The ongoing debate about today’s country music not being “real country” continued this week when Aaron Lewis—lead singer of the rock group Staind and now country singer—stepped onto a Colorado stage and told the audience the inspiration behind his latest country single,”That Ain’t Country.”
“I’d like to thank Sam Hunt–oh, I know, he’s so pretty to look at,” said Aaron from the stage. “I’d like to thank Luke Bryan, for most of his stuff. He surprises me every once in a while. I would like to thank Dan + Shay. I’d like to thank Cole Swindell. And every other motherf***** that is just choking all the life out of country music.”
That’s when all hell broke loose and the Luke, Sam, Cole and Dan + Shay defenders took to social media to call out the rocker. NCD caught up with Aaron shortly after he made the remarks, for which he concedes that he’s sorry “that I might have offended you, but I don’t apologize for what I said.”
“It’s all taken out of context. I was playing at a motorcycle rally,” says Aaron. “I was playing to a whole bunch of people that appreciate the old country music. I was playing to that crowd. I said it in a manner that got a really, really good reaction from the crowd that I was playing to. It certainly is no sort of personal attack on any of the artists that I may have, in a moment of playing to the crowd that I was playing to, called out by name. It’s nothing personal. I’m not saying that they’re not good people. I’m not saying that the songs aren’t catchy songs—that if I hear them on the radio I’m not stuck singing myself. I’m just questioning where the connection is to what defined the genre. That’s all.
“I’m sure that way more offensive things have been said over the years, through a microphone on stage in front of a certain crowd of people, than what I said. If you’re offended by what I have to say, you might want to question why. I don’t know what to tell you. Again, this is no personal attack on anybody. I’m sure that they are great, amazing people. In no way am I saying anything about them or their character. I’m just simply wondering where the connection is to the music from the past that defines the genre.”
And with that, a new song was born. Aaron’s latest single, “That Ain’t Country,” is the result of that wondering. A song that laments the fact that today’s country songs are filled with “tales of good times and happy endings” that aren’t realistic to everyday life. The song searches for the tunes that are “full of truth and consequences, all the things gone wrong.”
“I grew up on my grandfather’s country,” says Aaron. “That’s the country music that is kind of embedded into my soul. It was the soundtrack to my childhood, and is the soundtrack to so many memories that I hold onto dearly. I wrote the song because the landscape of country music these days is a little bit unrecognizable. I ponder and I question where the influences—aside from name drops here and there—where are the influences of what defined the genre of country? I don’t hear them. It’s merely my opinion and it’s merely just something that I noticed, and something that I chose to write a song about. I’m not saying what is country music right now isn’t creating number ones and it isn’t selling records. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just questioning where is the connection aside from name-dropping to the music?”
Aaron, who hails from Springfield, Mass., reached stardom as the frontman for the rock band Staind. He saw success with the seven studio albums the band released, including Dysfunction, Break the Cycle—which included the Top 10 hit “It’s Been a While”—and 14 Shades of Grey. But in 2012 the band took a hiatus and Aaron was able to return to the music he grew up on by putting out his first solo country album, The Road.
“I was force-fed [country] as a kid,” recalls Aaron. “Then when I was old enough to choose my own path of music listening, as most adolescent boys do, I rebelled against what was being force-fed to me prior. The first albums I ever owned, as my albums that I could go and listen to on my own, were given to me by my babysitter. It was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, it was Kiss’s Alive 2 and Destroyer, AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds and TNT. That was my first ability and taste of being able to experience that music all by myself and it was my choice to listen to it. That really played a big part in the road that I went down as far as ending up in a rock band.
“One thing that I’ve always clung to very tightly is the purity and the sanctity of my writing,” adds Aaron. “The one thing that has stayed true through all those things and this country thing, is being pure to the creativity that’s coming out of me, and not allowing someone else’s opinion to sway what I’m doing. I always did that with Staind and I always have done that with this country thing.”
And the Massachusetts native is doing it again with his second solo studio album, Sinner—produced by Buddy Cannon (Kenny Chesney)—which includes Willie Nelson singing on the title track.
“Buddy Cannon picked up his cell phone and from memory, hand-dialed [Willie’s number] and 30 seconds later he hung up the phone and said, ‘Yeah, he’ll be in.’ The same thing that happened with George Jones and Charlie Daniels on ‘Country Boy’ (a single from Aaron’s 2011 EP, The Town).
Sinner Track Listing with songwriters:
- “Sinner” (featuring Willie Nelson) | Aaron Lewis
- “That Ain’t Country” | Aaron Lewis
- “Whiskey And You” | Lee Thomas Miller, Chris Stapleton
- “Northern Redneck” | Aaron Lewis
- “Mama” | Aaron Lewis
- “Sunday Every Saturday Night” | Aaron Lewis, Ira Dean
- “Lost and Lonely” | Aaron Lewis
- “Story of My Life” | Aaron Lewis
- “Stuck in These Shoes” | Aaron Lewis
- “I Lost It All” | Aaron Lewis
- “Travelin’ Soldier” | Bruce Robison
“My goal [for the album] at the end of the day is to feel like I said too much in every song. That’s the only way it’s really a piece of me at the end of the day. That’s the only way it makes it so that I can really recall the emotions and the feelings that I was having when these songs were coming out of me—to be able to repeat them when I play them live, to be able to translate that emotion that was behind those lyrics in the live performance. It’s more about that at the end of the day than it is trying to convey a message or to have something specific to say.”
Recorded at Blackbird studios in Nashville, Sinner was created in less than a day. All 11-tracks were laid down in only 16 hours.
“What I basically turned in as my final product would have been the starting point of the recording process, normally. Even in my career previous to this with Staind—what I handed in was the starting point. Then one at a time, each band member would have three or four weeks to be able to replace the live take with take, after take, after take, after take so that they could then chop it all up into pieces and put it back together as perfection. That’s the process nowadays. That’s how I’ve made every Staind record too. It’s not something that I’m so opposed to—that I’ve never done before. I’ve always done it. But I wanted to do it the way that they had to do it back in the day, when there wasn’t a computer that could cut everything up into little pieces and put it all back together again perfectly. I wanted it to be real. I wanted it to be what it was. There’s no extra layering. There’s no extra anything. If it’s on the take, it was because somebody was playing it live right then at that moment.”
Sinner contains nine tracks written by Aaron, with two covers—”Whiskey and You,” a Chris Stapleton tune and “Travelin’ Soldier,” a Bruce Robison song that the Dixie Chicks covered. The latter includes a lead vocal appearance from Aaron’s daughter, Zoe Jane.
“She was 13 at the time. She has turned 14 since,” Aaron beams when the subject changes to his daughter. “I just wanted to make a memory with her that no one could ever take away, no matter what. That’s a big one. That was the first time she had ever heard herself come through a microphone and through a set of headphones into her ears. She doesn’t want anything to do with [the business] because she’s seen the other side. She’s 14 and she’s got an amazing head on her shoulders. She knows she’s not old enough yet. She wants to continue living her childhood and like I said, she has seen the other side. The side that has cost both of us many, many, many memories that I wasn’t there to make with her.”
As for Staind, the future is uncertain but the possibility of getting together for future projects is not one Aaron will turn away from. “I’m completely focused and completely content with the direction that I’m going in now,” says Aaron. “Do I think that somewhere in the future there could be room for a handful of Staind festival shows? Like radio festivals on the rock side of things—handful of those in the summertime? Why not? If I still can, why not? My focus and my home, as far as I’m concerned, is right where I’m at.”
Main photo of Aaron courtesy of Dot Records