Eric Church is on a mission. You might expect someone coming off of their first two Top Ten country singles and an ACM Award for "Top New Solo Vocalist" to lock down the formula and go for more of the same, but with third album, CHIEF, Church is trying something bolder and using the opportunity provided by his success to push his music even further.
"I have a theory that all of us only get a small window of time to make records when people will really listen and care," he says. "It's up to us to move the needle. People like Waylon and Cash or Garth and Strait - they all took the format and said We're going over here, and they all changed the direction of the music a little bit."
Churchs 2006 debut album, SINNERS LIKE ME, established him as one of the most acclaimed new songwriters in country music. The follow-up, 2009s CAROLINA, includes the singles "Love Your Love the Most" and "Smoke a Little Smoke," whichalong with the continually escalating popularity of his hard-charging live showelevated Church to the top ranks of todays country stars. Although "Smoke" was peaking on the charts, Church decided to take a step back to give some thought to his next creative direction.
"I took about a month off and went to a cabin in North Carolina," he says. "Weve always blazed our own trail and I was trying to figure out where it needed to go and, honestly, I wasn't sure. So, I didn't go anywhere for a month. Writers came out and we just wrote songs all day and all night. That really stoked the creative flame. Then, I spent the next six months on tour writing whenever I could."
The songs that resulted illustrate Churchs impressive range. Some of the titles like "Drink in My Hand" or "Hungover & Hard Up," instantly show that hes still comfortable with the expectations of his rowdy live audience. "Youve got to know what's going to fire them up," he says, "but, you also need to give them a twist, something they can't just go back and get from the other two records."
Other songs, like the ambitious "Springsteen" or "Like Jesus Does," reveal complicated emotions and sophisticated song structures. Perhaps the bravest track on CHIEF is the first single, "Homeboy," a provocative appeal from one brother to another to get back on track and make peace with his family.
"Homeboy deals with social issues and with everyday life," says Church. "It was pretty challenging for me to take that term homeboy and use it as slang, as a destination, and then at the end, as a spiritual place. Sonically, it's like three or four different songs."
"Its not something people are used to," he continues, "and there can be a price to pay for that. Ive had people say that's strange, it's oddthings that some people might run from but, I think it's fantastic."