Eric Church hopes to entice music fans with 'The Outsiders'

Eric Church performs

Eric Church performs "The Outsiders" at the 47th Country Music Association Awards in Nashville, Tennessee November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

Jane Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:43 PM ET

Country music renegade Eric Church has always been what you’d call an “outsider.”

Now he’s just coming right out and saying so on his fourth album, The Outsiders, in stores Feb. 11.

There’s everything from a prog-meets-heavy-metal rock guitar solo on the title track to a largely spoken word song called Devil Devil.

He says he was largely inspired by the 1969 country-soul-folk album Harlan County by unsung Kentucky hero Jim Ford, whose work was covered by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack and The Temptations before his death in 2007.

“All eyes are on us now and I felt like it was important artistically to just be artistic,” said Church, 46, who won the 2013 ACM album of the year award for his last effort, 2011’s Chief. That record helped launch the North Carolina singer into the mainstream thanks to hits like Springsteen and Drink in My Hand.

“I think sometimes we forget about that when we make music. People talk about, ‘This is what it’s going to take to be successful, this is the type of song it has to be, or the type of album it has to be.’ And I just think, ‘Too many rules.’”

We caught up with Church down the line from Nashville recently to talk about Jim Ford, life on the outside and having his own wrecking ball.

Q: How did you get introduced to the Ford album?

A: My manager was in a vinyl store and he loves to buy obscure vinyl he’d never heard of. And it had this crazy cover on it, called Harlan County, Jim Ford, and he grabbed it and bought it and he fell in love with it. He played it for me and I just thought it was some of the best stuff I’ve ever heard and I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea who this guy was. I started researching and this guy basically got into drugs real bad, fell off the map and ended up living in a trailer in California.

Q: What did you like about his sound?

A: It was just very free. And it was from a different time. It was from the late ‘60s, early ‘70s and it sounded way ahead of what was going on then. And it was just inspiring to me, to sit there and listen to some of that stuff and even though this guy didn’t have the commercial success at all, he didn’t change; he was still true to the music. Now I’m listening to it, here it’s inspiring me as I’m trying to make an album. I just thought it was interesting - the power of music. It reminded me of The Band.

Q: Do you still feel like a Nashville outsider given the success of Chief?

A: It’s harder to call an album The Outsiders when you just had album of the year. But I wanted to make sure we paid attention to the journey... I’ve always been fan of people that go against the grain. Against what people think they should do. And that’s what that song was. And that’s why it came out first. And also I hate when people say, ‘You can or cannot do this,’ and so many people say, ‘Well, you can’t release this first because it’s too rock n’ roll or it’s too this.’ When I heard that I thought, ‘Well, we have to.’

Q: Are you nervous at all about how the new album will be received?

A: I (am) a little nervous with this album. I’m anxious. I’m very proud of this album, it’s a step up from Chief creatively. I don’t know what it’ll do successwise. I can’t tell you it’s going to have four No. 1’s. I can’t tell you it’s going to sell more albums but I can tell you that it’s a better creative record than Chief was.

Q: You’ve got a song, Like A Wrecking Ball, on the new album. Did you damn Miley Cyrus for releasing Wrecking Ball earlier this summer?

A: I hadn’t heard the Miley Cyrus song, honestly I don’t listen to that world a whole lot. But as somebody said something about it and I just looked at them blankly, and I guess at the time it was like the biggest song in the world and I was like, ‘I don’t think I know the song.’ Then they played it and I was like, ‘Well, it’s different.’

Twitter: @JaneCStevenson

jane.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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