By now, Jake Owen has explained many times why he felt compelled to record Travis Meadows' moving ballad, "What We Ain't Got": The tune, warning about a grass-is-greener mentality, connected with Owen on a personal, visceral level. But when it came time to film a video for his current single, the singer was conflicted about how to present the narrative.
"The song itself is such a powerful piece of art, that to try to tell the same story, all you can hope is to make it just as good. It's easy to go make a video for 'Barefoot Blue Jean Night,' a song about being on the water, having fun and hanging out with your friends. But it was hard to come up with a way to tell this story," Owen tells Rolling Stone Country. "I never made a video like this, and it was definitely harder to make than others."
Directed by Owen's music-video partner in crime Mason Dixon, the clip finds the Vero Beach, Florida, native seated on a stool, singing to the camera. Dressed not in his usual beach gear — though, as he does onstage, he goes barefoot — but in jeans and a T-shirt, Owen succeeds in dialing up the poignancy. Still, it's not the star who steals the video, but his co-stars. Along with Meadows, who himself battled addiction, the clip features real-life individuals with their own struggles to reveal, which they do, dramatically, by the song's end.
"We wanted to use real people, and I wanted to use the songwriter himself. It really makes a statement in a roundabout way. Each one of those individuals in that video are key pieces to what makes it heartfelt," says Owen, who found it difficult to observe his co-stars film their scenes.
"After I was done with my part, watching them dead serious looking into a camera was hard," he says. "There's no smoke and mirrors — it's just tight shots of people's faces, their expressions and the lines in their faces."
"What We Ain't Got" is the third single from Owen's fourth album Days of Gold, and is currently at Number 27 and rising on Billboard's Country Airplay chart. Its predecessor, "Beachin'," reached Number One. Owen says he's confident radio will remain behind his unconventional ballad.
"It was a risk to put out this type of song. Anybody would tell you that. But it was a calculated risk," he says. "I'm at that point in my career where I'm constantly thinking of what I can do next to help reach out to more fans. This song to me, at this point in my life, is what it should be."