In this exclusive premiere of Eric Church's new video for "Creepin'" – his latest single and the follow-up to his Number One country hit, "Springsteen" – Church and his bandmates embark on a mission to stop a runaway train around the turn of the 20th century."It's a lot deeper than some people think," Church says. "It's really about this guy who's haunted by a ghost of some sort, the main female character. What you don't know is she's the one feeding the coal that makes this train get crazier and go farther and take him back through all these memories."
Church chatted with Rolling Stone the day after he learned he had scored five CMA nominations, more than any other artist. He also discussed the next leg of his Blood, Sweat and Beers tour, his new logging obsession, his upcoming live album and the follow-up to last year's Chief. Says the singer, "I'm starting to feel the fire creatively a little bit."
Congratulations on scoring five CMA nominations.
About four or five days ago, I lost my phone to the Gulf of Mexico. I've been on vacation for the last week or so. We went down to part of the Gulf Coast – I guess it was a place called Seagrove. It's beautiful, looks like the Caribbean. I decided to go swimming and had it in my bathing suit pocket. I was completely shut down there; I had no contact and landed here in Nashville. A guy picked me up at the airport and immediately took me to the management office. I had no clue about anything. I walked into this office and tried to figure out what in the hell is going on and I look around and all these people are there and they had a TV screen up that had the nominations for the CMAs. I'm still quite surprised by it all. We all got a glass of Jack Daniels and celebrated at 10 a.m., then I went back and had some coffee. It's been a long time coming.
What did you do next?
As soon as I left the management office, I went and got sobered up. I went over to rehearsals and spent the day doing that and talking to [the band]. These are guys that, not too long ago, we didn't think this was ever going to happen. We didn't think we'd ever hear our name called for nominations or anything. Yesterday we were reminiscing about some of the places we used to play; we couldn't even get people to ask us what kind of music we played. That's how far removed from country music we were at times. To get the five nominations, we were kind of chuckling about it. Across the board, there was a lot of surprise we got the kind of nominations we did.
It's the first year that a lot of people who are normally in those categories weren't in those categories.
Yeah, I think it happens. Music's cyclical. There's always that next generation that always comes along. I don't know that that's happened but it kind of lined up this year. You have a lot of these younger artists who happen to get a majority of these categories.
You have a pretty big tour coming up this fall.
Yeah we're doing like 46 dates or something. We're changing it up a little bit to keep it fresh. It's hard to change it a lot because people have to realize this is still the Blood Sweat and Beers tour. It's just the second leg of it. These are cities that haven't seen the first leg. We've changed some of the lights around a little bit, we're changing the backdrops, we're changing the setlist a little bit. That's just as much for our benefit as the fans. I don't want it to get out there every night we go out and it's a routine and be workmanlike. I want to keep a little bit of energy and spontaneity in there.
Have you gotten to spend much time on your new Nashville place?
A little bit. I've been cutting trees down. I have a new hobby and it's pretty much logging. There are some areas that need to be cleared – we're putting a lake in, although it drives people that work with me nuts that I'm out there by myself with chainsaws. It's just stress relief for me. When you're out there, you can't think of anything but that saw and that tree because if you do, you're gonna kill yourself. It's a concentration thing for me – a 10,000 pound tree and go out there, bring it down and cut it up. It's hard work, which I like, but you get out there and you have to concentrate on it. By the time you have it pieced out, four or five hours have gone by. For me, it's therapeutic.
Can you tell me a little bit about the video?
It's a lot deeper than people think. Some people think, "They're just robbing a train," but that's not true. The "memory train" line ["Thought I found my way out of this pain/ Only to find your memory train"] is really about this guy who's haunted by a ghost of some sort; she's the main female character. What you don't know is she's the one feeding the coal that makes this train get crazier and go farther and take him back through all these memories. It looks like we're robbing the train but we're stopping the train. The song was supposed to be the thing that saved him and stops this process from happening. That's what we're doing by standing in front of it and then the guy wakes up at the end. So it's a lot deeper than the common person watching it is going to be able to get from that, but that was the big deep explanation of what we were going after. The way it was shot is very cool. It's just different from me. Some of it's just damn scary.
In some shots, you aren't wearing shades and a baseball cap, which is pretty rare.
It's a bit of a throwback with what we're wearing and the timeframe. We were trying to think, "What would Chief look like circa 1880s?" I thought was kind of fun. If we were doing what we do 100 years ago, this is what we'd look like. All that sweat and all that stuff you see is 100 percent real. In Chattanooga, it was 100 degrees, 80 percent humidity and those train cars weren't air-conditioned. We had to go in a tunnel because it was dark. We weren't on a moving train – we pulled the train in the tunnel and stopped it where air wasn't circulating. We were just near death, dripping. It gives it a gritty effect I like.
"Creepin" is one of the more out-there songs on your record – why did you choose to go with it after "Springsteen?"
"Springsteen" was such a big, huge hit, I wanted to make sure we were keeping our finger on being different and odd. It's arguably the most different song on the record. It was just important to me coming off "Springsteen." I came from the standpoint where I'd rather radio and people hear this because it's so odd and boundary-pushing. I'm glad we did it now because with all the CMA nominations, that's the song that's out there. If they've heard "Springsteen," the next thing is quite different. I like that contrast.
You're going to record a live album, right?
We are. In Chattanooga, at the Tivoli Theatre. I wanted a place like where we came up through. I didn't want to go into an arena – that's not where we came from. It's not the foundation of where we came from. I wanted to go back to those places. We even looked at some clubs. They're allowing beer and achohol in the theater for the first time ever, which they may live to regret. There will be an interaction and connection there I haven't had in a while. We're playing to a bigger number but that personal thing you get in bars and clubs and theaters goes away little bit, so I'm looking forward to getting in a room like that. We're working on what we want it to be what do we want to play. It's not the show we do every night; this is a special thing. So we're trying to find that hybrid of "What is this?" And there may be some guests. We're going to make it as different as we can from what we do every day now. There will be some stuff we haven't played in years in those two nights. We're going to try to make it as cool as we can for the fans.
Are you going to film it for a DVD?
We are, yep.
You're also playing the Levon Helm tribute in New Jersey on October 4th.
As soon as I heard about it, I had to make sure I was involved. I got to play the Ramble and play with Levon while he was still alive and hang out with him in his kitchen and sing "The Weight" with him. His voice and the Band – those songs meant as much to me as anything that made me who I am. I wanted to be a part of that. It's going to be great. I don't know what I'm doing yet. But I love that the money and proceeds go to keeping the Ramble alive and keeping the barn alive and the music playing.
Will you play another Ramble?
I'd love to. In a heartbeat. I really tried to get back up there again before Levon left us and I'll regret that forever, but it was one of the coolest things ever, man.
Are you thinking about the follow-up to Chief? Are you writing anything at the moment?
I'm trying. It's not there yet. We're going to go with another single after "Creepin.'" I feel like the people are calling every day saying, “Tell me you're writing. Where are you at?” I'm not there yet. I can tell you that I'm starting to feel the fire a little bit creatively. I've been working on some stuff but it's just not there yet. I'm gonna wait till that happens. I'm going to let that play out. When I feel like every day when I get up I'm writing songs, that's the time to make a record.