Eric Church wrote and recorded his new triple album Heart & Soul during a monthlong retreat to a North Carolina mountain town. For this installment of the Rolling Stone Interview: Special Edition, however, the country music protagonist is Zooming in from his writing cabin just west of Nashville.
At the time of our conversation, Church was gearing up for the release of Heart & Soul — the Heart and Soul components are available far and wide April 16th and 23rd, respectively; the & album only to members of his Church Choir fan club, for now. It’s an ambitious project, even for Church, an artist who has made a career of, for the most part, going against the Nashville grain. Yes, he’s signed to a major label, but he and his manager John Peets maintain a level of artistic control that’s on par with what Willie and Waylon fought for in the Seventies. Few country-radio stars would release a track titled “Stick That in Your Country Song” as an album’s first single.
“I knew that wasn’t going to be a Number One song,” Church says (the track peaked shy of the Top 20). “But every project we have, I’m trying to move us in a direction, trying to move the dialog, trying to move the needle…I know when I’ve gotten too close to the flame and I got to back ‘er up just a little bit, but I think that’s part of trying to continue to, within the parameters that I have, move the whole format forward.”
He’s also trying to move up the return of live concerts in the pandemic era. Church is adamant about hitting the road in late 2021. “I think we will play in the fall. I think we’ll play in arenas in the fall. I think we’ll play at capacity in the fall,” he says.
Still, he knows that goal hinges on one key factor: Americans getting vaccinated. “It’s common sense to me,” says Church, who’s received his vaccine. “The fastest way for me to strap on a guitar and have people there that I can shake a hand with and jump in a pit with is a vaccination. Period.”
In this wide-ranging interview, Church talks about the Meat Loaf vibes of Heart & Soul, the revelation he had while singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl, and what’s motivating him as he stares down his mid-forties.