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Tate Stevens Talks New Album, L.A. Reid, and REO Speedwagon-Style Country

Our Country

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Tate Stevens (Photo: Mike Moore)

If forced to say one single thing about Season 2 "X Factor" winner Tate Stevens, it would have to be that he's certainly an efficient guy. While his predecessor champion on the reality show, Melanie Amaro, has yet to release a full-length album, Stevens blew through the process of creating a complete release in an extraordinarily short amount of time.

Just how short? Well, you'll have to read our exclusive interview with him to find out the amazing details. At any rate, the resulting self-titled debut hit stores right on schedule April 23--and what's more, Stevens couldn't be happier about how it all turned out. "I'm super proud of this thing," he said excitedly, no less than half a dozen times during our conversation.

Stevens, who attracted attention on the "X Factor" first for his mentor (the decidedly un-country L.A. Reid) and then for his consistent strong showing week after week, is quick to remind everyone that he's "just a normal guy" who was urged into competition by his family. But although the 38-year-old definitely comes across as a down-to-earth type, his short time in the celeb spotlight has already produced a remarkably polished, confident attitude. The same goes for his new record, which deftly combines a variety of sounds Stevens appreciates, but still remains solidly country.

Our Country: Tell us about the making of this album. You won the show in late December, and had a single out shortly after. In fact, you basically finished your album in a few weeks, right? Wasn't that incredibly stressful?

Tate Stevens: There was a lot of pressure. I got to Nashville January 3rd, and was doing two to three song writes a day. And listening to about 400-500 songs. Just trying to get good stuff for the album--we had a deadline, and had to be done by the middle of February, with the whole thing.

So basically you had one month to do song selections, and get it all together.

It was really like a couple weeks. It took like two weeks to do the whole thing.

So, did you sleep?!

Sheeeeyeah (laughs). Even though--it was a great experience for me, just because I got to write a lot. I have three songs on the album that I co-wrote. The whole process was quick, but I'm super proud of this thing.

I know that songwriting was a very important element for you. I believe you mentioned you hoped to write half of the songs on the album...

I wanted to try. But you know what, there's so many great writers--and I'm not one of them. Just having three that I co-wrote is big for me. But maybe on the next one we'll see. We'll see how the next one goes.

Can you talk about some of the songs on the record that stand out in particular to you?

One of the songs I wrote...Joe Diffie is my favorite singer--and has been since the first time I heard him--and he was gracious enough to sit in a room and write with me. And we have a song called "I Got This." It's a lot of fun. He was nice enough to take the time, and we turned out a good tune. I'm really proud of it, because he's my hero. It's just one of those things--you don't get a lot of chances like that. And, I wrote a song with David Lee Murphy--this song didn't make the album, but another guy that I've loved his music for a long time. He's another one of those guys who was nice enough to sit down and write with me.

I imagine you had a tremendous number of songs presented to you. How did you narrow things down?

This album, we were looking for songs that fit my personality--I'm fun, goofy--but I just wanted to make sure there was meaning on the album, whether I wrote the song or not. We got it, we did really well. I wanted to be country--it had to be country.

That said, you're a big fan of rock as well. Did you bring some of that to the album?

I think you'll hear some things on there, because of where country music is going. The Jason Aldeans, the Brantley Gilberts--they're bringing that rock element to country music. It broadens the whole thing, which is awesome. So you'll hear some guitar tones and sounds that are like that '80s rock--late '70s, '80s, the Journeys, the Foreigners, that kind of REO Speedwagon sound. I love that stuff.

But still solidly country.

There's all kind of influences. Merle Haggard influences, rock influences.

I'm sure many of your fans will want to know if L.A. Reid was involved with the album.

L.A. really didn't have any involvement in this project, just because he's so busy doing his other thing--you know, running Epic, that little label (laughs). But he's a friend and a great guy, and we still talk from time to time. He checks in and he knows what's going on. It's kind of funny because on the show, he said "I know very little about country music, but I know great music. So that's how we're going to run with this thing." He's a really good guy.

If you had the chance to work with one of his artists, which one would you choose?

I don't know if she's still one of his artists--but I think Mariah [Carey]would be amazing to work with, because she's so awesome.

You just wouldn't want her judging you on "Idol"!

Nah, that'd be fine! (Laughs)

How do you feel about the proliferation of country artists making waves on reality shows these days? Is it any sort of indication on where the genre stands these days?

I don't think its where country's going. I think it's just a platform for people to get themselves out there. I would have never done the X Factor. It was something I would never have done. I'm not a reality guy, I'm the most normal everyday person you can find. But my wife and kids pushed me into it. They were the ones who said "You gotta try." I fought them and fought them. Finally my wife said, "It's too bad. We've already signed you up, and you have to be there on this day." She went and stood in line with me. But I just really think those shows are a platform to put somebody who hasn't had the chance or didn't know how to go about it--it gives them a platform to take off.

How do you feel about the increased popularity of country music in general?

It's huge. I'm such a fan of country music and have been forever. It's that thing that it's so big now. Before, your demographic was small. Now it doesn't matter where you live or where you're from--country is everywhere. It's very cool. I think you're going to see a lot more country artists coming from those shows.

I'm sure you've received some criticism for appearing on a reality show. Does that bother you?

No it doesn't bother me at all. Criticism...whoever wants to say it--it's their opinion, and everyone has one, and that's great. God bless 'em for it. I don't even pay attention to it.

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