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Wednesday, 22 May 2013 00:00

A lil’ bit country, a lil’ bit rock-n-roll

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art frAaron Lewis has always seemed to be on the outside.

Founder and lead singer of hard rock group Staind, Lewis found great success during the last decade with his soulful, heart-wrenching lyrics soaked in razor-sharp guitar chords. Yet, whenever someone tried to categorize the sound, it never seemed to fit anywhere — too hard for mainstream listeners, too mainstream for rock elitists. And thus lies the constant state of affairs for Lewis. 

 

But, it doesn’t phase his intent. Lewis has always written and played the music he felt comfortable with during any phase of his career. It’s about being true to yourself, and not getting up onstage and pretending to be something you don’t recognize in the mirror.

In recent years, Lewis has wandered into the storied realm of country music. Growing up in rural Vermont, he found himself immersed by the mystical woods of the Green Mountains. As he moved along in his rock-n-roll endeavors, those ideals of living a just, peaceful life bubbled up within his songs. During his downtime from Staind, he began piecing together what would become his debut solo album, “Town Line,” which was released in 2011 to many raised eyebrows in the music industry.

And with his critically acclaimed follow-up record, last fall’s “The Road,” Lewis keeps pushing the boundaries of his own creativity. For him, it doesn’t matter if people are apprehensive to his music, what matters most is that the melodies are pure and come from an honest place within his soul. 

Catching up with The Smoky Mountain News while on a beach in Key West, Fla., Lewis is gearing up for his upcoming tour. While his life straddles the line between rock and county music, at the end of the day it has been, and always will be, about a man simply sitting down with his acoustic guitar and letting the words flow.

Smoky Mountain News: They say the older you get, the more you drift back to the music of your youth. What was country music’s role in your childhood?

Aaron Lewis: It was the majority of the music that I heard. While we lived in Vermont the first eight years of my life, my grandfather was pretty much my babysitter. He was a die-hard fan of early country music. It was on from when we got up in the morning until we went to bed at night. It was the music of my childhood.

SMN: What is it about that music that appeals to you?

AL: It’s got heart. There’s a lot of emotion to it; it tells a story.

SMN: There seems to be a lot of similarities in your approach to rock as in country, where it’s just you and your acoustic guitar.

AL: Yeah, that’s right. It’s on an acoustic guitar, and that’s where 99 percent of what I do starts from. I’m not trying to invent the wheel, you know? I’m just doing what I’ve always done, but just am coloring it differently in doing country.

SMN: What’s the process? Lyrics first or melody?

AL: It just comes natural to me. During sound check, I’ll just start jamming, next thing you know the band kicks in, next thing you know lyrics start coming out. I wish I could say I feel like it’s harder, but it’s not difficult for me when the creative juices are flowing.

SMN: How are you able to function in a modern music industry where you aim to remain successful, but consumers aren’t buying records anymore and selling a million albums is a rarity?

AL: It’s a conundrum. It’s something that we all have to deal with. I think it’s probably a little bit easier for a band like Staind that has had that opportunity to sell all of those records and get exposed to all those people. 

For new and up-and-comers, you really need every last thing to line up perfectly. Just as an example, my hit “Country Boy,” millions of people have listened to it on YouTube, but mainstream radio won’t play it. I can’t say [that social media] has been hurtful to the success.

SMN: How do you stay relevant in the spotlight?

AL: Never being any sort of fad. Just writing good music, where at the end of a day recording you feel good about it. I’m very lucky for the fan base I have.

SMN: What’s it been like to be in country circles compared to rock circles?

AL: Ah hell, I fit better in here than I did in there. But, I haven’t been allowed in to the point where I am opening for large tours or big artists. I’m still the guy that can sell a few thousands tickets for a show. The country industry still really hasn’t acknowledged my existence. I just fit into the whole thing. I live out in the sticks where I have chickens, goats and a garden. I hunt; I fish, and I grew up doing that, trapping with my grandfather. I’m more country than most in the country industry. 

SMN: Well, it’s what you’ve always done, which is you’re going to do what you’re going to do.

AL: Creatively, I’m going to do what I’m going to do. The last Staind record took six months to do, where my last solo record literally took 30 hours from the start of recording to the whole thing being done. I found myself in the studio with Staind coming up with lyrics for a country song. I wrote all those Staind songs on an acoustic guitar, just like I did with my country songs. One is on one end of the musical spectrum, and one is on the other.

SMN: Do you feel you’re where you’re supposed to be creatively?

AL: Yes, I do. I’m doing a whole bunch of touring and then hopefully head back into the studio for my next album. Then, head back into the studio for the next Staind record. I’m in a comfortable environment right now, and I consider myself pretty lucky.

 

Want to go?

Country/rock star Aaron Lewis will be performing at 9 p.m. Friday, May 24, at Harrah’s Cherokee Event Center. Tickets are $25 per person. The show is age 21 and older. 

www.harrahcherokee.com or www.aaronlewismusic.com.

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