“I’m tired – but it’s a good tired,” says Eric Church with a laugh. In addition to being deep into his Outsiders arena run, last month Eric and his wife Katherine welcomed their second son, Tennessee Hawk Church. “We’re gonna call him Hawk,” he says.
But Church isn’t complaining about his busy schedule (he has tour stops and festival dates scheduled through September). “I’m having the most fun I’ve had since bars and clubs. I never thought I’d walk on a stage at this time in my career and end up playing two and a half, three hours, you know, but I love it.”
Church hasn’t failed on his promise to switch up the set list, playing deep cuts (Sinners Like Me‘s “Living Part of Life,” Carolina‘s “Longer Gone”) and covers (Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “The Ballad of Curtis Loew,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.”) “The thing I love most is playing old, obscure album cuts, and it’s working. That jazzes me up, man. There’s many nights we leave out a bunch of singles. There have been some nights where people have probably left the show going, ‘What the hell?’ But that’s cool to me. I mean, it’s hard to get me off stage right now. When we come take the stage, who knows how long we’ll be there. It’s why I got into music, and it’s been great to do that.” He’s also having fun watching his opening acts: “We’re not really taking the typical package. We’re taking who we want to. We got Drive-By Truckers. Throughout the entire tour, from JD McPherson to the Lone Bellow, you know, it’s whoever I wanna take out.
Church is already thinking about his follow-up to The Outsiders, though he admits he won’t get much time to write songs until this summer. “It takes me a while. And I was looking [at the calendar] the other day, it’s gonna be a while for me.” As far as musical direction, Church is keeping his options open: “I do feel like Outsiders is kind of our outlier album, no pun intended. And it freed me up a little bit. I feel like it is kind of the crazy one and I kind of shook that tree a little bit. And I don’t know where we’re going next.”
Church watches the charts with a competitive eye, and he’s been especially interested to see how the singles off the adventurous Outsiders fared commercially. “I’ve had some work and some not work. ‘Cold One’ and ‘Outsiders’ didn’t really work, ‘Talladega’ and ‘Hometown’ were Number One. That’s the fun part… [Outsiders] is supposed to be a little bit crazy and now, coming off of that, I’m just not scared to go really anywhere. I feel like we can chase a bunch of different things and it’d be cool to see what happens.”
Church is no stranger to creative left turns – which is probably why he likes Taylor Swift’s 1989 so much. “If you look at her career, she’s in a space that, historically, I don’t know that anybody’s ever been in. Everybody always compares her to Madonna, but I don’t know, man. Madonna at 25, was she at this spot? No, I don’t think so, especially if you look at what she’s done in country prior to kind of moving into pop. She has such a unique career and she’s so young and it’s gonna be really cool to see where that goes. I’m looking forward to it.”
Church adds, “I thought that what she did with the pop album was the most brilliant thing. And I totally get why she did it – it completely and totally makes everybody out there go, ‘What the hell is next?’ It was such a departure, and it was so fresh that she’s opened up the whole field. Speaking with a promoter last night, I said, “I totally relate to that.” I feel the same way, is we totally widened the field now. You know, for the Chief album, I felt a little bottled in because of the success of that and it was the first commercial success we had that I feel like now we’ve been able to widen it back out and I can just go be a songwriter. Whatever happens happens.”
When he starts working on those songs, Church is putting up no boundaries. “I haven’t gotten to the studio yet, but that will be interesting, ‘Do you wanna go nuttier or is it more tame, is it totally different, is it more subtle and stripped down? I don’t know, man. It’s just one of those things that I don’t know till we get to the studio and we see what it all looks and sounds like.”