Tim McGraw discusses songs from his new album and how the changing World affected its release!
I listened through to Tim McGraw’s album for what must have been the 10th time since it’s release, the morning of the press conference. It struck me that after all these years, 28 in fact, Tim is still as relevant as ever, releasing music that has the messages we need to hear at that time but never before has an album been so relevant. The Grammy award winner touched on this, how the record took on a whole new meaning in these strange times “We’d completed the majority of the record before this thing hit but what we did is we took another look at some of these songs, at the mixes to make sure the emotional tones were right with what was happening in the World at the time.”
The thought, the detail that has gone in to McGraw’s latest album Here on Earth began over two years ago when he started choosing songs; “I started recording the album towards the end of the Soul 2 Soul tour as we’d done our duets album together and then toured so I started right after that. So I’d fly in from the road and then find another three or four days when I had time so it was about collecting songs and recording when I could.” The album boasts a stellar line up of hit songwriters from Tom Douglas who is credited on three of the tracks to Shane McAnally and Lori McKenna. The latter of which is one of Tim’s all time favourite songwriters, talking about the infamous Bluebird cafe in Nashville McGraw remarked “Anytime Lori McKenna’s there, we go!”
Of course the Bluebird is a big part of this album’s story, it’s a big part of Tim’s family’s story too; “It’s not too far from our house so it’s cool to sneak down there every now and again to see some of our favourite writers. The most interesting thing is that it was where Faith got her start, that’s the biggest thing about that place for our family, she was singing harmonies with Gary Burr and the head of Warner happened to be in there that night and wanted to know who the pretty background singer was that night and that’s how she got her start.” But last Wednesday night as part of the ACM Awards Tim took to the stage to perform the lead single off the record - I Called Mama, a song written by Marc Green, Lance Miller and Jimmy Yeary. This performance was particularly special with it being one of Tim’s first performances in months due to the shut down of the industry because of Covid 19.
I Called Mama is one of the songs that has taken on a greater meaning during this crisis; “That song grew in a different way for us because when we first recorded that song it was certainly about something hitting you hard in life and you go to who your back bone is in life and for most people that’s their Mama and as the World changed when we were mixing it, it became a much bigger thing, and who are the people in your life that you can lean on in these crazy times and more importantly who are the people who look at you as the rock they can lean on and can you be there for them?” Family has certainly been at the heart of everything Tim has done throughout his career and this record is a great example of that and of course this song in particular, his Mum was touched by the song; “My Mama’s given me a lot of advice want it or not and still does, I’m very close to her. She’s actually the art work cover for that single, that picture was taken in high school right before she found out about me so I kinda wrecked her Senior year. Then I sent her the song and she sent back a bunch of crying emoji’s so I knew better than to call her.”
And although the promotion of this record is an awful lot different to what it would have been in previous releases, it has given Tim time to spend and share this process with his family. The big album launch parties these stars are used to having were a thing of the past this year but for Tim he had a celebration that would be more treasured. “I had some things to do at the office, but the Vinyl had just come in that day, to the house and when I got back home Faith had set up a turntable and all these lights, had a meal made and got the kids together. It’s the first time we’ve put on one of our albums and listened to it all the way through, it may be the first time my kids have heard more than one of my songs at a time, ever, in their lives! So it was a fun night. I enjoyed it, and the kids did, we had a lot of fun dancing to it and just hanging out!”
The whole time we were talking, his wife and fellow Country singer Faith Hill came into the conversation a lot. It is clear he is truly inspired by her and their life together! “Hold You Tonight that’s a song that I look on from a different perspective, being married almost 24 years, being in our fifties, kids growing up and moving away, life changing as you get older. That’s what that song means to me.”
As many of the media remarked that evening, Here on Earth is a very varied record but Tim has not forgotten his roots as Chris Stevens from Chris Country radio remarked, there are certain tracks with a Glen Campbell vibe to them; “LA is one of my favourite records I’ve ever made, I just love the feel of it, the sound of it, I love the strings on it, it has a Glen Campbell vibe so I’m looking forward to playing it live.” However through his kids he is in touch with the younger generation and manages to appeal to them too, an explanation for which can be found in his varied taste in music. “I’m still living in the past when it comes to listening to music, 70’s music, old school Country that I grew up on. I love the Eagles, I’m a big Phil Collins fan, as far as the new stuff, I hear what’s on the radio and I listen to my contemporaries but if I’m riding in the car with one of my daughters I listen to whatever they listen to which is kinda cool because they grew up listening to what we listen to so last week we were headed across Country with my youngest daughter and we listened to Linda Ronstadt’s Spanish album for about three hours then we’ll listen to Adele or Merle Haggard, so we’re all over the place.”
The irony of recording a song about another artist is not lost on Mr McGraw, talking about the song Sheryl Crow he said “It’s kinda funny, Taylor had her Tim McGraw song and now I have a Sheryl Crow song, we just need Sheryl to do one about Taylor and the circle will be complete!” And from the grunge guitars on that song to re-mixing certain songs for the World changing around them, this record has been so carefully and intricately crafted. “Another thing we did with this record to give it a bit more depth was we recorded it analog and then transferred it over to digital later and I think it adds a little more weight and depth to the music.”
After five years though, and the World a completely different place to what it was when Tim began this process, despite all of Tim’s success there must have been an element of anxiety ahead of its release. “Every time you make a record, you’re confident with it because it’s your music and you did it the way you wanted to do it but you never know how people will accept it. It’s all fine when you’re working on it but when it comes time to finally let go of it there’s a lot of anxiety about it. For me, this record has so much heart and effort and thought that went into this album and you want it to translate.” And although Tim can’t tour the record right now we were left with the hint that the live show had too been thought about in just as much detail as the record itself; “Chevy Spaceship is another I’m excited about because of the visuals that would go along with it.” So with that in mind we’ll keep on spinning this record that is filled with heart, soul and variation and wait as patiently as we can for Tim to be able to get back over here putting on shows!
On a slightly unrelated note, this was my first virtual press conference and what a pleasure it was to see so many familiar faces! Normally we’d have seen a lot of each other at festivals from March to the end of September but all of those plans disappeared out the window due to the pandemic so it was wonderful to see so many of my colleagues looking well and still writing and presenting! The technical set up worked a treat with just a minor hiccup which Tim remarked “it gave me a chance to grab an animal cracker!” Even the World of music journalism and photography is adapting to the new normal and adapting well as far as I can see, so there is hope and positivity to be found! Thanks to all involved.