“It’s not the twang that makes it country, it’s the lyrics,” Darius Rucker told Radio.com. “Country music for me is being able to tell a story.”
Rucker knows this firsthand, as he grew up entrenched in country music and is releasing his third country album, True Believers, today (May 21). In our Radio.com Essentials profile, Rucker broke down country music stereotypes and explained the stories behind many of the songs on his new album, while Entertainment Weekly‘s Grady Smith provided some back story on the former Hootie & the Blowfish singer. Watch below.
It’s a common answer to the question, “What type of music do you like?”: “I like everything but country.” But Rucker, who himself encountered great success in the mainstream with rock before segueing to country, pleas with music fans who respond this way.
“To have that stereotype of my dog died or my wife left me, that whole stereotype that they love to live with,” he explained, “every time I hear somebody say that [“I like everything but country] I say, ‘Take one day and listen to country.’”
As for those who claim country music is all about the same tired lyrical themes of Southern living, Rucker counters that he sings about what he knows.
“For me, I don’t sing about pickup trucks and stuff like that because that’s not a life I lived,” he said. “Clichés are clichés, there are a lot of guys that don’t write about that stuff but there are a lot of guys that do and it works.”
Instead, Rucker’s goal is to relate, with the added hope of pushing the envelope this time around. Though he partnered again with producer Frank Rogers, who also worked on 2008’s Learn to Live and 2010’s Charleston, SC 1966, the two tried to step away from the last two albums and simply find the best songs they could to create a new sound.
“I think this is the best record I’ve ever recorded,” Rucker said. “I’m excited for people to hear it, for country music fans and music fans in general to hear it. I hope they get a song or two or three that makes them go, ‘Man, that’s my life.’ That’s why I write songs.”
He added: “We took our time with the songs and made sure we got everything right. I’m really proud of this record. With the first record I felt like the outsider trying to prove to everybody that I loved country music. And now, I think everybody knows that [I’m] part of the family.”
Rogers and Rucker wrote several tracks together, including “Miss You,” which Rucker hopes will be a single down the line, following first single “True Believers” and current single “Wagon Wheel.”
“It’s a ballad about that time in a relationship where everything seems to be right but it’s not,” he explained. “It came from experiences both of us had. ‘Miss You’ is about as real as we got on the record.”
“Love Without You” is another track that’s a close contender for Rucker’s favorite. Sheryl Crow is a featured vocalist on the song, and he says it wouldn’t be the same without her.
“She’s such an amazing singer,” he said. “That was a song I liked, but didn’t know if it would make it on the record because it’s a ballad and I have enough ballads. And then Sheryl came on it and took it to an insanely great level. I love that song. I stopped making that single months ago and I’m still listening to it.”
Rucker has been writing songs since he was a kid and it seems his young daughter is following in his footsteps. While driving his kids to school, his daughter began to critique the lyrics of one of his songs, “Heartbreak Road,” which appears on True Believers. In fact, Rucker wrote the song with the Academy of Country Music’s Songwriter of the Year, Dallas Davidson.
“We had this great line that said, ‘You can take me to the moon and back and I can kick my boots off lay back in your Cadillac,’” he explained. “My 11-year-old daughter says, ‘Daddy, that’s lazy. You rhymed back with back. You could have said something different. ‘Take your boots off, relax in my Cadillac.’”
So, he decided to take his daughter’s advice and rewrote the lyrics.
“I thought, ‘Yeah, we can say that. Well, we’re going to change that, but you’re not going to get 10 percent [songwriting fee],’” he joked. “That was wild. My daughter called me out on lazy songwriting but she was right.”
Another track, “Radio,” Rucker describes as a carefree song he wrote with friends Luke Laird and Ashley Gorley.
“It’s a nice little country song about the way we grew up,” he said. “I didn’t have much growing up but the car radio was everything. You’re driving around listening to the songs, especially when you’re getting to high school. ‘Radio’ is about that time in life where music is all that matters.”