Eric Church branded himself a country-music outlaw but looks like this outlaw is at the top of his game.
Breaking the rules means that you get noticed.
It certainly got Eric Church noticed.
He’s been beaten down only to rise again.
You’d think that with a name like Church, the guy wouldn’t stray far from the rules but Eric Church doesn’t let his name define who he is. He’s actually broken rules and been wild in his own way. His records are getting weirder, louder, and more badass. Not afraid of being himself and purely expressing what he feels is the direction that Church takes. Who cares what anyone else thinks. Who cares what’s being said. At the end of the day, if you’re happy with your work, that’s all that should matter.
Go through the entire post to read the rest of Eric’s story and how he develops his music.
On Friday, September 18, The Country Music Hall of Fame will open an exhibit to honor Eric Church. The activation will feature memorabilia, handwritten lyrics and other items that date back to the singer’s upbringing in North Carolina and wind through the twisted path he took to his top-selling present. Paste multimedia editor Dacey Orr caught up with the country superstar in Nashville between two sold-out solo performances that opened up the city’s new amphitheater to talk about where he started, where he’s going, and all of the mishaps in between that make his outsider image one that resonates with so many.
It’s easy to begin the tale of Eric Church: He became a country-music outsider in 2006, when he got fired from a coveted gig on the Rascal Flatts tour after a series of too-long, too-loud sets that culminated in a meltdown at Madison Square Garden.
In retrospect, the pairing seemed destined to go down in flames. In recent years, Church’s live shows have been known to include everything from wild pyrotechnics to enormous Satan inflatables, so it’s not tough to see how even an earlier, scaled-back version of his gritty aesthetic wouldn’t be a fit for Rascal Flatts’ sticky-sweet love songs. But at the time Church was supposed to be filling the same role that countless other major label newcomers had carved out before him: nab a spot on a big tour, behave yourself, play your couple hits and and sprinkle in some covers as the crowd rolls in for the big names who sold the tickets. But Church’s show was too loud and his sets were always going over—he admits readily that he’s never been keen on being told what to do.
Late nights at dirty bars wound up being that type of hard work that suited Church and the band much better, and while the road was less glamorous and the crowd less groomed for country artists, he says he tapped into a demographic that country as a genre just wasn’t serving at the time.
Church’s candor about the whole thing is a testament to country’s increasing dichotomy within the genre: there wasn’t any doubt that the crowd was a devoted one and the slot was a tremendous opportunity, just not for him.
It may have taken a tour going up in smoke to set Church and his band on the path that would build his core fan base in the live setting, but his turning point in the studio came in 2009 with “Smoke a Little Smoke.”
That was in late 2009, and when the time came to release his next single, Church wanted to look at what was working in his live show. Thanks to his hard-won following from the forgotten punk clubs along the way, that was the area of his identity as an artist that was the most developed, and every time he played Carolinatrack “Smoke a Little Smoke” people had been going crazy.
He stuck to his guns despite warnings of sputtering radio play and the impending “career suicide” of releasing a stoner anthem like “Smoke a Little Smoke” on the heels of two relatively successful radio hits.
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Chief yielded Church’s first two No. 1 singles, “Springsteen” and “Drink in My Hand,” and the album itself sold well over a million records. The eclectic and devoted following he’d won in dive bars and punk clubs on the way up was still there, but now they were filling stadiums and tapping into big mainstream country sales, too. The strength of the album as a whole (three more songs eventually charted on country radio) drove sales to his back catalog, too, building Church’s reputation as an artist worth more than flashy singles or the public persona.
In the major-label country landscape, that devotion to the album as a whole work is less of a given than indie fans may think. More often than not, new artists will record and release one single at a time, holding out on full record releases or even EPs until there’s enough of a tangible fan base and momentum to support album sales. From Church’s perspective, that’s not a sustainable model for an artist.
If Church makes a habit of writing music, he’s just as insistent on the importance of weeding out what fits together and what doesn’t on an album.
He says the concept for The Outsiders, which was nominated for CMA Album of the Year and won the Academy of Country Music Award for Best Country Album in 2014, sprung from a few songs at first: “Devil Devil” and “Dark Side,” which he calls the “DNA” and the “heartbeat” of the album. Once he zeroed in on the new tone he wanted to set with the record, he says the other songs found their identity and fell into place, too.
Church has a tight team of people he trusts—his wife Katherine, his manager John Peets, publisher Buenahora, and producer Joyce—and he laughs that it’s the closest thing he’s had to A&R.
Despite his outsider persona, it’s hardly surprising to hear Church be so jovial about surrendering control to those close to him. For a guy who’s considered a solo artist, he uses words like “we” and “us” almost entirely when he talks about the obstacles and the milestones in his career.
The welcoming vibe on the road extends to Church’s peers and openers, who have ranged from J. Roddy Walston & the Business to Chris Stapleton and JD McPherson.
He’s extremely involved in selecting those who go out on tour with him, and passionate about choosing artists who are making music he’s excited about. It wasn’t that long ago that Eric was the country pariah seeking to fill a freshly cleared schedule in the wake of the Flatts controversy and he was the benefactor of that mindset himself.
For all of Church’s own success with singles on the radio in commercial country—most recently, he was nominated for five CMA Awards—his albums are devoid of duds when it comes to fan reception. While that’s partially because of his aforementioned devotion to the album format, he’s brought that same purity and devotion to making his own music that he so values in his openers and his peers to every show.
Likewise, the story with Eric Church is less about the ubiquity of “Springsteen” that summer in 2012 or the Madison Square meltdown or the big stuff that everybody knows. Rather, it is that stuff in between—the dirty clubs and the late-night dives and the times he’s played to tens of thousands solo, when his backup band was sick. It’s the care he takes in selecting his openers and the blend of precision in the studio and recklessness on the radio tour. His path to the hall of fame is as much a body of work, with its own deep cuts and complexities, as any album he’s released or show he’s played, and the fans won’t stop cheering for an encore any time soon.
StreeXB extends special thanks to Paste for the article. Click here to read the rest of Church’s story.
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