Eric Church On Springsteen, Chesney & His ‘Different’ Follow-Up to ‘Chief’
“It’s different.” That’s the word from Eric Church on the musical direction he’s heading on his next album, the follow-up to his platinum-selling, ACM Award-winning Chief, which he released two years ago.
Radio.com spoke with Church earlier this month in Chicago, before his set at the massive music festival Lollapalooza, where he was the only mainstream country act on the roster this year. Church talked about his upcoming album, which he’s still in the midst of writing. He also described his experience touring this summer with Kenny Chesney, his deep admiration for the work and career of Bruce Springsteen (whom he name-checked in the title of his best-known No. 1 hit), and what it was like facing disinterested patrons in a nearly empty nightclubs when he was an up-and-coming artist.
Radio.com: You’ve been busy this summer as part of Kenny Chesney’s No Shoes Nation Tour. How has that experience been for you?
Eric Church: It’s awesome. When I went into it, I didn’t know what to expect from the standpoint of being stadiums. I was a little apprehensive about it. But it’s the most fun I’ve ever had on tour. Especially touring with someone else. I got to know Kenny, and I love Kenny. It’s a party. Going into it, I didn’t know how much of an event it was. It is an absolute bedlam insane experience, and something I’m going to miss.
Any crazy stories you can share?
We don’t talk about stories from the road. Code of the road!
What is the biggest takeaway from your experience touring with Chesney?
I think the biggest thing is, he did a great job in creating a culture. A lot of people who come to these shows, that is their vacation. They don’t go to the beach, they don’t go somewhere else. That’s it. And I think creating that culture was really cool. Also, everybody that’s out with him has been out with him forever. I think it says a lot about a boss, when everybody has stuck with him this long. I’m just a fan of the way he does things.
You’ve been playing a few rock festivals, including Lollapalooza and, last year, Orion. Do fans react differently to your music at these events?
They don’t have the exposure to the songs. But in this day and age, there’s no more genres. We’re kidding ourselves if we think a person only listens to one kind of music. I think the way music’s consumed these days, it’s so readily available that people are listening to everything. And I like it. I think in a situation like Orion or [Lollapalooza], you have a chance to go out and let the music speak for itself, and not introduce it — not say this guys’ this or this girl’s that. And I think that’s the real benefit of festivals like [Lollapalooza] that are multi-genre.
Orion is organized by Metallica. Was playing to that crowd intimidating?
Very. I was scared to death. I grew up going to Metallica shows, I’ve seen the crowd — I’ve probably been a part of it — where you turn your back on the opening act if it’s not what you want to hear. I was nervous about that. Again, you let the music speak for itself.
Your song “Springsteen” has been universally praised. Have you had much contact with the man himself?
No. And I’m kind of scared of it. I’m a huge fan, I guess I’m intimidated. We’re going to hook up at some point, we’ve had a couple conversations. I love the way he does everything about his career. Where he came from, I relate to. I relate to the stance he takes on his music. The authenticity is something that really appeals to me. Big fan.
How did “Springsteen” originate?
For me, there’s a line in that song about a melody and a memory connecting with each other. And I had that happen when I was a young man. It was my first amphitheater experience, where you’re not with the parents anymore. That night, I had an experience to a song that I’ll never forget. It was 20 years ago, and every time I hear that song, I’m right back in that moment. And that in a nutshell is what this song is about. I think everybody at some point in time has had that experience, where, when they hear that song later in life, they recall that memory, they recall that feeling. And I think that’s why so many people relate to that song.
You’re known for your high energy live shows. Was there a point when things ‘clicked’ for you from a performance standpoint?
Bars and clubs. I mean, you go in places like that, especially early on, when nobody has heard anything [you've] done, they’re just there to drink. And you have to figure out what it is that’s going to make those people pay attention. And that’s where it started happening for me. When you think this might be your last show you’ll ever get a chance to play…and there were some times it was close for us. Show up and there’s eight people there, you’re broke, you’re in a van…. And that’s when it started to work.
Are you writing new material? Can you talk about where you are in the process?
I’m writing, I’m working on it. It’s a long process for me. There will not be a record this year, not going to happen. But…hope there’s one next year. When it’s ready, it’s ready. The only thing I’ve ever promised is, we’re going to dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T.’ It will be what I feel creatively it needs to be, or we won’t put it out. I’m not interested in putting out a record so that a label can sell a record — or that we can sell a ticket. I’m not interested in other things affecting the music. It’s got to be for the music’s sake.
Does your new material sound like Chief?
No. It’s different. And I don’t know how people are going to judge it, that’s up to the people to decide, but no, it’s different.
You say that with a mischievous little grin, which makes us so curious….
It’s different, it’s different.
Interview by Jillian Mapes