Mark Chesnutt Interview: Tradition Lives On
Mark Chesnutt could not have picked a more apropos title for his latest album, which happens to be called Tradition Lives. Because if you're wondering where traditional country music sailed off to, it's in the hands of the 52-year-old skipper from Texas, who adamantly refuses to bow to current trends in order to stay relevant.
Mark proves that notion on Tradition Lives, 12 tunes (with a bonus track included) that travel the familiar roads of heartbreak, cheating lovers and other hard-core country themes. There's even a swipe at Music Row with a song that Mark co-wrote, “Never Been to Texas.” And as a nice bonus, fans will hear traditional instruments like steel guitar, dobro and fiddle out front, not buried somewhere in the mix.
Tradition Lives, due to hit stores and online outlets July 8, was a few years in the making, as Mark describes. Mark, whose No. 1 hits include “Brother Jukebox,” “It Sure Is Monday” and “I Just Wanted You to Know,” is releasing the record as he celebrates more than 25 years in the music business (he made his chart debut in 1990). He talked about that milestone, the new album and other topics in a recent interview in Nashville.
Q: This is your first new album in several years. How long did it take to put this together?
M: We've been working on this for about three years. It actually started when we recorded four songs and we weren't real happy with them. So, it took a little longer to find songs that were real country songs. We found the next batch of songs, but then I started having trouble with my throat. I got all that straightened out. I didn't need surgery or anything. But I listened to songs for years. Some of them had been laying around for a long time and never been recorded. I think it's the strongest batch of country songs I've ever had. I have one, “Is It Still Cheating,” that was written by Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser and Jerrod Niemann. I remember when Jamey pitched that to me. I thought right then that it was my kind of song.
Q: There are no what people would call “bro-country” songs on the album. And you didn't try to rap either. Is it good to be in a position where you don't have to bend to trends?
M: Did you really expect me to rap? (Laughs). But yes, it's nice to be at this point in my career. I've been around so long that I have a core audience. They love what we're playing. If I had come out rapping or singing bro-country, I think that would kill my career. My fans wouldn't accept that.
Q: The song on the album “Never Been to Texas” sounds like a little slap at current country music.
M: That's kind of a dig at Music Row (Nashville). I co-wrote that a few years ago and I never cut it. Now is the perfect time to come out with it.
Q: Do you have any particular thoughts about what's going on in country music today?
M: It's not my thing and that's really all I have to say about that. It's just not the country music that I grew up with. There are people who like the new stuff and that's fine. But I have people ask me, when is country music going to come back around? I'm not sure I know. But there are still a lot of fans who like traditional country, thank goodness. They come to our shows every night.
Q: After 25 years, do you feel fortunate to still be able to do this?
M: Oh, yeah, it's great. I'm still pretty busy on the road and I hope I can get more dates on the strength of this new album. And I am really proud of this album. I believe it's the favorite one I've ever done because I got to pick every song. I had so much fun recording it.
Bob Paxman for Country Music News International