In country music, having pride in where you’re from — especially if it’s a small town — is almost a prerequisite to having success. But when Jake Owen made his initial journey to Nashville from his native Vero Beach, Florida, he had a few encounters that made him consider hiding his Sunshine State roots.
“When I first moved to town, some people said, ‘What do you know about country music? You’re from a beach town and you played golf in college. What, do you just want to be country all of a sudden?'” Owen recently recalled to Rolling Stone Country. “In a way, it pissed me off. But it also made me try to cover up the fact that I was from Florida.”
The “What We Ain’t Got” singer, who released his latest album Days of Gold in 2013, reveals that it even influenced the songs he sang early in his career. “I was putting out songs that would try to justify, ‘I can sing country songs, I can do this,'” says Owen. “Then I got to the point that I realized I wasn’t being true to me or what I loved.”
Today’s it’s difficult to associate early singles like “Yee Haw” and “Eight Second Ride” with the vocalist, whose greatest successes have come from his Florida-appropriate sun-and-sand anthems. While it’s all part of the maturation process, Owen says he’ll never abandon the songs that first gave him traction.
“I wrote ‘Eight Second Ride’ when I was 18 years old, sitting on a barstool in college. I don’t know why people love that song, but people do, and they sing the shit out of it. I’m not ever going to phase things out just because I feel like I’ve grown and that’s not me anymore,” Owen says. “But I’m not disagreeing with you about not equating songs like ‘Yee Haw’ with me, because I don’t either at this point in my life.”
Which leads Owen back to the serious subject matter of new single “What We Ain’t Got.” Far from that college bar seat, the singer is now married and the father to a nearly two-year-old daughter.
Still, he’s adamant about having never been persuaded by anyone — manager, label, friends — to play a part.
“Anything I’ve done in my life and career, at the end of the day, I was the guy that was like, ‘Ok, let’s do it,'” Owen says. “I’ll never say anyone ever made me. I had to learn from mistakes.”
Owen, who recently impressed as host of the ACM Honors, is currently on his Days of Gold Tour. Appropriately, it wraps up in Vero Beach on October 25th.