night that it would be a great idea to put one of those up in our dorm room. So we got a truck, and I was driving, and it was me and two other buddies of mine. It’s hard to break this thing, so we ended up having to take the truck and roll through it. It just snapped off.
Well, we couldn’t fit it in the back of the truck – and I don’t know why we thought this was a good idea, but we thought it would conceal it better if we try to put it in the back seat. Needless to say, there was some alcohol involved.
Dumb move – we left the reflector part out the window and we took off for the dorm. Well, we got pulled over by the cops of course. And what we didn’t know is there had been an outbreak on campus of people stealing those crossing bars. And we got accused of about 47 counts of stealing university property.
We ended up in jail that night – it was a mess. Got interrogated, that whole deal. And the best part was even the cop said, “why did you leave the reflector of the thing hanging out of your window?” And I just answered honestly: “We were drunk.”