It’s a mild November morning at Jason Aldean’s 130-acre estate an hour south of Nashville and the reigning ACM Entertainer of the Year is sitting at his outside patio bar swatting away bees.
“They aggravate the shit out of me,” mutters Aldean. He’s dressed in a green Guy Harvey T-shirt with mahi-mahi on the back, blue jeans and a baseball hat, and looks more rested and fit than he has in some time. A cup of coffee and a Blu e-cigarette rest on the counter in front of him, both of which he reaches for frequently. A doormat stamped with a giant W – for his surname Williams; Aldean comes from his middle name – lies in front of the sliding door that leads back inside to the den, where his bulldog Bentley lounges by the fireplace and the flat-screen is tuned to South Park.
“I need a damn fly-swatter,” he says, flapping his hand at another bee.
Since releasing his debut album for Broken Bow in 2005, Aldean, 39, has had to become expert at waving away nuisances, both in his professional and personal life. That’s not to say he hasn’t been stung a few times. With his hard rock and hip-hop influenced brand of country music, the Macon, Georgia, native is, to his detractors, the embodiment of how far country has drifted from its roots. His 2011 quadruple platinum mega-hit “Dirt Road Anthem,” with Aldean rapping about swerving like George Jones, was as polarizing as contemporary country songs come.
He’s also not your typical modern-day mannequin star, all handshakes and smiles – Aldean admits he’s more cantankerous than most. “It sounds awful,” he says, “but I’m not a warm and fuzzy kind of guy.”
His rough demeanor didn’t afford him much sympathy then in 2012, when caught up in a love triangle scandal, he became a regular in the tabloids. Aldean and his wife of 12 years divorced in 2013, and the singer married Brittany Kerr in 2015.
But it’s those very trials and criticisms that account for Aldean’s appeal. He is not perfect. Rather, he is everyman, the mirror image of his fans, striving for a better life but stumbling to get there. In that way, though purists will recoil at the suggestion, he’s not unlike Jones – putting his own stamp on songs written by others and stepping in shit in his personal life.
The biggest difference between Aldean and his fan base is clearly visible from this seat at his bar: the castle-like home, the pristine swimming pool, the Range Rover in the garage. Aldean just moved into the home a little less than a year ago and plans to construct an outbuilding that will house his music and sports memorabilia, as well as two bowling lanes. According to Forbes, he made $36.5 million last year, most of it from touring, and remains one of country’s most reliable live draws, selling out Boston’s Fenway Park last summer in less than two hours.
Still, Aldean, who drove a Pepsi truck prior to achieving country stardom (“They’d fire you if they caught you drinking Coke,” he says) doesn’t flaunt his bling. Earlier this morning, spying a Rolling Stone Country journalist, he sprints over from a barn on the property and wrestles open the unwieldy gate to allow him to enter. Later on, he and Kerr hop the house’s fence and hustle into a nearby field, binoculars in hand, to check on a potentially injured deer bedded down by the treeline.
“I’ve never had this,” says Aldean, waving his hand this time not at a bee, but at the spread around him. “So I know how fortunate I am. And I know it can be gone in a second. I don’t want to sound like I’m a guy who always got the bad end of the deal, but nothing’s ever been handed to me easy.”
Instead, he’s sweated for it.
“When I signed with Broken Bow, I knew I already had one strike against me because I was on a small label and that I was going to have to work harder than all these others guys who had all this big money pushing them from these bigger labels,” he says, pausing to take a sip of coffee. “I think that’s a big part of the reason people can relate to me – because I do feel I’m like them.”
You released your self-titled debut album in 2005 on Broken Bow Records. What do you recall most about that time?