Jason Aldean will tell you straight: He's not the most public guy. But over the course of a morning at his Tennessee home, the ACM Entertainer of the Year, who released his latest album They Don't Know in September, will begin to open up. He'll show you around the barn on the far end of his property, where an archivist is currently sorting through Aldean's stuff for a special project. In storage: a Donkey Kong arcade game, a new deer feeder and piles of clothes and photographs.
For Aldean, the past can be just as important as the future. Over coffee and Coca-Cola, he candidly recalls the beginnings of his recording career, how he first met Brantley Gilbert and why a 2013 concert ranks as his greatest live-show moment. Here are 10 things we learned from hanging out with the "Any Ol' Barstool" singer.
1. Broken Bow Records almost didn't sign him.
The Nashville label, Aldean's home since his 2005 debut, didn't have room for another artist. "Jon Loba [executive VP at Broken Bow] came out and saw my show [at Nashville's Wildhorse Saloon.]. And on the way there he was telling Benny Brown, the head of the label, 'We don't need any more artists! We need to work with the ones we have.' He was trying to convince Benny not to sign anyone else. But after the show, Benny came back and told me he wanted me on the label."
2. He lost his very first record deal, with Capitol Records.
"They signed me and Cyndi Thomson and Cyndi made an album and had a few hits. I never recorded one song while I was there. I just sat there, and at some point, being a 22-year-old kid, I was over sitting around and [them] not letting me record anything. I started asking a bunch of questions and let them know I wasn't happy with the way it was going. Then they had a change of the label head and I got dropped."
3. Two songs from his 2010 smash My Kinda Party are almost always in his set list: "Tattoos on This Town" and "Flyover States."
"'Tattoos' is still one of my favorite songs to sing live, and 'Flyover States' was almost on the Wide Open record. It came in late and we had the record done and didn't have a spot for it. We ended up not cutting it and cut it for [My Kinda Party]," says Aldean, who enjoys watching the crowd pop when he begins the Middle America anthem. "That song gets as big of a reaction as anything we play."
4. Brantley Gilbert's fans once accused Aldean of stealing "Dirt Road Anthem" and "My Kinda Party," both of which Gilbert co-wrote.
"When I heard 'Dirt Road Anthem,' I didn't even know who Brantley was. The first time I ever met Brantley was when we were in the studio recording his songs. He came by to hear them and he had just moved to town. He didn't even have a record deal yet. When that album came out, a lot of his fans were like, 'You're stealing Brantley's song!' It's funny now. He went on Twitter or something and was like, 'Hey, everybody, chill out.'"
Aldean and Gilbert have since become good friends. "I just saw him; he had shown me his house he just built. I said, 'How long did you have that?' He said, 'I built it about the time "Dirt Road Anthem" became a hit.' So it worked out pretty good."
5. Florida Georgia Line gave him one of his biggest hits, much to his surprise.
"Those guys were out on tour with me and played me 'Burnin' It Down.' I was stunned that they weren't cutting it. I said, 'Put it on hold for me' and I called [my producer] and was like, 'Check this shit out,'" says Aldean, who also cut FGL's "Lights Come On" for his latest album They Don't Know. "Burnin' It Down," meanwhile, has since been certified double platinum.
6. While he never bought his mom a pink Cadillac, he does admit to occasionally spoiling his parents.
"I don't want to get too much into that, because I don't want one going, 'You did that?' [Laughs] But I've definitely tried to take care of them over the years and do things for them. I'm very fortunate in what I've done and what I have and I wouldn't be here without them supporting decisions I made, like not to go to college and pursue music."
7. Aldean swears there's no wild parties after his shows.
"There's not really an after-party. We finish the show and go back with the guys in the band and hang out in our dressing room backstage. That's our time. During the course of the day, everybody is doing their own thing. Then we go do the show and come back. It's not like it used to be where you were pouring liquor down [your throat]!"
8. Aldean's 2013 concert at University of Georgia's Sanford Stadium, home of the Georgia Bulldogs, is his favorite concert he's ever played.
"Just being from there and that being my team, there were a lot of cool things about that night. It was a show that I played for my home crowd. It was for all the people that, when I left Macon to come to Nashville, would call me and ask, 'What's going on?' And I'd say, 'Well, I got dropped from my deal.' So to come back and have them see it on that level, it was a wow moment. It was the first and only concert to be held at that stadium. I don't know if we'll ever play another show like that – and I don't know that I want to."
9. He is baffled by the existence of TMZ.
"You have a news channel and a website that is devoted 24/7 to celebrities and stuff they do. I don't get that, man, and I don't pay attention. I will never understand why people are so interested in people's personal sides. No offense, but whatever is going on in your personal life, that's your business. It don't have anything to do with me."
10. He knows when to pick himself up and carry on.
"I don't sit there and overthink things to death. I'm human. I make mistakes. But I don't dwell on it. I'll make a mistake and go, 'That sucked – I probably shouldn't do that again,' and then I don't do that again. And if you ask me a question, I'm going to answer it. It may not be the most politically correct thing to say, but I'll tell you what I think."