There's been a big void in George Strait's life over the past year, and it has nothing to do with his decision to retire from touring. Rather, he'd just like to see his name on the country charts again.
Luckily for the King of Country Music, his chart absence is bound to be over in a matter of days. On Tuesday, he announced that he is releasing a new album, Cold Beer Conversation on September 25th.
"I wish they would have released it months ago, because I look at the charts and I don't see me in there!" he jokes with Rolling Stone Country. "I hate this. . . I'm used to seeing it in there."
We sat down with the country music icon on Tuesday at Las Vegas' MGM Grand to speak about his two big announcements: the new album and his return to the stage (not to be confused with a return to touring) at the brand-new Las Vegas Arena, in April 2016. He'll play again in September 2016.
"I always said I'm not going to retire," he insists, "I'm just not going to have any structured touring. But people didn't really hear any of that."
While Strait reports that he has no regrets about his decision to stop touring, he is "getting a little antsy to play some music," he says. Other than television broadcasts such as this past April's ACM Awards in Dallas, the singer and his band haven't worked much together in the past year. So he's not only anxious about reuniting with his fans, but also with his band.
The task at hand now is working up the new Cold Beer Conversation songs to play live. Strait believes the new LP is the best thing he's ever released. Then again, he has said the same of a lot of the 30-something albums in his unparalleled catalog.
"I'm not trying to do anything that I'm not comfortable with. I am who I am and I do this kind of music, and I've tried to make good records my whole career. I've tried to make each better than the last one, and that's the way you have to look at it," he says. "That's the only way you can get inspired. If I say I'm going to try to find a song like 'Amarillo By Morning' and duplicate it on this record, that's boring. Even though I love 'Amarillo By Morning,' you have to find new things to make it sound fresh. . . It's always a fun challenge to go to the studio to try to make a better record."
Strait did that as singer, songwriter and co-producer, with Chuck Ainlay, on the project. He's a co-writer on three of the album's 13 tracks and names one song penned with his son, Bubba Strait, along with Dean Dillon and Keith Gattis, as being a personal favorite.
"The song that means the most to me is 'Everything I See,' because we wrote it about my dad after he passed away," says Strait.
In a way, this album and the three-time CMA Entertainer of the Year's decision to spend a lot less time on the tour bus made him further realize his love of music. When asked what he's learned about himself now that he's settled retirement from that one aspect of his career, Strait gets philosophical.
"The thing I never really thought about that much, was just how much music is part of me and has been a part of my life for so long. It's who I am. It’s what I do, and when I got away from it I thought, ‘Well, this is weird.'
"I always had time off," he continues, "but I knew that in January or whenever, I was going to go out and start touring again. Well, that wasn't the case this time, so it really made me realize that that's just me. I guess I was born to do this."