After more than 20 years in the music business, 55-year-old Trace Adkins is slated to drop his 12th studio album, Something’s Going On, on March 31. The 12-song offering, which was produced by Mickey Jack Cones, features Trace’s current single, “Watered Down.”
Trace stopped by the Nash Country Daily studio earlier this month for a wide-ranging interview about his new album, his upcoming 12th USO Tour, his proudest career accomplishment and much more.
NCD: You released your debut album, Dreamin’ Out Loud, in 1996. Can you’ve believe you’ve already had a 20-plus-year career?
“No. It’s flown by.”
On March 31, you will release your 12th studio album, Something’s Going On. It’s been four years since your last album, Love Will, which is the longest you’ve gone in your career between albums. Why the wait?
“I didn’t even realize that—that it had been four years between albums. It doesn’t seem that way because we started working on the next one right after Love Will came out. I mean, I didn’t really take a break. You know, we’ll go in the studio when we find a couple of things, or if I write something I want to record, we’ll go in and do it. Then Broken Bow got involved, and then the process just worked itself out in the time frame that it took. The cool thing about it was that there was no hurry. I didn’t have a record label breathing down my neck saying, ‘Hurry up. We gotta get the products out there,’ so I just took my time with it.”
There are 12 songs on the new album, with a bunch of great songwriters, including Tyler Farr, Casey Beathard, Shane McAnally, the late Andrew Dorff, Craig Campbell, Josh Osborne and more. What was the song selection process like for you? You mentioned you weren’t in a rush, obviously, but you really took your time picking the songs.
“Yeah, and I spent a lot of time with Benny Brown, president of Broken Bow, and we would have these song meetings where we would start out having lunch in Benny’s office, and then we’d spend the whole afternoon just listening to stuff. Benny is old-school. I mean, he’s going to put a CD in his player, and he’s going to hit play, and then he’s going to cover his face like this [hands over his face], and just sit there and listen. Even if you’ve listened to the first verse of the song and you’ve recognized, ‘I’m probably not going to record this,’ you still have to listen to the whole song because Benny’s going to listen to the whole song. So, we had some long song meetings, and it was so much fun to be with Benny because he loves music, and he loves that process, and it was fun. Yeah, we spent a lot of time picking songs.”
One of the new songs on the album, “Watered Down”—written by Shane McAnally, Matt Jenkins and Trevor Rosen—opens with the line, “I don’t go all in, but I’ll take the gamble. I don’t burn both ends of the candle anymore.” You didn’t write that song, but is that Trace in 2017?
“Yeah, and that’s one of those songs where that first line played and I just went, ‘I’ll rewrite the rest of the song if the rest of it doesn’t work,’ because that first couple of lines there . . . it just hit me right between the eyes.”
There is another song on the album, “Whippoorwills and Freight Trains,” written by Phil O’Donnell, Jeff Middleton, and Brandon Kinney. Vocally, I really think that you shine on that song, but, man, that’s a lonely, painful song.
“I know. That was one of those songs . . . there were a couple of them on this record where I was in the vocal booth doing final vocals on it, and I just had to step away from the mic and just tell Mickey [Jack Cones, producer], ‘Hey, you’re going to have to give me a minute. You know, I’ve got to regain my composure here.’ That song was just killing me. It really did, and I’m happy to find that I’m not so jaded that a song can still do that to me. You know, can still make my knees shake, and put me in a place where I have to step away from the microphone and collect myself before I can finish the song.”
What about that song hit you so hard?
“Just the loneliness of it, and just the . . . you know the whippoorwills and freight trains are just a metaphor for that loneliness, and that pain that you finally feel subsiding and going away. The thing I love about that song too is that it reminds me of Buck Owens because Buck told me one time in his office, he said, ‘Trace, that low note that you can hit—you need to do that in every song because that’s really all you got going for you’ [laughing]. So, I hit maybe the lowest note I can sing at the end of ‘Whippoorwills and Freight Trains.'”
You just mentioned producer Mickey Jack Cones, who has worked with everybody from George Strait to Thomas Rhett. Did Mickey push you vocally on this album? There are a couple songs on there like “Gonna Make Me Miss You” where . . .
“That was the one, ‘Gonna Make You Miss Me’ . . . yeah, that was the song that Mickey played for me, and I was like, ‘Mickey, come on, man. You know, that’s a real poppy kind of thing, and I just don’t hear myself singing that, you know?’ He said, ‘Come on, man. You can sing . . . let’s just try it. I think you’ll have fun with it,’ and he was right. I was skeptical at first, but the lyric of the song was mature enough that I said, ‘Yeah, okay, I’ll sing it. I’ll try to sing it.’ Then when I got into it, I was like, ‘This is fun,’ and I did, I enjoyed doing it. I popped that little Taylor Swift thing in there. It wasn’t originally in the lyric, but I popped it in there because that’s what it was like. It was like me singing a Taylor Swift song.”
More than 20 years in the business. 12 studio albums. Each of your past albums has kind of painted a picture of where you were personally when that album came out. What does Something’s Going On say about you and where you are in your life right now?
“Well, ‘Whippoorwill’s and Freight Trains,’ and ‘Watered Down’ and ‘Jesus and Jones’—there are some songs on here that really are very personal and speak to where my head is right now, but you have to balance that stuff out with some fun stuff too. It’s not a departure. It’s not different, I don’t think, from what fans have come to expect from me over the years. It’s just another collection of the best tunes I could get my hands on, and with two or three very reflective, personal things thrown in there for good measure.”
You’ve been on 11 USO Tours, and it’s kind of fitting that with your 12th album coming out you’re going to go on your 12th USO Tour this spring. What are those tours like for you emotionally and mentally?
“Well, it’s the most appreciative audience you’ll ever play for, I’ll tell you that, and over the years, I have gotten more comfortable with feeling guilty when you come home. I tell people that if somebody’s going to go do their first USO Tour and they ask me what to expect, I tell them the same thing that I was told the first time I went, ‘Expect to feel guilty when you come home.’ Over the years I’ve come to be okay with that and accept it. I haven’t been able to stop feeling guilty when I come home, but at least I can deal with it better now.”
Plenty of tour dates coming up in April and May. You, obviously, still love performing. You ever looked down at the crowd and see a kid who maybe wasn’t even born yet when your No. 1 hit, “(This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing” came out in 1997?
“All the time. All the time. The funniest thing, I’ve gotten to a point now where if a young lady’s coming up to me and she seems really excited to meet me, and I’m feeling pretty good about myself—you know, here comes this attractive, young lady and she seems to be excited, and the first thing she says is, ‘My mom loves you.’ You know?
After more than 20 years in the business, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
“I’m a member of the Grand Old Opry. It never gets old—that fellowship backstage with that family. That extended family backstage at the Grand Old Opry. Getting to rub shoulders with legitimate legends in this business. Yeah. It’s something that I don’t take lightly.”
Do you feel like kind of an elder statesman of country music right now?
“Starting to feel that way.”
No one’s putting you out to pasture, but you’re not raising Cane like you used to.
“No, and a lot of those new, young guys, they’re the ones making me feel that way because they come to me, and they go, ‘Ah, man, I grew up listening to you’ and these are guys that are having hits on the radio now, and they are coming up to me and going, ‘Man, I grew up listening to you,’ and all that kind of stuff. It makes me feel good. It doesn’t bother me in the least.”
Something’s Going On Track Listing and Songwriters
- “Ain’t Just the Whiskey Talkin’” (Terry McBride, Brett Beavers)
- “Jesus and Jones” (Tyler Farr, Jim McCormick, Casey Beathard)
- “Watered Down” (Matt Jenkins, Trevor Rosen, Shane McAnally)
- “Something’s Going On” (Chris Cavanaugh, Mark Stephen Jones)
- “If Only You Were Lonely” (Jon Coleman, Troy Johnson)
- “Gonna Make You Miss Me” (Tommy Lee James, Matt Nolan, Andrew Dorff)
- “I’m Gone” (Craig Campbell, Max T. Barnes)
- “Country Boy Problems” (Tommy Lee James, Josh Osborne
- “Lit” (Mickey Jack Cones, Monty Criswell, Derek George)
- “Still a Soldier” (Phil O’Donnell, Wade Kirby)
- “Whippoorwills and Freight Trains” (Phil O’Donnell, Jeff Middleton, Brandon Kinney)
- “Hang” (Lynn Hutton, Phil O’Donnell)
main photo by Kristin Barlowe