"The more you live, the more you know ... and the more you experience, the more you reflect on everything around you. You become more aware, whether you want to or not - So, as an artist and a songwriter, you look for ways to see it and tell people about it, to see if they're going through the same things ... The thing about Be As You Are is once you write an album about realizations, finding a new way to live, it changes how you do this."
For Kenny Chesney - the reigning Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year - music has always been the current that's run through his life, happy and sad. With The Road And The Radio, the singer/songwriter from Luttrell, Tennessee raises the stakes on both the intensity of his straight-up-the-middle power-country and deepening sense of introspection.
Certainly his self-penned "Be As You Are: Songs From An Old Blue Chair" which debuted at #1 on Billboard's all-genre Top 200 with no single and no tour, scanning platinum in just a few weeks showed him the fans who helped him sell over a million tickets for his revved-up concerts each of the past three summers found a lot that reflected their own lives and soul searches in Chesney's own truth.
With "Who You'd Be Today," the man who won the CMA Album of the Year for his last major studio album "When The Sun Goes Down" wonders about the people in his life who've had untimely deaths and what their lives might be like today indeed, wonders how their lives would be intertwined and finds comfort in the fact that he will see them again in the next life. Or the album's closing bookend "Like Me," sung from the perspective of a dreamer who made it who celebrates those who're along the way, especially the ones who refuse to relinquish the quest even when the odds and reality say it's like Don Quixote tilting at windmills folly, an impossible dream.
"I don't know if I'd've heard a song like 'Like Me' and recognized all those characters for what they where; I don't know if I'd see the way they were living the dream through the fringes and believing with everything they have in something that probably wasn't gonna happen," admits the man who wrote the songs-we-love-as-musical-time-stamp "I Go Back" on "When The Sun Goes Down". "Because, you know, for the longest time, I was one of those guys one of the ones who had no chance of making it."
"But I refused to believe I couldn't I wouldn't give up I just kept looking forward, seeing what else I could do and finding people who'd dream along with me. You know, I think that's a lot of it, too, that willingness to keep dreaming no matter what anyone tells you that, and working hard, harder than sometimes you even know you can."
In a lot of ways, "Like Me" is the story of Kenny Chesney before and after. A too small kid who wanted to play football, who through tenacity and heart found a way to make the team. A guy who didn't get his first guitar until his freshman year in college, but loved singing for people even if it's just the dishwasher. A kid whose break came with a publishing deal at Acuff-Rose, an old school Nashville publishing company that once signed Hank Williams a break many get, few ever harvest.
But just like high school football, Kenny Chesney got a hold and didn't let go. Building, considering, working harder. And always always believing in the music. Along the way, he's amassed some amazing stats: the three summers of over a million fans outselling even U2 (by 200,000 tickets) for the first half of 2005 -- and being the only country artist to play stadiums this year in tough-to-crack Pittsburgh, Boston and Washington, DC; seeing "When The Sun Goes Down", "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems" and "Greatest Hits" pass quadruple platinum and inch to the 5,000,000 mark; his first network special: ABC's "Kenny Chesney: Somewhere In The Sun," which airs in the highest-traffic sweeps week on Nov. 23; but mostly there's the music
With songs like the bucking-to-grow-up, then-looking-back-twinge of "Young," "Keg In The Closet" and "I Go Back," the wistful taste of first love "Anything But Mine," "Don't Happen Twice," and "For The First Time," not to mention the priority defining and life happening beyond how we see it in the now truth of "There Goes My Life," "A Lot of Things Different," "Back Where I Come From" and the Academy of Country Music Single of the Year "The Good Stuff," Kenny Chesney gave his fans introspection among the good times of "When The Sun Goes Down," "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems" and breakthrough farm-equipment-as-aphrodisiac-anthem "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy."
"Look, I believe we're here to enjoy life, to have fun to get into it with our buddies and tear it up but you can search your soul AND have fun," says the man who received the ASCAP Voice of Music Award this year, given for the first time in more than a decade to recognize Chesney's gift for communicating people's truths through song. "I think that without fun, you couldn't go deep, because it would be too painful and heavy Because if you're gonna really look inside, you need to know you can have relief.
"In fact, I do a lot of my reflecting when I'm having the most fun. By staying balanced and having fun, you maintain your perspective especially as a songwriter."
"The Road And The Radio" certainly demonstrates that. While "Have Another Beer In Mexico" was written at Sammy Hagar's pool in Cabo San Lucas, the lyrics to the deceptively sweeping song dig in to consider life's turning points and the knowing when, while the David Lee Murphy/Rivers Rutherford "Living In Fast Forward" deconstructs the warp-speed reality of a career executed at the speed of light rather than sound but that doesn't mean Chesney thinks it's a singular reality.
"You don't have to be a musician living on the road to be living in fast forward. You can be an insurance salesman or a doctor or a lawyer or whatever it's about being addicted to work and trying to keep up - and that's the thing about what I do: it's an uncommon life in a lot of ways, but I've got more in common with the fans than people realize.
"I still have a lot of the same friends from high school, some out on the road with me. I still like and do simple things. I still feel all the same emotions I mean, the emotions people go through in their lives, those soul searching aspects - everyone has them, we just don't talk about them. I promise. And that's what this record is about: showing people we do all go through it."
"It's especially what 'The Road And The Radio' is about That idea of not talking about it, just getting in the car and letting the white lines and the songs coming out of the speakers show you the answers. You'd be surprised the truth you can find in those things."
Chesney wrote "The Road And The Radio" for himself and those friends of his who embrace the highway as the ultimate counsel, because he knows he's not the only one to wrestle his problems behind the wheel. Just as importantly, though, he looks a little deeper into the tug of seeking purpose in life in the starkly searching "Freedom" and the refuge easily overlooked "In A Small Town."
"It's amazing what you learn just through living," confesses the soft-spoken musician. "I moved away from that small town 'cause I hated it, 'cause I was after bigger dreams - and you don't realize who you really are or where you're from 'til you leave. Then the joke's on you 'cause that's where you end up in the end: the place you feel most normal - a small town.
"Seriously, my home in the islands is a smaller town even than where I grew up and I'm drawn to people who grew up the way I did. My fans are like me, too, like that and they're never gonna hear I've moved to New York City or Chicago because the more I see the world, the more I know who I am."
And then there's the motif of love's redemptive powers and the notion of how hard it is to find. Listening to the hardcore yearning of the surging "Somebody Take Me Home," the ache of the emotional tide washing back out of "Tequila Loves Me" or the gentle surrender of "You Saved Me," it's apparent the basic needs we all have are universal.
"Every album has songs that make me go deeper places as a singer, that force me to open up a little more because I don't even know if I can make it mean something," admits the 2003 Academy of Country Music Top Male Vocalist. "Those songs, though, always end up being the things that stand out, and that show me a lot of what's inside my soul 'You Saved Me' was that kind of song, because you just have to put it all out there without pushing.
"When I got in the booth, it was just letting what was inside come out - let the magic come through the lyrics, because if you'll let the song sink into you, then you can do the emotion justice. It's hard living this life, wanting to have it all wondering if you can, taking the risks. But that's the truth, and that's something you wanna put in there."
If Chesney has a gift as a singer, it's his ability to tap into common vulnerability and an honesty that says, "this is who I am and it's the best that I have to offer." It's not powerful or tricky, it's straight-on and willing to embrace whatever the feeling needs to be without flinching or hiding from its depths. If its taken time, it's been worth the wait for the kid who played at the Turf on Lower Broadway in its combat zone era of hookers and winos for tips and a chance to get a little closer to the dream.
"I'm finally very comfortable in my shoes on stage," says the powerhouse showman, revealing a truth of exposure most would never consider. "This year was the first time I sat by myself on a chair with a guitar and played a song I wrote by myself It's funny how I can get up there with the band and all that energy, but I was scared to be that person I started out as: the guy playing for tips in college, with nothing but a dream and acoustic guitar.
"To be that naked, it's pretty scary, because there's nothing to hide behind. But at the same time, its showing people who you really are - and when you're brave enough to do that, I think you're really putting it out there, just like when you first started, which is pretty cool."
For the man who's always committed to working hard and putting it all into the dream, The Road And The Radio was not only a coming of age, but it was a reckoning in the strongest sense of what Kenny Chesney's made of. While balancing a tour, a TV special, those three stadium shows and everything else in the eye of the storm, he also managed to find a new threshold for his music to inhabit.
"This record taught me how to dig really deep when there's a lot going on, and there were moments when I didn't know if I was gonna get there," confides the man who still does afternoon margarita runs in the parking lot of his concerts to keep close to his fans. "When you're exhausted, that's when you really have to get committed."
"My high school coach used to call that heart - that going the extra mile rather than being satisfied with good enough. He used to tell us, 'Championships aren't won on the field, they're won in the months and practices leading up to it. It's everything you put into getting ready.'"
"To make this record, we all really had to dig deeper than I knew I could and stay in the moment because there were times we were working on faith, when I wasn't sure it was gonna come together. It's sometimes harder when you know what you want 'cause you can tell when you're not getting there, but it also gives you something to steer by. As long as you keep your focus and don't give up, you can get there - it's just a matter of believing, and knowing the songs when you hear'em."
Indeed, sometimes it just comes down to The Road And The Radio. For Kenny Chesney, it's always worked that way before. And once again, those two simple truths brought him through.