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"Life is circular. Country just came back to me.
It's like the acoustic thing. I did that before the band [Staind]. This is full
circle because this was the first music I was ever exposed to as a child."
If you want to get to know AARON
LEWIS, just listen to The Road. On
his first full-length album, the Grammy Award-nominated, multi-platinum singer,
songwriter, and guitarist tells one story after another. Echoing traditional
country, some of those tales are hilarious and heartwarming, while others are
pensive and personal. Nevertheless, they're all equally powerful, vibrant, and
unforgettable. For Lewis, The Road continues to wind and surprise
like it always has.
In 2011, the Staind frontman
formally arrived in the country world with the release of his debut EP, Town Line. Highlighted by the success of
gold-selling single "Country Boy" featuring the legendary George
Jones and Charlie Daniels, the seven-song EP reached #1 on the Billboard
Country Albums Chart and #7 on the Billboard Top 200 upon release. Critical
praise followed: PEOPLE’s
Chuck Arnold said, "He
proves to be a natural on nostalgic ballads like 'The Story Never Ends,’
(3/14/11)," while the ASSOCIATED
McCall wrote, “He injects a flavor of his own into a
polished, commercial country sound in a way that could win over country fans
who've never heard of Staind (2/28/11).”
Lewis also received two Academy
of Country Music nominations for "Vocal Event of the Year" for
"Country Boy" (for his work as artist and as co-producer) as well as
two CMT nominations--one for "USA Weekend Breakthrough Video of the
Year" and another for "Collaborative Video of the Year." Simultaneously, the music video for the
single stirred similar fan fervor, surpassing 12 million views on YouTube and 3
million on CMT.com. After a whirlwind year, Lewis began working on what would
become The Road in the fall of 2011.
While balancing both a solo run
and a tour supporting Staind's self-titled seventh studio album, he carved out
intermittent pockets of time to record in Nashville with legendary Grammy-winning
producer James Stroud.
"I didn't stop to think
about it very much," Lewis smiles. "James lets me run with it. We
respect each other and he allows me to really be who I am. I recorded this whole record by bouncing in
and out of Nashville on days off. I'd come into town, work for the day, bail
out, and play some more shows. Four days later, I'd do the same thing. That's
how the album was made, and it's why I called it The Road."
It's a natural progression
from Town Line. The album's ten songs
unfold with a classic grit and an invigorating energy all directly from Lewis's
heart and soul. The first single, "Endless Summer," recalls an
idyllic day in the sun with his daughters. A bluesy guitar twang bends into a
shimmering refrain about "another day in paradise" that's both
infectious and inimitable.
Lewis laughs, "It
proves I can write a happy tune. It's a story about me and the family going to
our beach cottage on the weekends. It's all true. We drive down there, cook
striper on the grill, and dig our own clams."
Then there's "Forever,"
a true product of The Road itself. It
captures the longing and loneliness of life on the tour bus, while reflecting
the immortality of true love. It's touching and thought-provoking all at once. "Doubt
can set in on the road," he reveals. "Conversations from home aren't
always warm and fuzzy. However, things change when you get back. The song goes
from questioning to being reassured that everything is all good."
On the other end of the
spectrum, his sense of humor shines through on the propulsive highway anthem
"State Lines" and swaggering old school good-time of "Party in
Hell." Lewis goes on, "Adding
humor opens the avenues of exploration a little bit more, and it appeals to
more of the senses. Plus, it's just fun to imagine what a party in hell might
be like with Rick James."
Lewis personally penned all
of the songs on The Road but one. For
"Grandaddy's Gun," he teamed up with Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson,
and Bobby Pinson, marking the first songwriting collaboration of his career.
Annually, Lewis hosts a benefit show for his charity, It Takes a Community, which benefits his daughter's elementary
school through community donations. Akins performed "Grandaddy's Gun"
at the 2011 show. As soon as Lewis heard the tune, it stayed stuck in his head.
"I was completely blown
away by the song," he elaborates. "When the opportunity came up, I
decided to record it for The Road.
They're three of Nashville's best and I have so much respect for them. It all
fit with my life too. I have grandaddy's gun, and he did buy it out of a Sears
and Roebuck catalog."
Once again, he collaborated
with some heavy hitters in the studio. His musical partner-in-crime Ben Kitterman
expanded the overall sound with acoustic guitar, dobro, piano and other
instruments. Meanwhile, iconic pedal steel player Paul Franklin makes a return
as well as guitarist Brett Mason and Eddie Bayers on drums. Joining the fold in
Nashville were Craig Frost [Bob Seger] on keyboards and Keith Horne [Waylon
Jennings] on bass.
Lewis enthuses, "It's
definitely a star-studded cast. Many of the songs were cut in one take. At the
most, they're two. There's definitely genuine chemistry amongst the amazing musicians
on this album. I'm so lucky to have them in the studio with me."
In many ways, The Road brings things full circle for
Lewis. In Staind, he has made an indelible mark on hard rock. The group has sold
13 million albums worldwide, yielding four consecutive top 3 debuts on the Billboard
Top 200 as well as numerous radio hits. Their single "It's Been
Awhile" also remains the most-played rock song of the decade. Still, this
new chapter proves cyclical for Lewis, actually bringing him back to the first style
of music he'd heard: country music.
Now, he's carrying on a
tradition of storytelling and songwriting himself. "I'm really hoping the
songs speak for themselves," he concludes. "I hope people hear the
record and realize that this is all me. There's nothing more to say. I'm just
writing songs like I have been for my whole career."
That's all he really has to
do. For Aaron Lewis, The Road looks
brighter than ever.