Kenny Chesney already had the first single from his upcoming Some Town Somewhere album picked out when a bunch of talking — make that, yelling — heads on television threw a curveball at his LP's launch plans. Annoyed by deafening media, he started thinking about all of the culprits, from politicians to news anchors to reality stars, and that prompted a conversation — and, ultimately, a song — about how both people and technology create incessant noise.
"I was on the phone with Shane McAnally, in my car on the way to a meeting," Chesney recalls to Rolling Stone Country of fleshing out ideas for his latest hit, "Noise," while en route to a marketing discussion about that other song intended to be the record's first release. "We were talking about the relentless onslaught of sound, everyone wanting to be heard and this idea of everyone turning it up a little louder than the other person. We have so much thrown at us all at once that we don't really hear anything. It's all so loud that it just becomes white noise in your brain."
With Chesney, McAnally, Jon Nite and Ross Copperman collaborating to put those frustrations to music, "Noise" was written and demoed in a matter of hours. The co-writers take aim at everyone and everything from politicians to urban development, but Chesney doesn't dodge blame. He'll be the first to admit feeding that fire by spending too much time on his smartphone.
"I feel like in my own life that I've lost a bit of human connection," admits the singer, who felt so strongly about "Noise" being the first taste of his new album that he had his team yank the other song at the eleventh hour. "We communicate in such a fast pace, and there's this addiction to communication with all the devices we have. I notice it with my friends in our social time: if you have five seconds to yourself, you're looking at your phone to see if someone texted."
Cell phones and computer screens are joined by a hodgepodge of other noisemakers in the song's new video, directed by longtime Chesney collaborator Shaun Silva. The mix of images is rapid and thoughtfully random: There are supermodels walking catwalks, women getting Botox shots, protestors marching streets, wrecking balls, snake handlers, strippers and celebrities ranging from Donald Trump to Paris Hilton — all in blink-and-you'll-miss-it shots. It's almost like the music video equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting: the busiest piece of art you've ever seen, with a million different strokes merged together into one beautifully chaotic theme.
"What Shaun and I try to do is have the video manifest what's inside those songs," Chesney explains. "[The video] captures what was rolling around in my head, even in the initial conversation when we were writing. It really captured what I was thinking and the essence of how we can get lost in this fog and be drowned by all of it. "
The "Noise" video ends with the closing of a laptop and the dimming of a soundboard's volume that yield to several scenes depicting the beauty of the technology-free outdoors: A little girl runs through a wheat field, a sunset dances on calm ocean waters, a hiker takes in a breathtaking mountaintop view. . . Chesney offers these scenes not as a solution to the noise problem, but rather as a reminder that there's a whole, gorgeous world out there that just can't be projected on a screen.
"I've never been one to preach," he says emphatically. (And he's got a catalog of nostalgic, feel-good songs to back that up.) Though "Noise" carries with it a timely, poignant message, Chesney is simply shedding light on the problem — not getting on any sort of soapbox about a fix for it.
"I had to walk a fine line here, because it would've been easy to preach and tell people what to think or what to do," says the singer-songwriter. "We were able to bring in politics without being political. We were able to show a lot of things without painting ourselves into a corner. That's the thing I'm most proud of in writing this song: We're not preaching to anyone, we're just making a statement about the way we live. The message is to try to be mindful of it. If you love someone, tell them you love them. Don't text it to them! There is so much life to be lived outside our phones."