Eric Church on 'The Outsiders' and Brutal Album Making Process

(Radio.com) Eric Church doesn't mess around. Then again, actually he does. He explores new sounds, travels in new directions, takes risks and pushes the limits of his ability to write and record songs with lasting appeal. Songs that are, as he puts it, "alive." Which is why his latest studio album The Outsiders, which just debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, took so much out of him.

"It's brutal," Church said of the album-making process, when Radio.com sat down with him in Nashville for an early morning chat last week. "It's why I won't make a lot of them."

Brutal as it is, Church is clearly proud of the result, a 12-song collection that moves from big barrages of rock 'n' roll ("The Outsiders") to songs deliberately stripped down to just the slimmest of instrumentation ("Dark Side," "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young"). There are loud songs and soft songs, short songs and long ("Devil, Devil" clocks in at over eight minutes). There's even a poem.

Church is adamant that The Outsiders is not merely a collection of radio-friendly singles packaged neatly together, but a full-blown album - that the songs are meant to be listened to not randomly but in sequence, start to finish. "Mix them all up," he says, and it becomes "a totally different journey."

He also sets the bar high for himself. He was determined not to just make, as he called it, Chief Part 2, referring to his hugely successful platinum-selling (and ACM Award-winning) album from 2011. He wanted to create something that was, in his words, "artistic." For him as a musician, he said, it's vital to keep "mining new ground" creatively. "I think the format's better for it" and "the music's better for it." As artists, he said, "it's our responsibility to set the tone for what's happening in the industry. And I take that seriously."

Radio.com: With The Outsiders, you've said you didn't want to play it safe. You wanted to push the boundaries. Why was that so important to you?

Eric Church: Coming off the Chief album, I wanted to make sure people understood that this wasn't Chief Part 2. I feel like at this time in our career, we've had enough success - it's always been important to me, when you have that success, you have that relevance, that you're not just taking the safe path, that you're not just doing the easy thing. That you're continuing to be artistic and creative and mining new ground. I think the format's better for it, the music's better for it. And I think it's our responsibility as artists. This album from a creative standpoint is pretty far out there. It was made that way, it was a conscious thing.

Radio.com: You also said you were "emboldened" in the process of making this album thanks to the success of Chief.

Eric Church: Well certainly a lot of creative freedom. And with the success of Chief, I felt like we could do about anything, and people were at least going to hear it. I mean, early in your career you can do something like that, and nobody knows who you are, so you don't know what happens to it. But when you get to a certain level of success, you can get it heard. Whether they like it or not is a totally different thing, or if it's the right move. But I felt like we were in a place that we were at least going to get the ears on it, the eyes on it.

Again, as artists it's our responsibility. People talk about the music - good, bad, indifferent, whatever. And I think a lot of times we blame radio, we blame industry. And I've always thought, it's the artist that write the songs and make the records. And it's our responsibility to set the tone for what's happening in the industry. And I take that seriously.

And with this album, we made a conscious effort to make something that was artistic. I didn't think about, 'Am I gonna have enough hits on here? Is it going to sell as many records as Chief'? I thought about, creatively, it has to be a better album, it has to be a more artistic album.

Radio.com: Can you describe what you mean by the word "artistic"?

Eric Church: I think a lot of times, artists and albums can become formulaic. You're known for a certain thing, and you continue to do that. You just change the subject matter, but it's the same song. And that's what you do.

And I think for this one it was about going somewhere different. For example, there's a song that's eight minutes ["Devil Devil"], and four minutes of it is spoken word. That's not a safe choice [laughs]. So that's what I'm talking about. The first single was "The Outsiders," and the last minute and a half has three different movements of music. So these are things that, if you're making a commercial album, those aren't decisions you consciously make and go, 'this is a good idea.' We didn't think about that. We just thought about, 'it's cool, it's creative, it's alive. Let's chase it and see where it goes.' more on this story

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