Q&A: Kenny Chesney

Oct 18, 2010 6:59 PM, By Barbara Schultz


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photo of Kenny Chesney

Kenny Chesney

Kenny Chesney’s latest rock-infused country album debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200 chart. Again. Hemingway’s Whiskey (BNA Records) is his sixth full-length to enter the charts at the top, but Chesney doesn’t take success for granted. In fact, he says he and his producer, Buddy Cannon, worked harder and longer on this release than on anything else he’s recorded. Mix had the opportunity to ask Chesney about his work in the studio.

Mix’s former Nashville editor Peter Cooper reported in The Tennessean that you actually ripped this record up and re-recorded most of it. What happened?
Well, I had a perfect-case scenario in my head when I was on the road last year. When I got off the road, I wanted to be completely done. In my head, I decided that when I got off the road in 2009, I was going to be done with my record, done with my tour, and I was going to take 2010 off.

Awesome plan.
Yeah. So I made a record, I mixed it, sequenced it, everything. I got a CD of all 12 songs, put it in my car and realized that I didn’t have the record that I wanted to make. The record sounded good, but the songs were… They were just songs. They wouldn’t have moved anybody, in my opinion.

Was that because of the songs themselves, or the way they’d been produced?
It was just the depth of the songs. The overall feeling of the record wasn’t what I felt like I needed to make, and it was frustrating for me because I wanted my record to be done, but it wasn’t.

So, called Buddy Cannon, my producer, on my way home. I’d just left the studio with this music that we’d been working on and mixing for a month, and I told him that we only had four songs.

How’d he take that?
[Laughs.] He took it okay I guess. I told him I realized I’d made the record in a tired state, and that’s not how I wanted this record to be.

Which four of the songs on the album are from the original sessions?
“Seven Days,” “The Boys of Fall,” “Live a Little” and... wait, there are only three actually. There was another song I was thinking of that we recorded that didn’t make the record.

So, we had to go to work again. I wrote “Reality” after that, and I was able to make this record pulling back from everything and not being on this cycle that we get so used being on of making records and touring. I had been going on the road on Thursday, Friday, Saturday night, coming home on Sunday, being in the studio Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. When we started over and made Hemingway’s Whiskey, I was off the road. Buddy and I were able too really dig in and work with the songs, work with the musicians and talk about the music and what it meant. It gave us a chance to sonically spend time on it. I think we spent more time mixing this record than any record ever, and I wasn’t doing it after flying in from somewhere. I had not really had that luxury since we made the No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problems album.

So you had to plan a vacation to carve out time to work this way.
Yeah. [Laughs] And in doing that, I became more creative in the studio than I’d ever been, and I’m really proud of the record we made now. I just felt that the fans and I have invested so much together, and the record I initially made wasn’t protecting that investment.

Is that a goal that you have in your mind when you’re making a record—keeping that trust with your fans?
I think it’s important, but I think the reason that I’m most proud of this record is I think there’s a lot of what people expect, but there’s also a lot that’s unexpected.

What studios did you work in when you went back to the drawing board?
We mixed all of it in Blackbird with Justin Niebank. There were overdubs done in sporadic places, too, but the majority of what we did was done there and at Sound Emporium.

In general, how do you find material and start a new record?
Buddy and I have been working together a long time, and Buddy has great song sense. He’s a great songwriter himself, and he has soaked up a lot of song sense throughout the years in this town. I trust him a lot: He’s honest with me, and I’m honest with him, and both of us are always looking [for songs to record]. He’ll send me something here and there, and I’ll do the same, but I just think that for this record I cut a few songs early on that I had no business recording. I didn’t have “You and Tequila” on that first record, I didn’t have “Somewhere With You.” I didn’t have all these different little characters and chapters and twists and turns.

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