Eric Church FAQ Goes Online

(Radio.com) Eric Church's fourth studio album, 'The Outsiders,' is out this week, and it further cements his unique position within the mainstream country world. He's a self-proclaimed outsider… who still manages to debut at No. 1 on the charts. Let's explore this dichotomy.

Who is Eric Church?: Kenneth Eric Church is a 36-year-old country music star from Granite Falls, North Carolina. He started writing songs when he was 13, later forming a college band with his brother called Mountain Boys. He wanted to head to Nashville by the time he was 17, but his dad wisely bribed him to stay in school; if he finished his degree his father agreed to foot the bill for six months in Music City post-grad. So he got a degree in marketing and then hoofed it to Nashville, where it only took him about a year to score a publishing deal with Sony/ATV. Soon he partnered with producer Jay Joyce, who helped Church record the demos that landed him a deal with Capitol Records Nashville.

That sounds like pretty standard fare: Kid with big dreams moves to Nashville and becomes a big ole country star. So how is he an outsider?: It hasn't been all smooth sailing for Eric. After his first record Sinners Like Me came out in 2006, he was slotted as an opener for both Brad Paisley and the coiffed-and-corny Rascal Flatts. But during a performance at Madison Square Garden, Church played his set too long-for what Rascal Flatts claimed was the fourth time-and they infamously fired him, subbing in then-unknown Taylor Swift as an opener. Even before this, though, Church seemed to realize he wasn't a good fit for Rascal Flatt's paint-by-number pop-country. His music had a raw edge to it that was increasingly rare in the country landscape.

Getting fired from a major tour as a rookie can't be good for your future, can it?: Ostensibly, no. After this, it was difficult for him to get any gigs at all, so he began performing live at rock clubs and dive bars, where he was forced to deal with unimpressed or unruly crowds. Eventually though, this earned him a rabid and rare fanbase that was a bit removed from the typical country audience. So he built his audience fan by fan while touring behind Sinners Like Me, eventually nudging its lead single "How 'Bout You" to reach the Top 20 on the Hot Country chart. Church's next record, Carolina, was released in 2009 but didn't do much on the charts despite a strong third single, the pot-stirring "Smoke a Little Smoke." Still, the song helped stoke the embers in Church's growing independent fanbase, and he ended up snagging the Top New Solo Vocalist award at the Academy of Country Music Awards.

Country music has its own set of awards?: Yup, and not just the ACMs but also the CMAs (Country Music Association Awards), the ACAs (American Country Awards) and the CMT (Country Music Television) Awards. There's a lot of ways for country to honor and award its artists internally, and Church was nominated for tons of these awards even if his radio and commercial sales weren't the greatest at first.

So country music was beginning to like Eric Church even though he rejected the easiest path?: Exactly. And while country music was sleeping on him, he'd managed to get a lot of fans that normally weren't drawn to country. Moreso, his music was resonating with people who eschewed the newer mainstream and pop influences they were hearing in the genre. A lot of people were drawn to his grittier, bluesy sound and insistence on staying true to his own style and personality. So he pretty much fully recovered from the Rascal Flatts fiasco, and his 2011 record Chief was a big commercial breakthrough. The album, which went platinum, earned Church something his previous two albums had lacked: No. 1 singles. Both "Drink in My Hand" and "Springsteen" hit the No. 1 spot on Hot Country chart. "Drink in My Hand" would fit right in with the affable party-touting good times of a Luke Bryan set, but instead of rolling into that lane, Church took a surprising side road with "Springsteen."

Does Eric Church even like Springsteen?: Uh, duh. Listen to the song and you'll hear The Boss's sinuous guitar lines and nostalgia-driven lyrics. It was a slow-burning power ballad from a bygone era, and this appealed to even those who couldn't care less about modern country-similar to the way Springsteen captivated audiences outside of rock enthusiasts. "Springsteen" went as far up as No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100-a chart that few country artists manage to crack at all, let alone get inside the Top 20. Church was being touted as the country genre's shot at rock and roll crossover. more on this story

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