Jason Aldean (Photo: Sara Kauss)One has to hand it to Jason Aldean: He's certainly doing something right in the past seven years he's been putting out albums. It's laudable enough for any artist to merely enjoy a steadily upward career climb over the better part of a decade--as he has on his record--but in the past two years alone, Aldean has achieved a string of rapid-fire accolades that have pushed him from "country artist doing pretty well" to "bona fide superstar."
Embarking on a headlining tour, delivering a crossover hit to radio ("Don't You Wanna Stay" with Kelly Clarkson), scooping up the coveted Album of the Year honor from the Country Music Association Awards, and notching a Grammy nomination? Yeah, I'd say that's anyone's "Kind Of Party."
Of course, Aldean did hit a bump in the road just two weeks prior to the release of his fifth album, Night Train. We all know the details: Partying in Hollywood, getting friendly with a former American Idol contestant who was decidedly not his wife of 11 years. Aldean's response? 'Fess up, admit he was wrong, and move on. Immediately.
The results of this decision spoke immediately, as well, proving that there's nothing about to stop Aldean's train. The entire incident was shelved with remarkably little chatter (no small feat in a fan pool that still hasn't forgiven, say, LeAnn Rimes for infidelity). Night Train debuted on the top of the all-genre Billboard 200 chart--the second highest debut of 2012 overall, and the biggest-selling country debut since 2010. If that weren't enough, he also debuted a trio of historic stadium shows for an upcoming accompanying tour. Aldean will be facing the Country Music Association Awards in one week, where he's up for the ultimate Entertainer of the Year prize. Suffice to say, his chances don't appear tarnished at all.
Aldean has the same calm and straightforward demeanor in person that he displayed during his more difficult moments earlier this month--and throughout the demands of a career that's taken off on a rocket-fast pace in the past 24 months. He credits his initial moderate pace of progression with being able to stay levelheaded. "I think the way my career's kind of gone since 2005--where it was kind of a slow, steady climb to this point--has kind of allowed me to have time to adjust to fame and all the stuff that goes along with that," he explains.
He admits that it has been challenging at times trying to maintain a normal family life in the midst of his onslaught of success. "My two daughters were born right in the middle of it," he notes. "You have to figure out ways to make it work and it's not always easy. There's a lot of time being away from home and you miss out on a lot of things that most parents probably don't miss out on."
Still, he is practical about the matter, acknowledging that it's the lifestyle he's chosen, and one that allows him to provide many advantages to his family. "I think you just got to do the best you can with it, just like any family," he says. "Figure out what it is that works best for you, and just build on that."
Aldean's consistently steady grip on things has also allowed him to experiment within his chosen genre, notably dueting with superstars out of the country box such as Clarkson and Ludacris (who he collaborated with on the single "Dirt Road Anthem"). He's received some criticism for this, but for the most part, has managed to only widen his audience as a result. "I think as an artist all you can really do is go cut records that you feel represent what it is you do and things that you feel are you," he stresses. "And I think everything else is going to kind of take care of itself."
"In this business--and in a lot of other businesses--you're going to have critics," he continues. "And you're going to have fans that are more traditional country fans and people that aren't really open-minded to new sounds. I learned a long time ago that you're not going to please everybody out there...I'm playing for the people that actually dig what I do."
Whether country traditionalists like his sound or not, one thing Aldean is very proud of is his ability to stand out in the country genre. "If every artist sounded the same it would be boring. Radio would be boring," he stresses. "That's what makes music interesting to me, is that every artist kind of brings their own style and their own flavor to what it is that they do."
He's followed this philosophy of "keeping it interesting" with each album, changing things up just enough to keep fans guessing as to what's next. "I think it's important to keep the core of the record familiar to everybody that has kind of come to expect a certain thing from us, but I also think it's cool to go out and kind of travel down different roads every now and then. With every album, you try to do things that maybe you haven't done before."
To that end, he points to a few highlights on Night Train, including a collaboration with fellow notables Luke Bryan and Eric Church, "The Only Way I Know"; as well as "1994"--a song that manages to both pay homage to '90s country star Joe Diffie and impart a bit of hip-hop flavor.
Quite the combo? "Go figure," smiles Aldean, who follows this with a little story about a street festival in his hometown: "Joe Diffie was playing one stage and Kenny Chesney was playing another stage," he relates. "There was about 7,000 people watching Joe Diffie and about 200 watching Kenny Chesney, so that kind of puts it in perspective for how big of an artist he was at the time."
Now that he's easily himself outpaced Diffie--in fact, is now in Chesney's league--Aldean mostly has one hope left for 2012. He's not overly concerned with expectations for Night Train after the success of My Kind of Party ("I'm not really one to kind of put that on myself," he explains), but he does have an aspiration he's longing to grasp. He wants to win the CMA Entertainer of the Year award.
"If I win CMA Entertainer of the Year, I hope I don't have a show the next day, that's all I can say. I hope I don't have anything going on the next day 'cause it's going to be a very long night," he says candidly. "If I never won anything, if I never won another award or have never won one in the past and I could pick one to win, that's the one that I would want."
Does he have a shot? Well, what do you all think? All aboard.