From the sound of A-T endorser Jason Aldean’s debut album, you’d be excused for thinking stardom came easy for this Georgia native. But on his way to “Hicktown,” “Why,” and “Amarillo Sky,” Aldean experienced a truckload of disappointments; he was ready to give up on Nashville when his luck turned one night.
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From the sound of A-T endorser Jason Aldean’s debut album, you’d be excused for thinking stardom came easy for this Georgia native. But on his way to “Hicktown,” “Why,” and “Amarillo Sky,” Aldean experienced a truckload of disappointments; he was ready to give up on Nashville when his luck turned one night. We talked on the phone mid-summer; here’s what he had to say.
A-T: I understand your dad played guitar and sang. Did he teach you how to play guitar? Did your parents encourage your musical interests?
Jason Aldean: My dad started teaching me how to play guitar when I was 13 years old. When he’d go to work, he’d map out guitar cords on a piece of notebook paper. I’d sit down and look at it every day and practice while he was gone. He’d get his guitar and play with me when he’d get home. Within a year I had learned enough to teach my dad some things. My dad encouraged anything I wanted to do, especially music. Actually he drove me around to places where I could play.
I only took about five guitar lessons in my life from an actual teacher. I learned fast that that wasn’t for me. I didn’t have the attention span to learn that way. So I learned the basics from my dad, then just from playing on stage, and watching other guitar players.
Can you describe your first performance? How old were you? Do you remember what song(s) you performed? Were you hooked on performing from that point on?
My first performance was actually at a VFW Hall in Georgia. They had a little house band—my aunt knew someone in the band and asked if I could sing a couple songs with them. I was 14 years old, and there were probably about 10 people in the audience. I sang Silver Wings, by Merle Haggard and Seminole Wind by John Anderson. I was hooked on performing after that night. Hearing people clapping draws you in pretty quick. It’s like bungee cord jumping—it’s a rush; you just want to do it again.
I went back a couple times with those guys. And then I started playing talent contests. By time I was 15, I had a house gig in Macon—I played that through high school, and then I put a band together and went out on the road for a few years.
You were ready to quit the music business before you got your big break. Can you tell about that experience?
I had been in Nashville for 5 1/2 years. Like a lot of aspiring singers, I had gone through all the ups and downs associated with the business—and things were not looking good for awhile. When I moved to Nashville I was 21, and I’d started playing in clubs at 14. So there were 7 years before Nashville, and another 6 years in Nashville before I got my record deal. It was a rollercoaster—up and down.
It started really good. I moved to Nashville in November of 1988, and got offered a record deal in December. But that fell through, and I ended up playing about a million more showcases. Six years later I landed the record deal I have now.
Did you keep believing in yourself during that period?
I tried to. But at the end, after five and a half years, it was rough. During that time I’d gotten married and had a daughter. I didn’t have a record deal and things weren’t going very well. I had no idea what I was going to do—I’d been playing music since I was 14 and didn’t really know how to do anything else. I was thinking of going back to Georgia. There’s no telling what I would have ended up doing—working at WallMart or Home Depot.
That last night, I was out playing a show in Nashville for a record label, and they called 5 minutes before I went on stage saying they couldn’t make it to the show. I went on anyway. After the show, I met a guy who wanted to work with me. I told him if he could get me a record deal I’d let him manage me. Five weeks later I had a record deal and a new manager. That was when it started taking off.
Any advice for performers who are just starting out?
Know who you are, and what you want to sing about. Don’t let anybody persuade you otherwise.
I had an earlier record deal. I was there on this label for about a year before it fell through. They basically tried to make me look like a Back Street Boy, and that was not right for me. That’s why I say it’s so important to know who you are and don’t change it for anybody. If they ask you to change your shirt, that’s one thing. If they want you to put on a dress and wear combat boots—that’s another.
Any hobbies outside of music?
I’m into sports…the Altlanta Braves, the Georgia Bulldogs are two that I follow the most.
You must be traveling a lot at this point.
We’re doing over 200 shows this year—and that’s just shows, that’s not days on the road. We’re definitely gone a lot, but at this point early in your career you have to do that to get started.
Do you have a favorite song you perform?
Hicktown. It’s the first single off the album; it’s the one that people are waiting for when they come to the concert. It gets a huge reaction—it’s probably my favorite.
What musicians have influenced you?
Alabama, Tracy Lawrence, John Anderson, and George Strait.
Which songs on your album did you write?
You’re the Love I Want to Be In. She Loved Me. Even if I Wanted To. The best ideas and inspiration come from real life experiences.
What part does Audio-Technica play in getting your sound across?
It’s easy to go out and play every night when you know the equipment you are using sounds great and is always reliable.
Comments from Jason Aldean’s Front of House Engineer and Production Manager Chris Torri:
“These are absolutely the best mixes of my life, and the only thing that’s changed is the microphones.”
“The AEW-T5400 on Jason’s vocals is so clean it’s in your face. It gives you all the body you want without overemphasizing any of the high end. I couldn’t be happier. Audio-Technica has the best customer service, and the product is unbelievable.”
A-T microphones on tour with Jason Aldean
4000 Series Frequency-agile true diversity UHF wireless system with the AEW-T5400 handheld transmitter—Jason Aldean (lead vocals)
AE4100 Cardioid dynamic microphone—backup vocals
AT4047 Cardiod condenser microphone and AT4050 Large-diaphragm multi-pattern condenser microphone—guitar rigs
AT4033 Cardioid condenser microphone—bass, hi hat
AE2500 Dual-element cardioid kick-drum microphone—kick-drum
ATM23 Hypercardioid dynamic instrument microphone—rack tom, top and bottom snare
ATM25 Hypercardioid dynamic instrument microphone—floor tom
PRO 37 Small-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone—overhead, ride
4000 Series Frequency-agile true diversity UHF wireless system with UniPak™ transmitters—all guitar and bass