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Jason Aldean Flies Under the Radar (2010)

From sold-out tour dates to hit songs, Jason Aldean is a bigger star than Music Row realizes—and he’s about to get bigger.

Originally published in the Sept. 6, 2010 issue of Country Weekly magazine.

Quick. Which country artist scored three No. 1s and a near-miss No. 2 on his most recent album while selling out concerts from coast to coast?

While your inclination might be to answer “George Strait,” “Carrie Underwood,” “Kenny Chesney,” “Taylor Swift” or perhaps even “Alan Jackson,” the correct answer is “Jason Aldean.” The same Jason Aldean who is also largely overlooked around awards time.

Meet Nashville’s Invisible Man. While his growing legions of fans adore him, there are many on Music Row who underestimate just how big a star Jason is.

“Sometimes I feel like we fly under the radar a little bit,” Jason admits. “I don’t really understand why, other than the fact that we’re on probably one of the smallest labels in town [Broken Bow]. But our record sales are just as good if not better than most that are out there. Our shows are doing as well, if not better than anybody else’s out there, so I don’t really know, but sometimes it’s kind of nice to kind of be that guy that is the ‘secret weapon.’”

Comfortably seated on a leather couch in his barn-turned-man cave on the property of his rural Williamson County, Tenn., home, Jason isn’t complaining. He’s merely pondering the point the interviewer brought up.

“It’s kind of a Catch-22,” he continues, surrounded by signs that proclaim “My barn, my rules” and “Georgia Bulldog Fans Live Here,” among other macho messages. “Sometimes it’s really frustrating because I don’t think people do fully understand what we have been doing out there and for us how big it has gotten over the last couple years. But at the same time, you know, it’s nice sometimes to kind of catch people by surprise. And when they finally do get it and come out to a show and see it, it’s like cool to kind of see that look on their face like ‘we had no idea.’

“You have the Chesneys and the Urbans—and those guys are huge stars, and rightfully so—but it’s just funny that we’re never kind of mentioned in with those guys sometimes,” Jason allows. “But it’s just one of those things. I’m relatively young in my career and I’ve only been out for I guess five years now, so we’re still building it. And it’s like I’ve always said, ‘If you start on the top of the mountain, you don’t really have anywhere else to climb.’ So the fact that we kind of started smaller, we kind of flew under the radar, and we still fly under the radar a little bit, it’s kind of a cool thing in that it gives us room to grow.”

Once fans and the industry hear Jason’s new album, My Kinda Party, due Nov. 2, it will be increasingly difficult for the Macon, Ga., native to remain undetected. It’s everything fans have come to expect from his past albums and more.

“For the people that love ‘She’s Country’ and ‘Hick Town’ and ‘Amarillo Sky’ and ‘Why’ and ‘Johnny Cash,’,we’ve got stuff like [first single] ‘My Kinda Party,’” says Jason. “There’s more tempo songs on this record than we’ve had on any other record,” he continues, “but then we also turn around and we have the Kelly Clarkson ballad that I think opens us up to a whole new avenue that we’ve never been to before.”

The seemingly unlikely duet with pop star Kelly features lush string parts, a first on one of Jason’s albums. After being pitched the song by singer/songwriter Jason Sellers, Jason told his producer Michael Knox, “This is the duet that we’ve been looking for.”

The list of female artists Jason wanted to record it with was short. “There’s only a couple of people that I felt like had the chops to pull it off, had that really soulful kind of voice that I really wanted on the record, and so our two targets were Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson.”

Calls were made and “next thing I know we’re in the studio cuttin’ this thing. It was just really cool for me when I hear something in my head how I want it to sound, and she comes in and as soon as she opens her mouth this is exactly what it’s supposed to sound like. And she couldn’t be cooler, she’s very, very nice, one of the best female singers there is, period. It’s something people don’t expect; it’s kind of nice. We made the right call on that and as much as I’m a fan of Carrie, and I think she would have done a good job as well, I think it would have sounded completely different. I love the way it turned out.”

The new album is about growth, but nothing too radical. “You never want to go out and just keep making the same record over and over,” Jason believes. “You do want to kind of branch off here and there, but you don’t want to do it too drastically. There’s gonna be the rock, the edgier stuff; there’s really more down the middle country stuff; and then we got a couple things that are kind of left field a little bit that we’ve never done before that I think are going to open us up to some new fans.”

Another song, “Dirt Road Anthem,” was previously recorded by Colt Ford and includes rapidly spoken lyrics, which border on rapping. “I call it talking really fast,” Jason says. “It’s not that far off from ‘She’s Country,’ [which has] rapid-fire lyrics like that.”

Colt and Brantley Gilbert wrote the song, which Jason hopes will one day be a single. “If you listen to Colt’s version and you listen to our version, it’s completely different,” Jason says. “Colt goes into the rap thing and that’s his deal. I wanted to kind of slow it down just a little bit and kind of make it just a little groovier. I don’t know what you’d call it, but I think it’s cool as s--t.”

Growing up with modest means, the son of a single mother, Jason understands the importance of giving his fans a great show for a reasonable price. “I remember as a fan looking forward to going to see a show and spending money sometimes that I really shouldn’t have been spending to go and buy a ticket. I want to make sure when people come see our show that they feel like when they leave they got their money’s worth. To me, that’s what it’s all about. I go out for 90 minutes or whatever it is and try my best to get them involved in the show and make sure if they come out to see us that they’re going to get entertained and have a good time.

“It’s fun for me to go out onstage every night, and I love it, so to me it’s not really work,” he continues. “Playing my shows is not work at all; it’s all the other things that people don’t see that’s the working part. But I still love what I do, man. That’s why I got into the business, because I love playing in front of people and meeting people and traveling around, I love all that stuff; it’s just fun for me.”

Contrary to his desire to move into the mainstream when it comes to his career, Jason is just fine with his personal life remaining under the radar. “Despite what people see onstage, I mean, I’m a pretty private guy. When I’m on the road and I’m working and doing my thing, I’m all about it, I’m kind of in your face. When I’m home, I just want to be here. I like hanging out with my family, spending time with them and I don’t go downtown to all the parties and think that I have to be seen at every little thing in town to keep my face out there so people know who I am.

“I almost think it’s cooler to have a little bit of that mystique where people don’t know what it is that you’re all about,” Jason continues. “No offense, I don’t want people knowing everything about my life. When you’re in this business, man, there’s so much of your life that’s out there that people know about, and I think to be sane you have to keep a little bit of that private. And me, my family, my family life, I try to keep that very private and try to give my girls as much of a normal childhood as they can have while having a dad that’s an entertainer.”

If days off the road seem low-key, that’s just the way Jason likes it. “My favorite part of the day is in the morning; just waking up, the girls come in and kind of jump in the bed with us and hang out and I play with them for about a half an hour or so and get up, hang out, eat some breakfast.”

Time at home with his wife, Jessica, and daughters, Keeley, 7, and Kendyl, 3, is important. “I’m gone so much that when I’m home I just kind of want to be here and hang out, whether it’s watching TV or we’re outside swimming in the pool or outside playing softball,” Jason continues. “I just try to squeeze as much of that stuff in when I’m home, because I’m not home every day.

“I’m trying to get them to turn into Braves fans, too,” Jason adds with a smile. “My youngest daughter, her favorite player, as she calls him, is ‘Pepper Jones.’”

While his daughter may be confused about the name of longtime Brave Chipper Jones, a growing number of country fans won’t be mistaken about the name of her father, Jason Aldean.

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