Exclusive Q and A: Brantley Gilbert Talks CMAs, Eric Church and Lessons from the Road

Brantley Gilbert is the opposite of a divo (that’s a male diva, in case you didn’t know).

That’s why it’s gratifying to see him grab so much success this early in his career. Last year, the now 27 year-old singer/songwriter was a bit bummed that many music journalists didn’t seem to want to talk with him. This year, he hardly has time to talk to anyone.

With a nomination for the 2012 Country Music Association (CMA) New Artist of the Year Award, Gilbert is launching the “Hell on Wheels Tour.” It’s the first headlining tour for Gilbert, whose sophomore album Halfway to Heavy debuted at #2 on the Billboard Country charts and who has written a host of #1 singles including “Country Must Be Country Wide,” “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” along with Jason Aldean‘s songs “My Kinda Party” and “Dirt Road Anthem.” He’s also won plenty of fans during his recent tours, including supporting spots on Eric Church‘s “Blood, Sweat & Beers Tour” and Toby Keith‘s “Live in Overdrive Tour.”

Although he’s got some heavy competition for the CMA Award ” Love and Theft, Lee Brice, Hunter Hayes, and Thompson Square are the other nominees ” Gilbert seems to be taking all the excitement in stride. Although he was battling bronchitis on one of his recent days home, he took time out to chat a bit about his reaction to the nomination, his songwriting, and just what he’s learned on all the tours he has played.

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National Q and A: Jason Aldean Talks Grammys, New Album and Staying Stylish

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsWhen Jason Aldean released his fourth studio album, My Kinda Party, in 2010, little did he know it would launch a wave of awards, kudos and popularity.

Not that Aldean wasn’t already lauded by the country music community. Aldean’s self-titled 2005 debut and 2009 album Wide Open had both gone platinum and his 2007 album Relentless was gold when My Kinda Party was released.  “Why,” “She’s Country” “Big Green Tractor” and “The Truth” were among the hits that made Aldean a hot country star.

Yet My Kinda Party not only brought with it more hits, including two that reached No. 1” “Don’t You Wanna Stay” (a duet with Kelly Clarkson) and “Dirt Road Anthem,” but an Album of the Year award from the Country Music Association (CMA), and three GRAMMY nominations for Best Country Solo Performance for “Dirt Road Anthem,” Best Album for My Kinda Party and Best Performance by a Duo or Group for “Don’t You Wanna Stay.”

Aldean recently took time out to talk to OurStage about the past year and just why 2012 might be even hotter.

OS: What a year you’ve had! Let’s start with the GRAMMY nominations. How did you celebrate those?

JA: We performed on the GRAMMY nominations show (on December 7) and then I found out after that show. They came in my dressing room and handed me an envelope and told me I was nominated for three GRAMMYs. That night me and my band, we got on the plane and went back to Nashville and we stopped by the liquor store on the way to the plane. It was a four-hour flight so we had four hours to kind of celebrate. It was a good time. The GRAMMYs are huge for any artist and these were my first nominations for a GRAMMY and so it was pretty exciting.

OS: So what’s your celebratory drink of choice?

JA: I prefer any kind of beer. Crown & 7 Up is pretty good, too.

OS: You’ve said publicly that this is the best twelve months ever. If you could only choose one, what would you say was the main high point?

JA: I think winning CMA Album of the Year [For My Kinda Party]. What that album has meant to my career and done for me over the past year and half or so is amazing. To actually win that award at CMA, my first CMA award, too, being Album of the Year, was a really fitting thing for me. It was a pretty proud moment especially with what this record has done for my career. That [win] just tied it all in to complete the year. It was a pretty special night.

OS: So I watched the show on television and you looked like grace under pressure as they were reading the nominations and then when you accepted the award. What were you thinking and how did you stay so calm?

JA: Well, I haven’t been on the receiving end of too many of those announcements! I do sit there and am pretty calm. For whatever reason, [on November 9, 2011] I won the award and it was exciting. My producer [Michael Knox] got to come up there with me and he’s the guy who is responsible for finding me in a club and bringing me to Nashville. So it was a really cool moment to be able to share that with him. It was kind of a shocker but it was a really cool thing and probably one thing this year that really stood out for me.

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Exclusive Q&A: Eric Church

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsIt was really just over a decade ago that Eric Church arrived in Nashville, another hungry wanna be country star.

Now as he prepares for his first headlining tour”Blood, Sweat & Beers”he’s taking with him a GRAMY-nominated new album, Chief, an ever growing stack of much-loved singles including “Home Boy,” and “Drink in My Hand,” and a rock-solid fan base that he credits for his success. Add to that he and his wife Katherine welcoming their first child last October and you have the makings for a huge boost into the new year.

As if that isn’t enough, his upcoming tour has broken concert ticket sales records and sold out so many venues that new dates were already added.

Just before the outlaw cowboy saddled up for his next adventures on the road, he talked to OurStage about his music, his fans and just what has been keeping him up at night!

OS: You’ve made records for years, your major label debut Sinners Like Me was released in 2006, and now the buzz almost indicates that you’ve suddenly been “discovered.”  That seems a bit disconcerting!

EC: I think so, too. My career is almost defined as pre Chief and post Chief. For me, I love to see what Chief is doing, going into the NPR Top 50 and Spin magazine Top 50 [albums’ list] and hitting [charts] where country artists don’t usually show up. It’s great to see how wide the record is reaching.

OS: I remember talking to you just after you’d written many of the songs for Chief, in a very secluded cabin, basically walled off from everything else. Is that a process you’ll repeat when you write the next album?

EC: I don’t want [the writing process] to be a gimmick thing. That was an experience in the cabin where I was writing this one very organically. I don’t know about the next one. We’re very young in this record cycle and we’ve already exceeded expectations, certainly my expectations, of where we’d be when we got toward the end of this cycle. I have to plug in, recharge and figure out what is next. That’s how I made [Chief], by shutting everything down and thinking about what I hadn’t tapped into yet.

People talk about the vulnerability of [the songs on] Chief but we had been beating up the road so much for so long, we had finished up the tour [behind the 2009 album Carolina] on a Saturday night and I was at the cabin the following day. The emotion was so raw, so much of that was still decompressing from the tour we had done.”

OS: I’ve read about your reaction to receiving a recent GRAMMY Award nomination for Best Country Album. The question is always what does that mean to you as an artist?

EC: The GRAMMY’s are the Holy Grail, and I’m very, very flattered. But I am going to make the same record whether I win or lose the GRAMMY. But to be GRAMMY nominated this early in [the record cycle], to have them acknowledge it very quickly in the most coveted category, is very cool.

OS: So you’ve got “Homeboy” and “Drink in my Hand” both out as singles and both incredibly well received. When can we expect another?

EC: It’s [probably] going to come out in early February. Now, we’re looking for “Drink in My Hand” to go to No. 1.

OS: The song “Springsteen” has gotten a lot of great buzz including from Rolling Stone.

EC: I am more excited every night I sing that song. I feel like I am seventeen again [when I sing it]. I have to believe that when I feel that way, others will too.

I remember talking [with my song co-writers] about shows at amphitheatres that changed us. I went to a [non Springsteen] concert when I was sixteen, seveteen, and when I hear that [artist’s] song I can still see [my date] standing there. I think about her and I think about me at that time. [The other writers] all had similar experiences. I have such admiration for Bruce Springsteen and his career, it seemed he was the perfect [musician] to use for that song.

OS: So on a personal note, you and your wife Katherine welcomed Boone McCoy into the family in October. What’s the most surprising thing about having a new baby in the house?

EC: How little sleep a person can go on! I thought I was somewhat conditioned. I thought if anyone could segue into non-sleep, I should be the most conditioned person out there! It’s great but it’s also about trying to get the schedules right” he had his days and nights mixed up for a while. It’s been great though because I’ve been able to be off in anticipation of the [upcoming headlining] tour, so I’ve been able to be here changing diapers.

OS: I know you have followed Brantley Gilbert’s career [that includes songwriting many hits including Jason Aldean’s “My Kinda Party”] and really wanted him to open for you on this tour, which he will. Do you think you might write together when you’re on the road?

EC: I am open to it. I’d love to do it. I got to write with [Toby Keith] and [Miranda Lambert] when I was on tour with them. And [Jason Aldean]. For me, it’s always a cool thing to do when you put yourself in a situation where you’re all sitting around with guitars.

OS: What strikes you the most as you look ahead to the Blood, Sweat & Beers tour?

EC: It’s going to be big. I am amazed. A year ago we were playing clubs and we were all crammed on one bus. I can’t believe how far we’ve come so fast. When they hit the gas on this headliner [tour], they started talking about five buses and four trucks and it’s all astounding. It’s not supposed to be this way until you’ve got eight or ten No. 1 songs. We’ve always done things a little differently and that was not an easy thing to do.

OS: And now you’re breaking ticket sales records and adding more dates onto the tour. What has made the difference for you and your career?

EC: It’s all been because of the fans and their passion.

Earlier today, somebody asked me if I was surprised and I probably would have been if the fans weren’t steering my career. It’s really all about them.

Find out more about Eric Church, including his tour that kicks off January 19 in Fort Smith, Ark., on his Web site.

Don’t miss Eric Church’s video for “Drink in My Hand”

Your Country's Right Here: Brantley Gilbert's Star Shines 'Country Wide'

Brantley Gilbert is truly one of those forces of nature, a shooting star come to life.

It’s not that the twenty-six-year-old country singer-songwriter”who has written many hits including Jason Aldean’s “My Kinda Party” that he penned when he was just seventeen years old” is a brilliant songwriter, engaging performer, classic wordsmith or contender for nicest guy on the planet. It’s that he’s all of those things and more.

His music is as multi-faceted as his personality, bringing comparisons to everyone from Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp to Willie Nelson.

“You know what? I never really targeted a market. I just wrote songs,” he said. “I guess my upbringing led me to country and placed me in that market.”

Some of the wild times he lived when he was growing up in Jefferson, Georgia, also places him in the Johnny
Cash, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings country lifestyle category.

“When I wrote [‘My Kinda Party’ ] I just wrote about what we were doing,” he said of the No. 1 song. “And, yes, I was drinking at seventeen and yes, I did get a butt whooping from my mama.”

Like many country performers, especially those branded “outlaw,” Gilbert had a life changing incident that brought him closer to music. For him, that happened in 2004 when he was in a one-car accident, which almost took his life. That’s when he was in college”studying to be a relationship counselor”and was thrown out a window after crashing his car.

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Sound And Vision: Strange Bedfellows — The Best of Music's Unlikely Collaborations

“I get high with a little help from my friends,” Ringo Starr sang on the Beatles‘ 1967 classic. These days, so do many of music’s top stars. Two’s company, and so is three and sometimes four. The more the merrier, the higher and higher they get.

On the charts, that is.

In the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 for the week ending December 10, seventeen songs were collaborations between separate recording entities. Four of them featured Drake, and three apiece featured Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, who both appeared on tracks with Drake and with each other. But will.i.am featuring Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger”and debuting at No. 36 with “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever),” which the threesome performed on the November 20 American Music Awards”was probably the one that nobody saw coming.

Old-school Rolling Stones fans must be cringing at the idea of Jagger going anywhere near Lopez and will.i.am so soon after Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera went to No. 1 by invoking his hallowed name on “Moves Like Jagger.” But for a sixty-something legend like him, hit records”even if in name only, a la Duck Sauce‘s GRAMMY-nominated “Barbra Streisand”are a near-impossible dream unless they’re in tandem with other, often younger, stars.

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Vocal Points: When Two Voices Become One

Lady Antebellum has a spark. There’s something about the way that Hillary Scott’s clear voice meshes with fellow lead vocalist Charles Kelley’s rougher tones. The way that the two of them sing, weaving their voices back and forth to tell a story, combined with the way that these two powerful voices can give and take seamlessly is so special. The combination of their voices creates an effect which evokes double the emotion, showcases double the talent and makes for an all-around great listen.

There have been many country acts who use both male and female vocals to add variety to their sound, but few have been able to mesh the voices as successfully and as consistently as Lady Antebellum. Many artists choose to create a solo album and then feature duets with other singers, for example Jason Aldean, who collaborated with Kelly Clarkson for a track on his album My Kinda Party, or Brad Paisley‘s duet “Remind Me” with Carrie Underwood. But it is truly remarkable that every song by Antebellum utilizes both Kelley’s and Scott’s voices to their full potential.

Although less well-known than Lady Antebellum, The Civil Wars”an alternative country/folk duo”also blends the voices of two singers (Joy Williams and John Paul White) into every song. Both Lady Antebellum and The Civil Wars feature voices that could easily stand alone, but together create something much more magical. Because these singers are equally incredible at harmonizing and keeping a balance where neither is over-powering, they can create a sound which is phenomenal.

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