Before hitting No. 1 on the Billboard country charts with “Wherever You Are” in 2005, Jack Ingram had been touring clubs as a modestly successful singer-songwriter for years.
Since then, he's muscled his way into the mainstream with carefully calculated song choices – including a popular remake of “Lips of an Angel” (originally recorded by rock band Hinder) – and by nabbing CMT and Academy of Country Music awards in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
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The 37-year-old Ingram, who performs tonight at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in support of Martina McBride, spoke to the Observer last week about his recent breakthroughs.
Q. What made the difference in your career?
I was always striving to achieve this level of mainstream success that I knew my music could appeal to. … In the early part of my career I don't think I was very clear with my labels. I told them I wanted to keep my integrity and make records that I loved, but I forgot to tell them I wanted to be a country star.
Q. Did you compromise?
I don't think I had to make too many compromises. I figured out what was important to me in the music that I wouldn't change.
Q. How did the “Lips of an Angel” thing come about?
“Lips” is a great song. I thought that song was very now. As that song was sweeping the nation, I thought I could do a version of that that could kill country-wise.
Q. Have you gotten any response from Hinder?
I don't think they were extremely excited at first. First off, they're 22. For them to admit they like country is kind of a stretch. After the fact, though, they came to a show in Oklahoma.
Q. Is it harder for you to sing songs you didn't write?
When I sing my songs, it automatically transports me from where I am to that moment. When I sing someone else's song, I do have to work at it. (I just try to) make the right choice in the songs I record. I'm learning that as I go.
Q. How did you feel at first about recording other people's songs?
I'm at a point where the best song wins as far as what I want to record. What's going to get the best shot of getting played on the radio?
Q. Do any of your songwriter friends hope to follow you down this path?
Some of them do. Some of them don't know they do. A lot of it has to do with what you allow yourself to dream. For me, it's an exercise in getting where I want to go and building some steam so I can get my songs heard. So I can tell my story.