How would you describe the record right now?
“It’s got two surprises at the front and back. When you hear the first song, you’re gonna be like, ‘What the fuck were these guys smoking in the studio?’ [Laughs] And then at the end, you’ll be like, ‘Whatever it was, they’re still smoking it.’
“I went to Nashville four times last year and wrote with some really cool, soulful cats. I wanted to make a blues album of all-original material, and I needed lyrics, song structures. I wanted to work with some of the guys who write choruses – real songwriters. I got in with a bunch of different people, and the results were pretty great.
“I worked with a guy named James House. One of his biggest hits was A Broken Wing by Martina McBride. I couldn’t believe it when he sang it for me. I was like, ‘You wrote that? No wonder you have a nice house!’ [Laughs] I worked with Jeffrey Steele, who’s had more number ones than anybody. Gary Nicholson, Jonathan Caine from Journey… Jerry Flowers, who plays with Keith Urban – really cool cats. But I’m not looking for hits.”
You’re not? Why wouldn’t you want a hit song?
“I’m convinced that a hit song would be the death of me. The way the business works down in Nashville, it’s all about placements and hits, writing songs for Luke Bryan or whoever. It becomes very incestuous, and they all want to write songs about lifestyle – tailgating, girls in Daisy Dukes, beer koozies and bad food. And your Chevrolet – or, if you’re a Mopar man, a Dodge.
“That’s that world, and how can you argue with that? But truth be told, a guy like me comes along and says, ‘Hey, no pressure. Let’s just write something funky and cool,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, hey, I can do that.’”
You and Kevin Shirley have worked together steadily since 2006. Kind of like a marriage or any kind of long-term relationship, how do you keep things fresh?
“I think what really helps is that when I go on tour, it’s really my world. I arrange the tunes and put the sets together, by and large – except for maybe when we do DVDs. I manage the touring part of it, and Kevin doesn’t really say much about it. He trusts that I can do my thing out there. When we do the albums, he knows what he’s doing. He put some doo-wops on a shuffle yesterday, and I said, ‘What the hell is that gonna sound like?’ And he said, ‘Trust me, it’ll be fine.’ And I was like, ‘All right.’
“We’ve worked together for so long, I just know that he’s not going to take me down a path that I don’t want to go. We just have this trust between us – I have no idea why. You know, it always seems that between artist and management there’s always this combative relationship, which I don’t have. Roy is like a member of the family for 20 years – more. Kevin’s like a member of the family for almost a decade. You have a trust factor, and you get good people who have your best interests in mind. It’s kind of like what the Allman Brothers had with Tom Dowd.”