Lonestar's Michael Britt: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
“Growing up, I liked rock, my mom listened to pop, and my dad was a country music fan," says Lonestar lead guitarist and backup vocalist Michael Britt. "On the way to school, I might hear Merle Haggard or Johnny Mathis or even Neil Sedaka – it kind of depended on who was driving."
And what about when he came home from school? "Well, that's when I'd put on a KISS record," Britt says with a laugh.
Although he's now widely regarded as one of country's premier players, Britt says that his style is based more on classic rock, metal and blues icons. "Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix, all the greats," he says. "Those were the guys who really inspired me. But because I came from such a rock place, I think it allowed me to sound a little different when I started playing country music."
Lonestar's just-released new album, Life As We Know It, is a spirited, winning affair, and as always, Britt's guitar playing, a crafty amalgam of widescreen hard rock riffs and solos backed by toothy, metallic textures, is a far cry from Hee-Haw-style pickin' and a-grinnin'. “The band thinks it’s pretty cool when I bring in new sounds and styles to our music," Britt says. "Even when it's based on something they might not listen to – like a Tom Morello-inspired sound, say – they appreciate the variety of what I put into our songs. It all comes from keeping your ears open to everything that's around. It doesn't have to start out country to become country."
On the following pages, Britt runs down his not-so-guilty pleasures, five albums that might not make it onto the CMT playlist, but one way or another, they could wind up influencing the music of Lonestar.
American Bang - American Bang (2010)
“American Bang might be kind of off the wall to most people. I’ve listened to these guys for a while now. I don’t think they’re even together anymore, but they’re really great. This record was produced by Bob Rock, and it’s basically AC/DC meets Southern rock.
“It’s such a cool combination – this singer with a Southern accent alongside a guitar sound that’s Angus Young. Jaren [Johnston] is such a gifted songwriter that he saves this from being ‘cheesy-bad’ rock songs.
“We would crank this album on the bus for a year to get us ready to do a show. It pumps you up. Funnily enough, when we were gearing up for our new album, we were looking for some songs. We found out that a girl who works in our management office was dating Jaren, and he wanted to pitch us some songs. Our song The Countdown is one of his. The guy's so talented. I think Keith Urban’s cut some of his songs, too.”
Big Wreck - Albatross (2012)
“Our soundman turned me on to this record. He’s a guitar player, too, and he said, ‘You’ve got to listen to some of the guitar stuff on this.’ I had never heard of the band, but when I put the album on, I was sold. From front to back, it’s killer.
“The lead singer is also doing all of the lead guitar playing, so he’s pretty talented. The record keeps me interested. Each song is very different, and there’s a variety of influences going on, although it's basically rock. The guy [Ian Thornley] sings his tail off, plays amazing guitar, and the songs are catchy. I’m a fan of great guitar playing, but if the songs are horrible, I just can’t listen. So this record has everything I could want.”
Fall Out Boy - Folie Deux (2008)
“I have their new album, but I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet. I wore this record out, though, purely from the mentality of a 16-year-old kid. It takes me back. It’s what I wanted to hear when I was a teenager.
“They’re a crafty bunch, Fall Out Boy. They steal everything that’s ever been done in rock music. Hooks, tricks, gags – if it isn’t nailed down, they take it. If it is nailed down, they'll still take it! [Laughs] Somehow, they make it all work, and they wind up sounding like themselves.
“There’s no guitar solos and nothing that I would call ‘great musicianship,’ but the band's spirit and smarts win me over. The hooks just don’t stop; just when you think you’ve heard it all and the tunes can’t go anywhere else, they throw more hooks at you.
“I don’t even know what the lyrics mean. I just put the CD on and enjoy it. There’s not a bad song on this record.”
Lianne La Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough? (2012)
“There’s a station In Nashville called Lightning 100 that plays a bunch of new music, the kinds of things you won’t hear on most mainstream pop stations. I heard this song of hers – it was quirky and groovy, a little bit pop, a little R&B, but with a coolness to it.
“As a singer and guitarist, I gravitate towards people who can do things so well. With Lianne, I thought to myself, ‘OK, this girl can probably just sit in a room with a guitar, sing me a song, and it’ll be beautiful.’ I looked her up on YouTube and saw her playing an old Silvertone guitar from the ‘60s through a little Roland amp. I’m such a gearhead, so that impressed me.
“Her voice has this bell-like, crystal quality to it, and her pitch control is amazing. Put that together with her songs, and it’s a pretty cool combination. There’s a song of hers called Forget – she goes from this really high note, just belting it out, and in a split-second she’s back to her soft, talking voice. A big, big talent.”
Pink - The Truth About Love (2012)
“I can’t quit listening to this album. It’s just so interesting. Pink managed to make a pop album with a rock edge, but it’s all so personal and candid. All of the lyrics really take you inside what she’s feeling.
“I realize that I’m not her target audience – I’m not a 16-year-old girl – but I really relate to all of the songs. They speak to everybody, because she’s really experiencing or has experienced what she’s talking about. The honesty in the lyrics is so profound and real.
“The record is extremely well produced. The music isn’t fluff at all; there’s some real meat here. As a musician, I have the ultimate respect for Pink. I saw her live, and I was amazed at the control she has over her voice. She’s always right on the mic, whether she’s running around or whatever. That’s not easy to do. I don’t hear a lot of pop artists with her depth and professionalism.”