Have a chat with Mark Wills for a few minutes, and he's likely to discuss the passions of his life - his music, his family, the recent album, the live concerts, his GAC show "The Year," finding great songs and of course the social causes that he pours himself into.
Wills has numerous hits under his belt already - "Jacob's Ladder," "Don't Laugh At Me," "I Do (Cherish You)" and his seven-week number one smash, "19 Something," to name just a few. In addition, he has sold millions of albums. However, he's not even close to being finished. With his new record deal on Tenacity Records and his latest album, Familiar Stranger, currently in stores, his mission is pretty clear: "I just want to be back in the game, a viable artist," says Wills.
He's certainly in the game - produced by studio-master and songwriter Brett James, the album flows like a river, showing all sides of Mark's versatility and range - from beautiful, soulful ballads, like "The Likes of You," to the crank-it-up high energy evident on "Rednecks Anonymous." "My goal was for this album to sound like a bunch of great musicians playing live. To be completely honest, I don't think a lot of country artists capture that," says Wills. "I think with Brett's help we succeeded. I worked on this record for two years and I am really proud of it. I wanted it to sound like everything from Harry Connick Jr. to Aerosmith, and I think there's something for all the fans - from the rockin' stuff to the ballads."
Familiar Stranger reflects a happy marriage between traditional country and bona fide rock. The album is a compilation of all the musical facets that Wills has been harboring and nurturing since he first aspired to be a singer. Anyone who has ever seen him in concert, or spoken with him for more than a few minutes about music, knowsthat inside this wonderful, humble, delightful, good ol' boy, country singer dwells a soul that could rock the socks off Metallica if he had the urge to do so. This project brilliantly blends his two music personas with flawless panache, but luckily for all the die-hard country fans, Wills is successful in remaining true to his country heart. He delivers music with a refreshing and energetic edge that guarantees that music lovers of every genre will remain throughly entertained from first cut to last.
It's really telling about the kind of soul Mark is by paying attention not only to his music, but to what he doesn't talk and sing about. He lights up when you ask about his trips overseas to entertain the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's taken over 6 trips total with the most recent over the holiday season to perform for our fighting men and women of the Armed Forces. He feels it's his duty to our country to do what he can for those who sacrifice, even if it means taking time away from his own wife and two daughters, Mally and Macey.
It would seem that Mark doesn't brag about his community service work because he thinks it's a responsibility we share as Americans. "First of all, it's a privilege to provide a little joy and entertainment for these people. The first time I went, it was a life-changing experience," says Wills. "The freedom that we have is not something that I take for granted and it's an honor to be able to go over and play for these people - they're literally giving their lives for us. And maybe by playing a show for them, you can take their mind off all of the bad stuff and danger, even if it's just for a little while."
Supporting the troops is just one of the many 'causes,' Mark Wills dedicates his time and effort to. He is also deeply involved in the Taser Foundation (www.taserfoundation.org), an organization that raises awareness and funds for the families of police officers killed in the line of duty. "It is a first-class organization because all of the money raised goes to families of these officers. I am really honored to be involved," remarks Wills, who also sits on the board of the foundation.
When you hear Mark beaming about his own daughters, it's pretty obvious that a guy this giving would be associated with the Children's Miracle Network. When fans pick up a copy of his latest CD, Familiar Stranger, a percentage of the profits are automatically donated to CMN. In addition, fans will have the opportunity to personally get involved through several promotions tied into the CD. "It's such a great thing since all of the money you contribute goes to hospitals in your area - to help children close to you. I am very proud to be a friend to the Children's Miracle Network."
So how does a guy involved in all of these organizations as well as raising a family have time for a musical career? And we haven't even mentioned his show on GAC yet! As mentioned, Mark Wills is first and foremost an artist, especially a singer, but doing a show like "The Year," (inspired by his seven-week #1 song "19 Something"), portrays a different aspect of his personality. "I really love doing the show," says Mark. "In my opinion it enhances my musical career."
Mark is one of these people whose appetite for life surpasses what most people can only dream of - there are so many things that this guy has going on, it's almost exhausting just hearing about it - let alone living it! However, more than anything else Mark Wills is an 'artist.' And beyond that - a great singer. And when the book is written 20 or 30 years from now, how does Mark want to be remembered? Well, not by how many albums he sold... or how long his hits stayed at number one. Mark says it very clearly and simply. It's all about the voice. "I don't really care about the numbers game," he says. I just want to be remembered as a great singer - someone who sang great songs."
This summer Mark Wills will hit the road with his cohorts Trent Willmon and Jeff Bates on the Honky Tonk Tailgate Party. And there is a lot more to come from Mark Wills, so stay tuned!