Jason Aldean: Handling 'New Dirt' With Ease

Credit: Rachel Framingheddu

Just one day after Jason Aldean visited the Ram Country studios to give a smoking performance of his sultry single "Burnin' It Down," as well as a candid interview addressing -- among other things -- his slightly manic dance with the gossip mill, the multiplatinum singer went and did something that got tongues wagging all over again.

Namely, he proposed to his girlfriend, former American Idol hopeful Brittany Kerr.

Why, of course, this got people talking: If you've been hiding under a rock of late, Aldean's single brush with scandal involved his divorce from his longtime wife after being caught on film canoodling with Kerr two years ago. Initially, the affair was apologized for and set aside in typical efficient manner by Aldean, a man who does not seem to suffer drama unneccessarily.

Moving on -- again, efficiently -- Aldean went on to neatly rise to the very top of Nashville's A-list, becoming certified as the most downloaded male country artist in history.  And then, he found himself dealing with the gossip again, a fact that he euphemistically refers to as annoying.

"That stuff has nothing to do with me as an artist or what kind of music I make," Aldean, who has a reputation for being unsmiling but at our studios gives off a relaxed and open vibe, explains. "It's just a personal thing that most people get to deal with in private and I haven’t been able to do that."

As he details (again, peppering with the term annoying, although one gets the feeling he'd like to use stronger language), the media isn't even keeping up with him in a timely manner. His divorce is completely worked out. His two daughters are happy. His relationship with ex-wife Jessica Ussery is "fine," by his own admission.

"I saw a thing the other day that it was in one of those magazines that said there was we were still in this big custody battle and all this stuff," he says. "That stuff has been over with forever, so I’m just like, you have to look at some of the stuff that’s written and almost laugh at it sometimes because it’s so ridiculous."

Indeed, Aldean seems to have his own methods for dealing with fame/infamy, the easiest seeming to be simply keeping his eye on the ball and following his gut. Whether plotting a proposal (the singer popped the question to Kerr at the San Diego Zoo) or making an album (his sixth, Old Boots, New Dirt, is out October 7), he employs a remarkable self-assurance that suggests he's genius at blocking outside voices. 

Proof positive: Aldean admits he was taken by surprise at the news of his stellar most-downloaded certification, something you'd think he'd at least have had some inkling of being in the ballpark for. "I feel like I kind of live in a bubble sometimes where I don’t really realize how big things have gotten for us a lot of times," he elaborates. "Obviously I know things are going well, and my career’s been pretty amazing up to this point, but you know I just I don’t know. I get wrapped up in my own world and I don’t really pay attention to all that stuff that goes on outside of it ... sometimes it takes something like [the certification]  to go 'wow that’s pretty cool.' You know, put it in perspective for me a little bit."

Aldean employs this method to his overall persona and musical style, as well. He's arguably one of the few artists at his level who has not bothered to change or adapt with fame, choosing instead to maintain the unpretenitious approach that initially won him attention with first single "Hicktown" in 2005. How has he managed to do this? Aldean cites his longtime label, Broken Bow, as a key factor.

"One thing is when I signed my record deal, I signed to an independent label that you know at the time really didn’t have a lot going on," he notes. "They really didn’t have a superstar on the label, [so they never ] had to experience that. And I come along and ...you know it took us a while to get there but I think since we have gotten there; and since we have had success, they’ve allowed me to be myself and record the kind of music that I want "

"I think the biggest thing for me is was ending up on a label where they let me be an artist...I think that’s sorta a lost thing right now," he says. "I know what I do well; I know the things that I don’t do well. It's allowed them to put a lot of faith in me as a decision maker."

And, for that matter, an influencer. When asked how he feels about having pioneered an entire sound within the country genre, Aldean remains pragmatic. "I’m proud of the fact that we came in the way that we did, and at the time honestly like I didn’t know that this sound or whatever that we were bringing to the table was that different than anything else," he states. "Because it was what I had been doing in the clubs down in Georgia -- this mix of country, and southern rock, and Americana rock and '80s arena rock. I grew up listening to everything; I would go out even in the early days and play 'Silver Wings' by Merle Haggard and then I’d turn around and play 'Sweet Child O’ Mine' by Guns N Roses.

"That was just the way that I did things in the clubs; I did it from the time I was 14 years old. So when I got to Nashville I didn’t realize it was that different until, honestly, everybody started making a big deal out of it."

As for those who try to copy his sound? "I guess you could make that [case] for any music," he points out.
"I mean, you can take it back to the boy band era -- you have a boy band that hits, and then every label in town wants to sign a boy band to try to do it."

In the end, Aldean is quick to acknowledge the fans who recognized his talents almost a decade ago are the ones who are allowing him to remain right where he wants to be -- whether that's a "bubble," or simply just staying true to what sounds right in his own ears. "I think the biggest thing about country music is the country music fans are incredible," he states. "They have their artists that they love, they lock on to them early, and they just kinda grow with them throughout their career. I’m not sure that you get that in a lot of other types of music."

"It’s funny we have people all the time that come up and meet and greets or whatever and they’re holding up pictures of when they met me back in ’05 when I was just kinda hitting the scene and we see them at the shows all the time. We have people that if we play 80 shows a year, I guarantee they’re at half of them. But that’s country music fans: They are very loyal, they have their artists that they really support.

"It’s indescribable; obviously people say it all the time, but if not for fans we wouldn’t have a job and that’s that’s true."

He adds with his usual candor: "A lot of us may have a job but we may not have it for very long."

You can definitely put a ring on that sentiment.