Aaron Lewis on Country Music, Staind, and Always Eating What You Kill
For those who remember Massachusetts rockers Staind as the band signed by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, the thought of frontman Aaron Lewis putting out a country music EP might seem a bit strange. However, if you consider the string of hit singer-songwriter style ballads that Lewis wrote for the band between 1999 and 2005, an EP of country songs is not much of a stretch.
“I’ve written songs like ‘Outside,’ ‘It’s Been A While,’ ‘So Far Away,’ and ‘Everything Changes,'” Lewis recently told Noisecreep. “The only difference between those singer-songwriter songs and the ones on [my solo EP] ‘Town Line’ is that I took these new songs to Nashville and those other songs stayed right in [Staind]. But I don’t think I’m reinventing the wheel or going outside of myself to do this [country record].”
Lewis wrote ‘Town Line’ with country legends like Charlie Daniels and George Jones, and plans to spend much of the next year promoting the record with as many live shows as he can schedule. At the same time, he continues to work with Staind, who are knee-deep in recording their yet-untitled seventh album with producer Johnny K. On top of that, Lewis is a committed dad and a die-hard hunter who’s working on producing a TV hunting special for next year. The singer’s certainly got a full plate, but Lewis never shoots anything he doesn’t intend to eat.
Noisecreep: When did you develop an interest in country music?
Aaron Lewis: I grew up on country music. My grandfather was always playing it so there was always country music playing in the background. When he passed away and we moved out of Vermont, I kind of forgot about country music for a while. Then we went on tour with Kid Rock in 1999, and while riding on the bus with Bob there was nothing but old country playing in the background. It was very hauntingly familiar. It was all stuff I had heard in my childhood, and once [Kid Rock] reintroduced me to it I had a hard time getting away from it.
Do you feel comfortable in the country community?
I don’t know yet. I don’t think I’ve been around yet long enough to make a fair assessment.
When did you write these songs?
Over this last year. Being out on tour and writing during soundcheck, [or] while I’m sitting in the dressing room waiting to play a show. Songs usually happen when I’m not sitting down trying to write them. They just happen when they happen.
You did a version of the Staind song ‘Tangled Up in You,’ which was originally on 2008’s ‘Illusion of Progress.’
I was assured and promised [that ‘Tangled Up in You’] would be the perfect last single off the Staind record to segue into this solo thing. When that didn’t happen, they were kind enough to allow me to record it again.
What was it like doing ‘Country Boy’ with George Jones?
Unfortunately, during the time-frame I was there George was not feeling well and wanted to wait a week, and when he was able to do it, unfortunately, I was not there at that time.
Still, it must be a real honor to have a country legend like George Jones on your solo album.
Are you kidding me? It gives me goosebumps every time I hear him sing my lyrics.
Charlie Daniels and Chris Young are also on that track. Did they make it into the studio to record with you?
Yes, and it was amazing. Chris is probably one of the nicest guys out there and Charlie is a legend. He’s quite outspoken and quite a piece of work. I was really quite in awe. We had the usual North/South arguments and funny stuff like that.
Do you remember the first time you heard Charlie Daniels?
It was definitely coming out of my grandfather’s radio. It could have been ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’ It probably wasn’t though.
Will you do a tour for the country record?
That’s the plan, yeah. As long as I can continue to receive acceptance from those in the industry that are already there I will continue to do so.
Has anyone been shocked or surprised to hear you playing this kind of music?
Well, there are some die-hard country fans out there that think what’s happening in country music right now isn’t country. And those die-hards tend to lump me into the… problem. But hopefully, as they read interviews and get to know me a little bit, hopefully that will change.
What you’re doing seems to have more in common with old-school country music like George Jones and Willie Nelson than Kenny Chesney or Keith Urban.
I thought so. But everybody’s got their opinion. Then there are a few Staind fans that are like, ‘Holy s—, what the f— are you doing?’ But that’s gonna happen when you decide to go and try a different genre.
Has your country career delayed Staind?
No, we’re in the studio right now. Because, you know, debuting an album in the country genre isn’t quite enough for me to handle, so I had to put as much on my plate as I possibly could. It’s hard to juggle the two, but they’re cool with it. Their only issue with me would be if I was going to walk away, which I have no intention of doing.
What can fans expect from the next Staind album?
It’s shaping up to be the heaviest thing we have recorded in a long time. It’s definitely one of the heaviest collection of songs that we have put together.
Are you going back to the band vibe the band had before ‘Dysfunction?’
Well, we’re going back to before these songs that I’ve brought to the table over the years blurred that line as to who and what Staind was. It’s back to the ‘Dysfunction’ days, but it’s not a carbon copy. It’s new material with a heavy sound.
That must be liberating, because you can use those more ballad-like songs for your solo career and maybe keep Staind more pure.
Yeah, it allows Staind to go back to being the heavy band that we always were without any confusion.
Was there any friction in the past when you would write these big radio ballads?
No, it didn’t cause any problems. It was always a reflection of where we were at the time and every record was different than the last one. There’s a continuity to it, but it’s different at the same time. We just try to keep doing what we do, and hope that the fans that we’ve been so lucky to have stay with us.
How many new Staind songs have you written?
There are eight or nine that I’m working on right now and then there are a couple more that we just haven’t gotten to yet.
Johnny K, who produced your 2008 album, ‘Illusion of Progress’ is back at the helm. Since you’re already comfortable do you guys play any sorts of pranks on one another?
It’s cool to have him back, but there are no studio shenanigans for us. We’re there to work and that’s what we do.
Where are you recording it?
We’re doing it in my barn, the same place we recorded the last record. On the last record, what we did was we took my barn and Johnny K brought all his transportable equipment in a big trailer and set it up in the [barn]. And at the end of the record we all felt that sonically – as far as the raw tones went – it sounded better than any studio we recorded at yet. So when Johnny was gonna come in again we said, ‘Hey listen, instead of bringing all of your stuff like you did last time, we’ll give you our corporate credit card and why don’t you attain all of the stuff that you brought last time, or as close [to it] as possible, and bring it with you and set it all up. And when you leave, leave it.’ So we now have a vintage Neve recording studio right here on my property in the Berkshires in Massachusetts.
What’s the timetable for the next Staind record and does it have a title?
No title yet. None of the songs have titles either. But it should be turned in by the end of the spring, and hopefully it will be out before the fall.
Will you be doing a juggling act to promote your solo album and Staind at the same time?
Yeah, I would have to say so. My schedule right now is working this new country thing, recording the new record for Staind during the week after 8 p.m. at night. And then getting up in the morning and being a dad for the kids, who are now nine, six, and four, and making breakfast and lunch and getting them to school. And on top of that, I’m filming a hunting TV show to be aired next year. And you can’t forget about my It Takes a Community Foundation charity that my wife and I are running [which revives rural communities throughout the greater New England area and provides financial assistance in times of crisis]. I don’t know how much thinner I can spread myself, to be honest.
Are you a big hunter?
I’m a huge hunter, fisherman, [and] outdoorsman.
Ever gone out with Ted Nugent?
We missed each other by an hour. We were scheduled to hunt together with Michael Waddell on his show two springs ago, and half of Texas was on fire while I was down there. The fires prevented him from taking off from his airport in Texas to get to us. So when the plane took me back where I needed to go, that was the first day the plane was able to operate. They picked him up after they dropped me off. But we’ve hung out. Me and Uncle Ted are cool.
What’s the biggest game you’ve caught?
My best white-tailed deer is a 155 inch eight-pointer, which is a damn good eight-pointer. It takes a lot of deer on a deer’s head to make eight points equal out to 155 inches. And I got a couple big elk. A lot of times, I’ll let the animal walk by instead of shooting it because I like hunting. It’s not necessarily about killing the animal for me. It’s more about the entire process and everything that goes into it.
Do you eat what you kill?
Absolutely. I’ve never killed anything I didn’t eat. I even had to eat a couple squirrels and chickadees in my day, when I was a kid shooting stuff with my BB gun. It was a rule of the household and the family that if you kill something, you’re gonna eat it.
So what’s this show that you’re taping now?
It’s called ‘Hunting with Heroes.’ It all centers around the military and saying thank you and giving back.
So you’re taking war veterans out and hunting with them.
Yup, and we’re giving a little insight as to what it’s like for these soldiers, [who make] the ultimate sacrifice for us. I would have to assume there are going to be some poignant, candid moments. And it will inevitably be picked up by one of the hunting networks.