Country star Jason Aldean performs Saturday at Jiffy Lube Live. (Ethan Miller, Getty Images…)
Jason Aldean has made a name for himself with down-and-dirty songs like "Hicktown" and "Big Green Tractor" that hark back to old-fashioned country and western.
The first single off his last album, a defiant barnstormer called "My Kinda Party," follows that same formula. But the second single, "Don't You Wanna Stay," a duet with "American Idol" star Kelly Clarkson, shows off his softer side. He said it's something he plans to do more, starting with his next single. He'll perform that song and several others that are more up-tempo at his show Saturday at Jiffy Lube Live.
Your latest single, "Dirt Road Anthem," was written by Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert, who'd both performed their own versions of the song. And yet it plays like it was tailor-made for you. How did you come to cover it for the album?
I think that's one of the reason I wanted that song. I felt like everything in the song was in my ballpark. The only thing that wasn't me was the rapping stuff in it. What it talks about, that's something I talk about in all my songs. It's something I can relate to. The song was written by two guys from Georgia, like I am. We grew up doing a lot of the same stuff, singing the same songs, singing about our part of the world.
How is your song different from Colt's?
If you listen to Colt's version, it's more of a hip-hop style. When we wanted to cut the song, we wanted to do it our way. We didn't want to copy their song. We wanted to slow it down, make it slinkier, make it more laid back. It isn't so rapid-fire. We made it a little lazier. That was more along the lines of how I would do it. I love Colt's version. But the last thing I wanted to do was sound like we wanted to make our record sound like his. I wanted to make a Jason Aldean song.
Any plans to cover any other Southern rappers? Aldean doing Bubba Sparxxx?
I don't know. I'm definitely not a rapper. But I think it's cool to have songs like this that allow you to step out of the box.
How does production work, do you look for songs, or do writers come to you with material? How do you pick?
A little bit of both. We have certain writers that are proven hit-makers. At the same time we have writers from all over the industry sending us songs. We listened to hundreds of songs trying to narrow it down to 15. I don't know what I'm looking for. I'm just trying to find songs that I like that I want to go out and perform — things that I can relate to.
How did "Don't You Wanna Stay" become a part of the album?
It was pitched to us by Jason Sellers, a friend of mine. I was going to cut [it] myself. We didn't have any plans of a duet. I just thought the song was cool. The more I listened to it, I thought, "I think this might be a good duet." They asked who it would be, and I said, "Someone like Kelly Clarkson would be cool." I didn't know if we would get her, but phone calls were made, and next thing I knew, she was in the studio with us. I'd never met Kelly until then.
I don't normally associate you with ballads. Is that something you want to do more of?
I don't know if people associate us with ballads, but we've done a few of them. I think we've always kind of made it a point to not back ourselves into a corner, to not just do up-tempo. "Why" was a ballad for us. "The Truth" was a ballad also. We've always done those songs because I think they're important. You've got to change it up. The Kelly Clarkson thing is just kind of a huge song for us to make people aware of our versatility. I think the fact she's on it is going to make a lot more people pay attention than normally would, especially outside of country.
You've been performing with the same six-piece band for years; four of the guys have been playing with you since 1999. What do you get out of that?
The biggest thing is, when you're around somebody that much, you start to know what people are going to play before they're going to play it. It's something that only comes from playing shows together. It's a comfort zone. Same thing in the studio. It's easy for me to look at my guitar player and explain things to him, and he gets it right away. Musicians have their own way of talking and with someone you've known for a long time, it's easy to communicate.
If you go
Jason Aldean performs a sold-out show Saturday at Jiffy Lube Live, 7800 Cellar Door Drive in Bristow, Va. Doors are at 4:30 p.m.