Before September 2012, Jason Aldean was a rather unassuming top-tier country star known for rousing pop country-rockers like the No. 1 singles “My Kinda Party” and “She’s Country.”
But when photographs of the married father of two kissing former Charlotte Bobcats cheerleader Brittany Kerr hit TMZ, his quiet personal life took a turn for the tabloids.
He divorced his wife in 2013 and last month went public with girlfriend Kerr, addressing detractors via an Instragram post that basically said fans don’t know the whole story. But the topic is not one he’s addressing directly on the upcoming tellingly titled album “Old Boots, New Dirt,” which hits retailers Oct. 7.
“I wasn’t looking for those (kinds of) songs,” he said. “Music was almost my way of getting away from all that stuff. With any artist, you’re going to have certain songs that appeal to you with whatever you may be going through, but it wasn’t something I tried to go out and overanalyze. Ultimately, I want great songs on my record.”
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The controversy hasn’t hurt sales. He played stadiums this summer and his new single “Burnin’ It Down” sits at No. 1 on the country charts.
The Burn It Down Tour – also featuring Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr – stops at PNC Music Pavilion on Friday.
The first track isn’t necessarily an indication of where the album goes, says Aldean. “Burnin’ It Down” echoes 2010’s “Dirt Road Anthem” in its nod to urban radio. While “Dirt Road” featured rapped verses, “Burnin’ ” coasts to a mid-tempo, programmed beat that would be at home on an R&B or hip-hop track.
“One thing about country music,” he said, “is that if you have any sort of instrumentation other than fiddle, acoustic guitar, and a banjo, people go ‘What is that?’ (In ‘Burnin’ It Down’) it’s a drum loop that’s been used in a ton of country and pop songs. …
“We don’t use a lot of loops or stuff like that. … There’s always been this core rock/country sound. That’s always going to be a part of our albums. … (But) for that first single, you want it to be something that’ll grab people’s attention and make them take notice that this is new stuff and it’s different than the last record.”
Aldean still relies on writers like Neil Thrasher and David Lee Murphy, but keeps an ear out for new blood.
“When we recorded ‘My Kinda Party’ and ‘Dirt Road Anthem’, no one knew who (writer) Brantley Gilbert was,” Aldean said. “When we cut ‘1994,’ nobody knew who (writer) Thomas Rhett was at the time. I like to think we helped them and they helped us. I like to see who’s new and who is bringing fresh ideas to the table.”
He won’t break too far out of the box, though.
“People that are used to buying one of my albums and having this sort of theme or attitude, that’s going to be there,” he adds.
Left to his own devices when not searching for hits, Aldean says he usually returns to artists like Alabama and George Strait, but credits his daughters with keeping him hip.
“I still love going back and listening to some of the country music I grew up on, but I’ve got two young kids (ages 7 and 11) that are more on the cutting edge about what is hot than I am,” he said. “Because of them, I am able to keep up with what’s on now. They’re turning me on to new music. I like to think I’m pretty well-rounded.”