It's all over but the weeklong hangovers, now that the CMA Festival is history. But there's plenty to look forward to, when it comes to the new albums that a lot of the participating superstars have in the works. Here's what we learned about some of them backstage at Nashville's LP Field, as the artists eagerly chatted up their new singles and/or works-in-progress:
Now it can be revealed: The producer on the Band Perry's sophomore album is none other than Rick Rubin—initially famous for the Beastie Boys and other hard-hitting recordings, but recently better known for gentler works with the Dixie Chicks, Josh Groban, and Neil Diamond.
"We're about halfway finished with our second album, which feels really good, to at least have the meat and potatoes under our belt," said Kimberly Perry. "The producer hunt for us was about a year-long process. We had been meeting and discussing and praying and doing pre-production and trying to decide what the best fit was. Kind of on a whim, we said, 'You know, Rick Rubin is a hero of ours. I'm sure he's way too busy to even take a meeting with the Band Perry.' But he did, and we got to hang out with him on a Thursday afternoon, and he called us back that evening and wanted to work together. I tell you what, he's been part therapist and part producer. He's been really, really wonderful in helping us through all the sophomore jitters."
In concert recently, TBP has been playing a new song called "Not Gonna Waste It," which was filmed by about 50,000 people at Stagecoach and put up on YouTube by almost as many. That's a pretty hard-rocking number. Indication of a direction to come?
"It's a piece of where we're going," qualified Reid Perry. "I think a thousand people start breaking out in a line dance, impromptu, whenever we play that." Added Kimberly, "It's got a really country melody with some rock & roll electric guitars, which in our opinion is the best combination."
No telling yet what the first single off the next album will be, since "Postcards from Paris" from the last one is still going strong, but expect a single this fall and the full collection in 2013.
Hill premiered two songs from her forthcoming album, both "full of energy," as part of her CMA Fest set: "Overrated" and "Illusion." It's been seven years since her previous studio album, so fans and industry types have been particularly curious about what she'll come back with... and when, if ever.
"I spent a great deal of time on this last record," Hill said. "An extraordinary amount of time!" she added, for emphasis and obviousness, laughing. "And for good reason, because I was really digging and searching and trying to redefine my own identity... It's just that, as an artist who has grown, and searching for a place that I can live for me creatively, it took me a really long time, and a lot of people put in many hours and heart and sweat and tears. I'm very excited... I don't really mean necessarily redefining my identity. I meant that as a personal exploration, not something where I'm going to reinvent myself for my fans."
Any hints about the direction? "I came from the church, and I am a soul singer," she said. "And I have tried for so many years to figure out how to mesh the two together—my love of country music, which has been my backbone and what I was raised with, [and being] a soul singer. So to bring those two worlds together in a way that is authentic and is true, to me, that's the most important thing. I want to have a good time and I want my music to be truthful and I want it to be from me and honest, and I feel like I've accomplished that."
One of the highlights of Wednesday night's CMT Awards was the Zac Brown Band's performance of their new single, "The Wind," which they of course reprised when they headlined the CMA Festival two nights later.
"It's a barnburning song," said Brown, "a fast one that gets to showcase everybody's musicianship in the band, very quickly—it's a real fast and short song... I think it's the most country thing that's been on the radio in a long time. To me it sounds that way. It's got a little bt of bluegrass and picking and everything in it, but there's a still a great song buried in that speedy a tune. I dig it... It's a great song for somebody like me that has ADD."
The full album, Uncaged, hits July 10.
Paisley spent a fair amount of time talking up his album-in-progress with the press backstage at LP Field. Then when his label head at Sony Nashville, Gary Overton, came out to present him with an award, Paisley said, "He hasn't heard a note of this, by the way." Turning to Overton, he quipped, "It's a reggae album. You're gonna love it."
But it's nowhere near ready for hearing. Paisley has a lot more playing around to do in his new studio, which happens to be a log cabin on his property that till recently was the family's guest home.
"As of late this week, I am buting at the seams for people to hear it," Paisley declared. "I finally am at that point. This is a different process for me. The way Nashville records are done normally is, artists will use some combination of studio musicians and band members, go to a studio, use a couple really talented mix engineers, and quickly do a record... In my case, this time I felt like I really needed to shake it up. So what we've done is take my guest house on my farm, and I went out there and looked at it and said, 'Okay, how quickly can we make this a studio?' Within two weeks we'd cut the first song... I'm there till 2 a.m., get back up with the kids in the morning and go straight back down there to work… I didn't know what it'd sound like. And I canot believe what I've come up with already. I'm really floored by it. I think it's because there really aren't the same pressures when you own the place you're recording in. When you don't own it, you're at the mercy of the time you're paying for, so you better have your ducks in a row before you get in there. In my case, we get to go in there and act like idiots. And sometimes that pays big dividends and sometimes it doesn't, but luckily, it doesn't cost anything. So I'm really happy with it now we're getting somewhere."
Boogie on, reggae Paisley!