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Justin Moore: Small Town Boy

You’ll find our profile of newcomer Justin Moore, who recently hit the Top 10 with “Small Town USA,” in the Aug. 17 issue of Country Weekly. Here are a few web-exclusive outtakes from our chat with the Poyen, Ark., native, whose self-titled debut album hit stores Aug. 11.

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When you were growing up, who were the major influences on you?

I was always a huge fan of all the guys that were very unique, like John Anderson. Charlie Daniels was an influence of mine. I was always a fan of the old-school country, because that’s what my dad listened to. It described how I was growing up and rural America in the South. Hank Williams Jr. was a huge influence. It was really cool, we went on the road with him last year for a couple months. But I was also a big fan of Southern rock. My uncle had a Southern rock band when I was a senior in high school and I played in it. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band and the Allman Brothers Band were big influences of mine. Probably my biggest influence—and it’s kind of funny, because our music ain’t all that similar—is Dwight Yoakam. I’ve met a quite a few folks, but if I met him I’d be in awe. To me, he was an ultimate artist. I looked up to him as a songwriter and an entertainer probably more than anybody.

When did you move to Nashville?

I’ve been here about seven years now. I started playing music my senior year of high school. I made it through about two weeks of college and came home and told my mom and dad I was going to move to Nashville and be a country music singer. (laughs) They about flipped out, but they moved me to town and paid my bills for years and were very supportive. I’m lucky to have a family like I have, that support system back there. I wouldn’t have ever been able to make it around here if I hadn’t.

How have you been able to handle success so far?

I hope I’ve done good. Probably the best thing is I’m still scared of my mom and dad. (laughs) If you don’t appreciate it and you don’t keep working your butt off, it can all be gone just as quick as it comes. I think you’ve got to surround yourself with folks that have your best interests at heart and good people that you can trust, and that’s what I’ve been able to do. I’ve been very lucky to have a group of folks around me that pride themselves in being great people as well as great at what they do, from my manager to my band to everybody at the record label.

How did you get hooked up with your label, Valory Music Group?

[My future manager] had heard a demo tape of me singing “The Fireman” by George Strait and some old stuff like that, just by a fluke. He called me and said, “If I drive to Little Rock, would you meet me tonight?” I was in high school and I was like, “If this idiot wants to drive six hours, I guess I can meet with him.” I remember in that particular meeting he was saying “record deal” this and “record deal” that, and I said, “I’m sorry, but what is a record deal?” I had no idea! (laughs) I just knew I could sing and that’s what I liked to do. So I moved to town, and I knew him. Through him I met my producer, Jeremy Stover, and he and I started writing songs together. To be quite honest with you, I never really had any intention on writing songs. When I moved to town we were looking for songs to cut, to try to pitch to get a deal, and I wasn’t getting any songs I really liked. Obviously now I know why I wasn’t getting everybody’s best songs—you don’t give them out to people who you don’t have a clue who they are! But I thought, “Heck, I’ll just write ‘em myself, I guess.” So Jeremy and I started writing songs. Keith Stegall liked what we were doing together and gave me a writing deal with Big Picture Entertainment, which is Keith’s [publishing] company. I wrote for those guys for four years and developed more as an artist. When I first moved here I could sing on key, but I didn’t know what kind of stuff I wanted to do or what was real to me. I met Scott Borchetta, who started Big Machine Records, and he offered me a deal. He said, “If you can be a little big patient, I’ll give you a record deal.” As a 19- or 20-year old kid, I thought “being patient” meant I’d be Kenny Chesney by the next year. (laughs) I found out that I was pretty far off, so I kept writing and decided that if Scott wanted to work with me I wanted to work with him. I knew that if I only got one shot at it with somebody, I wanted it to be with him—because I thought he was the best. So when he started the [Big Machine sister label] Valory Music Group, he called me up and said, “Dude, this where I want you to be.” And it’s been a perfect fit, man. I can’t say enough about how hard those guys have worked for me. It’s been pretty unbelievable.

What was the recording experience like?

To be quite honest with you, I’m not one of these guys that wants to be in the studio. I know some of my artist buddies love that whole process—and it is better than a real job! But God bless producers, because I just can’t sit in the studio. I’d much rather be out playing live. It’s exciting, obviously, to know you’re working on an album that you know one day will get out in stores. It was very cool to see the whole process and see how it works. And again, it was so fun to work with my producer [Jeremy Stover]. We are really good buddies. We got to make the record we wanted to make and we’re very, very proud of it.

Are you finding that people who got to know you through “Small Town USA” are surprised when they hear raunchier stuff like “Back That Thing Up”?

(laughs) Yeah! [“Back That Thing Up”] is the only song on the record that I didn’t write, which explains why it’s a little left of center of what we do. I tell people to blame it on Randy Houser, because he co-wrote it! He’s a buddy of mine, so I give him a hard time about it. But I thought that song brought something different to the record that I hadn’t written myself. I thought, “Man, that’d be so fun to go play that every night,” and it has been a lot of fun. I think the biggest struggle of being a new act is having folks say, “Oh, that’s a Justin Moore song,” as opposed to just going, “I really like that song. … Who is that again?” I think “Back That Thing Up” really did wonders for us in that regard. You didn’t hear that song and not know who it was. We wish it would’ve went Top 10 or whatever, but I think it did its job. After hearing that song people know that obviously I don’t take myself too seriously. We like to have a good time. Then with “Small Town USA” they got an even better idea of who I am as a person as well as an artist.

Are you nervous about the album coming out?

I’m really not, man. I’m a pretty laid back guy. I don’t really worry about stuff. I don’t get too high or too low. I’m on a pretty even keel most of the time. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry about songs being on the chart and that kind of stuff, ‘cause you always have to worry a little bit. But we’ve had a lot of early success on iTunes and that kind of stuff. We’ve sold quite a few downloads of songs that weren’t even on the radio—in fact, we’re kind of scratching our heads about just how we sold this many. We’ve sold a total of over 200,000 downloads. So we’re kind of like, “OK, well, maybe this will work.” So it’s exciting. It’s very exciting.

Watch Our Video Interview